Water. We all need it—and know we need it—for optimum health and wellness, but a shocking few live daily life in a properly hydrated state. One doctor-driven report revealed that fully 75 percent, of Americans may suffer from chronic dehydration. Over time, failure to drink enough water can contribute to a wide array of medical complications, from fatigue, joint pain and weight gain to headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
“During a normal day, we lose about two liters of water just through breathing, sweat and other bodily functions,” notes board certified internist Dr. Blanca Lizaola-Mayo. “Even while asleep, we can lose over one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of water-weight not just through sweating, but respiration as well.
The health implications of dehydration range from mild to severe, including problems with the heart, blood pressure and breathing, headaches and cognitive issues like concentration … just to name a few. In addition, dehydration is the number one cause of daytime fatigue. And, it’s important to understand that when we first start to sense thirst, we are already close to two percent dehydrated.”
How Much Water Do You Need? Many factors impact how much water you need, including your age, gender, activity level and overall health … For women, the amount of total water is about 11.5 cups per day and for men about 15.5 cups. These estimates, however, include fluids consumed from both foods and beverages, including water. You typically get about 20 percent of the water you need from the food you eat. Taking that into account, women need about nine cups of fluid per day and men about 12.5 cups in order to help replenish the amount of water that is lost.
What Are Common Causes of Dehydration? While certainly not all inclusive, known causes for dehydration can encompass sweating from exercise and sports; air travel; traversing in overly hot, humid, cold or windy weather conditions; drinking too much coffee and other diuretic beverages; recovering from a hangover; and a litany of other relatively commonplace daily activities.
Do All Fluids Hydrate the Body? No. Some beverages are better than others at preventing dehydration, and that alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, teas and colas, are not recommended. These fluids tend to pull water from the body and promote dehydration. Fruit juice and fruit drinks may have too many carbohydrates, too little sodium, and may upset the stomach.
What Are Some Benefits of Proper Hydration? While the benefits of a properly hydrated body are copious, the CDC points to a few top line health advantages, including keeping your temperature normal; lubricating and cushioning joints, protecting your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues; and getting rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements. The benefits of drinking plenty of water include: maximizing physical performance; optimized energy levels and mood; and aiding digestion and elimination.
However, drinking too much water or fluid can lead to hypo-natremia, which causes sodium in the cells to become diluted and too low and can be dangerous—and even life threatening—if untreated.
What Are Signs of Early or Mild Dehydration? In the early stages of dehydration, there are no signs or symptoms, but include dryness of mouth and thirst.
As dehydration increases, symptoms of early or mild dehydration include: flushed face; extreme thirst; consuming more than normal or the inability to drink; dry, warm skin; the inability to pass urine or reduced amounts (dark, yellow); dizziness made worse when standing; weakness; cramping in the arms and legs; crying with few or no tears; insomnia or more irritable; sickness; headaches; dry mouth or dry tongue with thick saliva.
What Are Signs of Moderate to Severe Dehydration? Symptoms of moderate to severe dehydration include low blood pressure; fainting; severe muscle contractions in the arms, legs, stomach, and back; convulsions; a bloated stomach; heart failure; sunken fontanelle—soft spot on a infants head; sunken dry eyes with few or no tears; skin loses its firmness and looks wrinkled; lack of elasticity of the skin (when a bit of skin lifted up stays folded and takes a long time to go back to its normal position); rapid and deep breathing (faster than normal); and a fast, weak pulse.
Who is at Great Risk? Certain populations are at greater risk including infants and children, older adults, those with chronic illnesses and people who work or exercise outside. Serious complications can ensue including heat injury (ranging in severity from mild cramps to heat exhaustion or potentially life-threatening heatstroke); urinary tract infections, kidney stones and even kidney failure; seizures due to electrolyte imbalance, sometimes with a loss of consciousness; and low blood volume (hypo-volemic) shock.
Can Foods Help You Stay Hydrated? Yes, the body intakes hydration not only from water and other liquids, but foodstuffs as well—some boasting as much 90 percent water content.Those in the 90-100 percent water content range include fruits like cantaloupe, strawberries and watermelon; as well as vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, celery, spinach and cooked squash. 70 to 89 percent water content include fruits like bananas, grapes, oranges, pears and pineapples; vegetables such as carrots, cooked broccoli and avocados; and dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese and ricotta cheese.
For drinks, the focus is on unsweetened beverages, like water, in order to limit calories from added sugars, and to use strategies to increase water intake—like adding a flavor enhancer. For this, a fruit flavored re-hydration accelerant like the SOS Hydration drink mix can do tasty double duty.
Can Sports Drinks Actually Undermine Hydration? Yes. Why pay extra money for excess sugar when what you really need are electrolytes? Only a very small amount of sugar is required to help transport electrolytes and water into the cells. In fact, its most effective when utilizing one molecule of sugar and one molecule of sodium in combination.
Even water re-hydration and other drinks have been shown to contain excess sugar which increases actually undermines cellular H2O absorption. If there is excess sugar in a drink, you can trigger reverse osmosis which is an incorrect balance of sugar to sodium. Sodium always follows sugar and water always follows sodium. In a drink that is correctly balanced the water and electrolytes optimally flow into the cells. In high sugar “re-hydration” drinks there is too much sugar for the quantity of sodium and, as such, sodium and then water is actually leeched from the cells and passed out of the body as urine. This can actually cause dehydration—the opposite effect for a re-hydration or sports beverage.
So whether indoors or out, active or at rest, suffering illness or perfectly healthy, one thing is clear: Keeping your water sources well at hand and ingesting with regularity (and consistency) can have a profoundly beneficial effect on your health and well-being. It’s one easy and highly accessible assist for a multitude of maladies.
Sources in order: Medical Daily, National Academies Press, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, CDC, Healthline, Rehydrate.org, USDA, SosHydration.com, Mashed.com, and ScienceDirect.com.