The History of Oral Rehydration Therapy

Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) – heralded by the medical community as one of the most critical medical advances of the 20th century – was discovered through a series of medical breakthroughs beginning in the 1950s.

Prior to the wide-spread use of ORT, world health experts estimated approximately 500 million annual episodes of diarrhea in children under the age of 5 resulted in at least 5 million deaths per year.

The bulk of these cases were in the developing world, where experts estimated 1 in 10 children died of diarrhea before the age of 5. At the time, treatment for dehydration was limited to hospital administered IV solutions – an approach that was not only expensive, but inaccessible to people most at risk.

But oral rehydration treatment changed everything.

The Discovery of Glucose Receptors

The first step in the development of ORT was the discovery in 1953 that glucose is transported across the small intestine by a limited number of cells. This led scientists to deduce that our bodies have a specific receptor for glucose – special cells designed to absorb glucose.

The Power of Sodium + Glucose in Fighting Dehydration

Initially, scientists believed that glucose absorption was “paralyzed” during diarrhea; they assumed someone suffering from diarrhea could get no benefit from solutions entering their gastrointestinal tract. As a result, doctors believed intravenous fluids were the only way to combat dehydration from deadly diseases such as cholera or microbial infections.

But in 1958, scientists discovered that even during acute gastro-intestinal distress the small intestine can absorb glucose. Those glucose receptors still functioned, as long as they were also in the presence of sodium.  We now know of this as the “Sodium-Glucose Co-Transporter,” or “Pump.”

This discovery led scientists to realize that diarrheal diseases, such a cholera, do not destroy the mucosal membrane of the small intestine.  That meant an oral treatment was, at least, theoretically possible.

Ten years later, they proved it.




The First Successful Trial of ORT

In 1968, scientists published the results of the first successful trial of Oral Rehydration Therapy to treat and manage dehydration related to a cholera epidemic.
The results of this study, conducted in East Pakistan, proved that ORT had at least one scientifically supported use: treatment for adult cholera patients.

The medical community leapt onto the findings. They quickly expanded the research to show ORT was effective for all patients suffering from diarrhea (whether caused by Cholera or something else), including children. And in 1968, the formula was adopted by both UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

ORT vs. IV

By the early 1970’s, the medical community had taken it even further. Researchers proved through multiple studies that ORT wasn’t only effective, it could actually be more effective than intravenous solutions, as IV treatment was more likely to lead to fluid imbalance in patients.

By 1978, the W.H.O. was recommending ORT as the best first-line defense when treating patients suffering from dehydration and publishing specific guidelines to ensure the appropriate formulation of glucose, sodium, and water. These guidelines were revised in 2006, and that is the formula that Hydralyte is based on.

Beyond Gastro Distress to Dehydration Management

Today, the health care community relies on Oral Rehydration Therapy to treat all cases of mild to moderate dehydration. Oral Rehydration Solutions – such as Hydralyte – are indicated to help manage mild to moderate dehydration, regardless of whether its cause is vomiting & diarrhea, heavy sweating, or clinical conditions.

And consumers are learning first-hand the powerful benefits of using a real, clinical hydration product when they need it.

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