The Health Benefits of Coconut Water during Infusions

I wasn't very bright when I was younger. Well at least there were some questionable decisions that I either made or engaged in. In the late '80's I traveled to Mail, West Africa to visit and travel with a friend of mine who was just getting out of the Peace Corps. We'd started our trip in Mali, then our small group (two other friends and myself) split off and traveled to the Ivory Coast and then we'd go to Ghana, where we were to meet back up with my Peace Corps friend.

Before we got to Ghana for our rendezvous with my friend, while near Timbuktu I started feeling ill. Every 24 hours I'd get a fever and feel absolutely wiped out. By the fourth day I had developed a fever of 105 degrees, was hallucinating, and my urine was dark, almost a plum color. The closet clinic was in Bamako, the capital, several hours away by bush taxi. We were staying at the Peace Corps house there with many travelers coming and going. A dear human from the Netherlands happened to come to the house. He took one look at me and declared I had malaria. He gave me what is known as 'the curative dose' and then helped escort me into the shower where I was dosed with cold water to bring down my fever (Mark where ever you are I still continue to thank you). After a couple of days, I was finally well enough to make it to the capital where I was treated, for malaria, though the clinicians were unimpressed with my story or symptoms (this would not be the case when I returned to the states and had a recurrence). By the end of the whole illness I'd lost 15 pounds and was dehydrated and depleted of electrolytes. And I made the decision to forge on to Ghana the next day (not smart: exhibit number 1).

We arrived in a Ghanaian coastal village about five or six miles away from any larger towns. We ate fresh palm hearts, coconut, rice, okra dishes and fresh fish prepared by a local cook on the palm lined beach. We visited color-filled markets with spices and herbs, air scented by the roasting of corn, filled with chatter and laughter. We stayed for about four days. Our plan was to wait for the bush taxi and go to the larger town for a couple of days and then make our way to Senegal where we'd fly back to the states.

Bush taxis are not the same as yellow cabs or Ubers, just in case you were getting that impression. If you call a yellow cab, you may see them in the next 10 to 20 minutes. If a bush taxi is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday at noon, the reality is that the window of arrival is anywhere from then to two maybe three days. And if you happen to be in the vicinity of someone who knows it has arrived to let you know it's there -- no problem. Otherwise, throw schedules out the door, and be prepared to stay awhile. There are benefits for this approach.

My peace corps friend, an impetuous and adventurous fellow, suggested that we by pass the bus and walk along the beach to town, a five to six mile hike along the lovely beaches of Ghana, dotted with small villages. I bit. My other travel companion (the other traveled home sooner) decided to wait for the bus. The next morning we packed up our backpacks and headed out, barely knowing where we were going except that town was on the coast. Did I mention that we didn't have water bottles or water (Not so smart exhibit number 2)?

The first three miles under the hot sun were fabulous. We passed villages net fishing and witnessed the cooperation that's needed by everyone. We made up dances and songs with kids who followed us from other villages. We sat with tribal elders at another village. But mostly we were exposed to the sun as well as the natural beauty of the Ghanaian coast. At the three mile mark we started feeling the effects of dehydration, and questioning why we hadn't thought to bring water.

At the four mile mark we started looking for a safe source of fluid in the rural area we were in. At five miles I had to sit down because I felt like I was getting heat stroke. My friend ventured into the village and came back with a young man who took one look at me and scurried up a tree with a machete. He came down with two young green coconut, chopped the tops off and we drank. I wanted more, but he said it wouldn't be good for me. He'd informed my friend that we were not far from Conakry. Refreshed and hydrated surprisingly from about 6 or 8 ounces of coconut juice we forged on and made it to our destination where I promptly consumed a large ginger ale (I don't usually drink soda, but THAT hit the spot).

Normally, I've reserved this blog to inform of foods found in the Pacific Northwest, but I reserve the right to throw in a couple or so that I think are helpful, and coconut water is one that I regularly recommend for folks during chemotherapy infusion. Actually during infusion. Most chemotherapy cause deficiencies in calcium, magnesium potassium, phosphorus and other electrolytes. In some cases patients become depleted to the point that they may have to receive infusions to restore or rehydrate them. I like to take a preventative approach using several food based tools. One of these tools is the use of chilled coconut water during infusion.

Coconut water has a good amount of electrolytes, and soluble fiber (helping with constipation that might occur). When you drink the coconut water chilled, it helps protect the nerve endings in you mouth, thus helping to prevent mouth sores, and taste disturbances. Think of how a cold cap for chemotherapy patients work: it chills the nerve endings and hair follicles thus the hair does not fall out.

The person from the village warned me not to drink too much. I will give the same warning: too much can cause loose stools (over 16 ounces per day).

There are a variety of coconut waters to choose from these days. Try to get a form that does not have a lot of added preservatives, and with very little added sugar. If you find it is not palatable,add a little juice (but just a splash).

Sip on the chilled coconut wates through out your infusion. You might want to even bring a cooler to keep it nice and chilled.