Do You Drink Enough Water?
Do you often get headaches? Feel sluggish? Tired? This can all be caused by dehydration. The majority
of our body (50-60%) is made up of water and it has a huge impact on how we function. Unlike food which we can last without for a surprisingly long time (Ghandi survived without food for 21 days), water is another story all together. It does vary, but it would seem that you can last between 3 days and a week before dying from dehydration. In fact, a 10% drop in body fluid would result in death!
Even mild dehydration has an impact on your health, which is drinking less than 1.5-2 litres of water or herbal (non-caffeinated)/fruit tea a day. Sadly, caffeinated tea and coffee don’t count, and actually dehydrate you. You would need to drink 2 glasses of water for every cup or tea or coffee to balance it out. Similarly, alcohol does not count as it inhibits Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) or Vasopressin secretion and also dehydrates you (ADH is the hormone that regulates the amount of water excreted by your kidneys). In fact a good way to reduce a hangover if you do need to indulge is to drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks and to have a big glass of water again before you retire to bed. Are you licking your lips a lot? Have a dry mouth? Or even dry eyes? Is your pee a darker colour? Do you feel groggy? Have some water; these are all due to not having enough fluid in your system.
Listen to your body, it will tell you when you are thirsty. If you feel hungry when you have recently eaten have a glass of water as you may be thirsty. The body sends the same signal for thirst and hunger until you are dehydrated; then you feel thirsty. Anyone who is trying to lose weight should be drinking more water and you will feel less hungry. Also, drinking water before a meal acts as a natural appetite suppressant and could help you eat less. Dehydration is also the number one cause of fatigue, so if you are feeling lethargic - perhaps you need to increase your intake of water. If you are dehydrated by 5% then your cognitive ability is reduced by 30%. Research has also shown that drinking water actually increases your metabolism and in two studies, "drinking half a litre of water was shown to increase metabolism by 24-30% for up to 1.5 hours. This means that drinking 2 litres of water every day can increase your total energy expenditure by up to 96 calories per day" (Boschmann et al. 2003). The brain is also very reliant on water. The brain and spinal cord sits in cerebrospinal fluid and requires water for the firing of synapses and neurons. According to research, one tell-tale sign of dehydration is a reduction in mental performance and memory.
Severe dehydration that can be life threatening due to the impact on the kidneys and renal failure, as well as causing cardiovascular damage because of the fluid balance not being right in the body. This can also be a cause of high blood pressure (hypertension). There is also research to suggest that chronic mild dehydration is linked to some cancers such as bladder and colorectal cancer.
Water is a vital part of flushing toxins out of the body and keeping your bowel movements regular, which is so important. Remember that your body is made up of mostly water and all the cells of your body are bathed in water. Water is required for the millions of chemical reactions that take place every moment of the day in your cells and if we are dehydrated, cell membranes become less permeable. This prevents the right flow of nutrients and hormones into the cell and preventing the waste products from the cell in getting out. Enzymes for digestion can only be activated in water and we need to move waste from cell metabolism out of the body. Without enough water in your system, you can easily suffer from bloating and constipation. Think of it this way, if you are not drinking enough then you are basically swishing around in dirty water!
If you don’t pass a stool at least once a day ideally in the morning you are constipated and need to increase both fibre and water to enable this. Or if you don’t feel 100% with no specific symptoms and notice that your concentration isn’t great and you feel foggy minded it may be that you just need a little more water in your diet.
Drinking sufficient amounts of water every day also has an impact on your skin. If you aren't drinking enough, the skin becomes dry and wrinkles appear deeper. Your complexion will generally look far duller too. In Chinese face reading the area under each eye relates to the kidneys and if you see someone will dull sagging patches under their eyes then this could signal dehydration. Interestingly, where other areas are dry and flaky, this can signal dehydration in a specific organ. For example, the lower lips relate to the large intestine so this could signal dryness and problems with bowel movements.
How do you know the right amount of fluid to consume every day for you? There is the usual 8 glasses per day advice but there is no actual science behind this. We found an easy calculation you can do. For example, if you weigh 150lbs you need 75 ounces of water a day (half the weight figure). For ease of calculation, 10 ounces is around 0.29 litres so this person would need approximately 2.2 litres a day. However, this also depends on your lifestyle and the climate you are in. If you exercise a lot, then you will need more water as you will be sweating more and when it is hot or if you are away in a hot and dry environment then again you will need to up your intake of water. Drinking sufficiently is very important during exercise as it helps convert carbohydrates unto energy and deliver the right amount of amino acids to your muscle tissue. Athletes can lose up to 6-10% of their water weight via sweat. Mild dehydration can also lead to poor physical performance and reduced endurance. Not drinking enough after exercise will leave you cranky and prone to headaches too. Basically, you need to assess your body's needs and listen to your body. If you are thirsty, drink. If you are so busy that you forget to drink then always have some water on hand to remind you. If you have a disability and getting up and down to get drinks is difficult then make sure you have some handy.
Women who are breastfeeding will require more water and during pregnancy if there is morning sickness or diarrhoea then it is important to increase fluid intake and to stay hydrated. People who are more senior in years need to be encouraged to drink more as the brain signals for thirst lessen as we age. Anyone caring for an elderly person needs to keep them hydrated for all the reason cited above. The problem is that they do not like to keep asking to be taken to the toilet or they may be in pain and getting up to go to the loo may be difficult, but without adequate hydration they will experience other health issues that could be worse.
Fill a glass bottle up with water every day and carry it around with you or have it on your desk at work.
Don't like the taste of water? Try adding some freshly squeezed lemon juice and a teaspoon of honey. This can even be in hot water in the winter months and lemon is also good for regulating acid balance in the stomach and boosting your immune system.
Look at your fingertips - are they a bit wrinkled as if you have been in the bath? If so then you are dehydrated.
Reduce diuretics such as tea, coffee and alcohol
Eat water rich foods such as salads, fruits and vegetables
Try and avoid fizzy drinks as these are just liquid candy and do not refresh you but load you with sugar
When exercising drink before starting exercise and often during the workout
Don't wait to start drinking until after you are dehydrated or you are likely to have gastrointestinal disturbances
Remember always that drinking enough water is a basic component to healthy living - it is all about finding the right balance for you in your life
Your urine should be a pale straw colour by mid-morning. If it’s darker than that, after your first pee of the day, you are dehydrated. Your urine shouldn’t really smell either, so if you are aware of a smell up your water intake. Unless of course you have been eating asparagus…
Katie Ruane is a Naturopath, Massage Therapist and Reflexologist member of Complementary Health Professionals. Her website is www.harleystreetnaturopath.co.uk and you can follow her on Instagram: Harley_Street_Naturopath and on Facebook.