Understanding that water constitutes 60-65% of your overall body weight should be reason enough to keep downing those eight 8 oz. glasses of water daily. Having enough water on board becomes even more important when you realize that your brain is composed of 70% water, your blood is 80% water, and your lungs are 90% water. An adequate amount of daily fluid intake is necessary for body systems to work normally or to even keep working at all.
Water is essential for all functions in your body. It dissolves and carries nutrients to your cells, maintains the proper balance of chemicals in and around those cells and collects waste products to be excreted from the body. Water is always being removed from your body by processes such as sweating, digestion and waste elimination so it is important to have it replenished on a consistent basis.
All of the fluid in your body is provided by what you drink and the foods you eat. The common recommendation is to drink 48 ounces of water per day. Most people don’t realize that many solid foods are also a significant source of water. Fruits and vegetables can contain up to 90% water and meats contain over 50% water. It’s not all good news about food and fluid intake though. Some of what you take in will actually reduce fluid levels rather than increase them. Substances such as the caffeine in coffee act as diuretics and stimulate the body to remove water in the form of urine.
Signs of Dehydration
Dehydration in simple terms is a condition that occurs when the body does not have enough fluids. This condition can develop gradually or rather suddenly. It can be the result of lack of sufficient water intake because of poor hydration habits or it can result from excessive loss of of water due to factors such as diarrhea, vomiting or strenuous exercise. Symptoms of dehydration run the gamut from inconvenient and uncomfortable to serious and life threatening. Common signs of dehydration are listed below.
- Urine output will be decreased and will likely be darker in color and have a stronger odor.
- A pinched fold of skin on the back of the hand will not quickly return back to its original position because moisture is needed for elasticity.
- Your mouth may feel dry or sticky because fluids get conserved and sent to vital organs.
- Your eyes may feel itchy and scratchy because moisture is not replenished.
- Your joints may feel stiff and ache because lubrication is decreased.
- Muscle cramps may occur due to electrolyte imbalances related to reduced fluids or due to decreases in sodium levels from excessive perspiration.
- A dehydrated brain may lead to confusion, irritability, dizziness, fatigue and headaches.
- Fluctuations in blood pressure may occur. As blood volume is reduced blood pressure drops. The body then compensates by producing chemicals that constrict blood vessels thereby causing a rebound rise in blood pressure.
Populations at Risk For Dehydration
Children and babies can become dehydrated very quickly, especially when ill. This is because their bodies actually have a higher percentage of water as body weight, and they metabolize electrolytes more rapidly. Seniors often have a reduced sense of thirst, less ability to conserve water and are more likely to be on medication such as a diuretic that effects fluid levels. Dehydration is the most frequent reason why seniors are hospitalized. Individuals with chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, alcoholism and adrenal gland disorders are at higher risk as well. Also, people who live in high altitudes (>8,000ft) have increased risk because of the way the body adapts to altitude by increasing urine output and increasing respiration (breathing) rate.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Your body can only absorb about one quart of fluid per hour. Drinking excessive amounts of water in a short period of time is not only inefficient, but it can also be counterproductive or dangerous. Water intoxication occurs when there is too much fluid in the cells and tissues of the body. This can be the result of drinking too much water, kidney dysfunction or insufficient elimination of water. Water intoxication can be serious and may result in swelling, confusion, seizures and even death. College students have been known to die due to being forced to drink excessive amounts of water during initiation rites.
Tips For Keeping Hydrated
- Do start drinking water early in the day. It is a quick energizer and starts the habit for the day.
- Do drink steadily throughout the day. Large consumption of water is inefficient. The body can only absorb about one quart of water per hour.
- Do adjust your water intake for special circumstances that may decrease hydration such as sweating during hot days, physical labor or strenuous exercise.
- Do drink plenty of water after a massage as toxins can be released and need to be flushed from your system.
- Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. By the time you feel thirsty you are already in the early stages of dehydration.
- Don’t drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated sodas. They act as diuretics and remove more fluid than they provide.
- Don’t drink excessive amounts of water. Even drinking two gallons of water in a day can begin to flush out needed substances like vitamins and minerals. Rapid excessive water intake can also lead to water intoxication resulting in confusion, seizures or even death.
Water is the all-important elixir that keeps your body alive. You may be able to live up to 30 days without food, but you will only survive 3 to 5 days without water. Your body uses water for almost every function from dissolving and transporting valuable nutrients to keeping you free from toxins by getting rid of the waste products that your body does not need. So do yourself a favor, fill up that glass and begin the healthy habit of consuming eight glasses of water a day.