Staying hydrated is essential to our health and overall wellbeing. While our bodies can go for weeks without food, a lack of water can prove to be fatal in as little as 3 days. Every part of our bodies relies on water to operate correctly. From the tiniest of cells right up to our major organs, water is their lifeline.
Underestimating the importance of good hydration can lead to problems, both in the short- and long-term. Incredibly, we are still learning a lot about the effect that water has on things such as mental health, but one thing is for sure – water is our single most important nutrient.
Why is water so crucial to our wellbeing?
Our bodies rely on H2O in order to work exactly as they should. Everything from keeping an even temperature through to lubricating our joints is heavily reliant on water. The problem is that our bodies are continually losing this precious resource, so we constantly need to top up in order to stay in optimum shape.
One issue with doing this successfully is that the trigger to stay hydrated, thirst, only occurs when things are already on the wrong side of good. The thirsty sensation that encourages us to take on board more fluid only occurs after the body has already begun to dehydrate. By the time that your brain starts to send out the thirsty signals, we are commonly already dehydrated by anywhere between 0.8% and 2% of our overall body weight.
While these numbers may not sound very high, a drop of just 2% of our body water can cause the brain to begin to shrink. Although the shrinkage may be small, it is not insignificant. The drop in hydration can impair functions such as our coordination, concentration, and response times.
It’s not just the brain that’s affected, either. Muscular problems such as cramping can occur and strength can be impaired too by not having the correct fluid levels in our bodies. Endurance will also be reduced when dehydrated.
Ways to spot dehydration
Thankfully, our bodies do give us some telltale signs that we need to get some fluids on board before things go too far. Although we have already begun to dehydrate when we feel thirsty, it is still the best indicator that we need to drink as soon as possible.
However, there are one or two other signals that our bodies send out in order to let us know that our body water levels are on the wane. Knowing what these are and spotting them early will help you to keep your hydration levels in good shape. They include:
• Dark coloured urine or difficulty passing urine in extreme dehydration cases
• Lightheaded sensation
• Dry mouth
• Dry tear ducts
Naturally, prevention is always the best option rather than waiting to experience any of the above symptoms. Taking on board plenty of water throughout the day will help your body maintain the correct levels needed to operate properly, thus preventing these symptoms from ever occurring.
Are there times when we are more at risk of dehydration than others?
In short, yes. Certain conditions will bring about water loss more frequently and, consequently, dehydration will be more likely to occur. Again, actively preventing dehydration setting in by taking on board plenty of fluids will keep you in good shape. Times to be more aware of your hydration levels include:
• When you are running a fever
• If you have been suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting
• If you are pregnant
• If you are currently breastfeeding
• If you have a bladder infection or currently have kidney stones
• If you are spending excessive amounts of time in hot climates
• If you are exerting yourself, either through work or exercise
How much water do I need to stay hydrated?
The amount of water needed in order to stay hydrated will vary from person to person. The average healthy human being will be adequately hydrated if they drink water each time they feel thirsty. Despite numerous reports in the media stating that adults should consume around 2 litres of water per day, there really is no scientific study that backs this up.
Factors such as age and medical history can affect the amount considerably, so a one-size-fits-all answer to the question is impossible to come by. As a rule, if you are drinking whenever you feel thirsty – taking on enough fluid when you do so that you are not instantly thirsty again – and have relatively clear urine when passing water, you will be doing enough to stay hydrated and healthy.
If you have any questions on hydration please ask Mark Davies on your next visit to the clinic.