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Good Hydration: Water as Therapy

The human body can survive for weeks without food. But it can only endure a few days without water (H2O). In the US and other developed countries, most people take for granted their access to water. An estimated 1.1 billion people in developing countries struggle with inadequate access to water.

Water is essential to every function your body performs. You need to continually replenish it as you use it up each time you breathe, sweat, and urinate. Various factors, including age, sex, weather, food intake, and activities, contribute to the amount needed.

Through life, the body goes from a higher to a lower amount of water. The adult body is made up of around 60 percent water, forming the basis of every major organ inside it. While an embryo contains approximately 90 percent water, the water content drops in an infant to 75 percent. By the time one becomes elderly, their body water content has dropped to about 50 percent.

Hydration is crucial for our overall health and well-being, but many people neglect to drink enough fluids each day. Perhaps, it is the ubiquitous nature of water that most people find it unnecessary to prioritize drinking enough water every day. Ironically, many people are still dehydrated despite the abundance of water. In the United States alone, 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Water is a vital nutrient needed to sustain all forms of life, and taking it for granted can be costly. In this article, you’ll learn how your daily fluid intake affects your body. 

Water in Your Body

Here are some interesting facts about your internal water supply:

  • Men have a higher body H2O content than women, but both lose total body water as they age.
  • Every day, many adults lose about 2.5 to 3 liters of water. The water loss may be due to sweltering weather and prolonged exercise or body movement; Due to lesser activity, older adults lose only about 2 liters per day;
  • When you travel by plane for three hours, you can lose approximately 1.5 liters of water; and
  • Every drop of water you lose needs replacing.
human hand under pouring water
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Water in Your Food

Most of the food you eat contains H20, including those that look hard and dry. From food consumption alone, your body can get about 20% of its total water requirements. The remaining 80% or so of water required by your body comes from drinking fluids.

A salad contains much water and fiber.
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

How much daily fluid intake do you need?

Water is one of the essential elements of life, but knowing how much to drink remains quite a challenge. You may have grown up thinking you need to drink eight (8) glasses of water each day, excluding any other fluids you might choose to drink.  

But a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Physiology has questioned this old recommendation, saying that there was no scientific evidence to back it up. As it turns out, you can be just as hydrated with coffee, soft drinks, or even beer. Of course, water is still the ideal beverage of choice because it’s clean, refreshing, and calorie-free. Here is the current IOM recommendation for daily fluid intake in different age groups:

DEMOGRAPHICS TOTAL DAILY RECOMMENDED FLUID INTAKE


DEMOGRAPHICS
TOTAL DAILY RECOMMENDED FLUID INTAKE
IN CUPSIN LITERS
Children 4-8 years old5 cups1.2 liters
Children 9-13 years old7-8 cups1.7 to 1.9 liters
Children 14-18 years old8-11 cups1.9 to 2.6 liters
Men 19 years and older13 cups3 liters
Women 19 years and older9 cups2.2 liters
Pregnant women10 cups2.6 liters
Breastfeeding women13 cups3 liters

These recommended intakes include all fluids, but it’s best if the majority of them are from plain water. The required amount of fluid intake varies greatly, and some people may need to drink less when:

  • They eat a lot of fruits and vegetables or food with high H2O content;
  • They live in a cold environment; and
  • They have a sedentary lifestyle. 

On the other hand, some people might need more fluid than recommended, and increasing their fluid intake is necessary to:

  • Help the kidneys process the extra protein when they are on a high-protein diet;
  • Help prevent constipation when they are on a high-fiber diet;
  • Replace the extra fluids lost during vomiting and diarrhea;
  • Replace the extra fluids lost through sweat during physical activity; and
  • Replace the extra fluids lost through sweat during exposure to warm or hot conditions

10 Benefits of Hydration

As stated earlier, water is essential to every function your body performs. Now let’s take a look at the several benefits of adequate fluid intake. Here are ten positive impacts of water on your overall health:

  1. It regulates body temperature

When your body heats up, the H2O stored in the middle layers of your skin comes to the skin’s surface as sweat. This sweat cools down your body as it evaporates. Studies show that having too little water in your body increases heat storage, making you less able to tolerate heat strain. However, the evidence for this is non-conclusive and more research is needed. 

2. It helps maintain blood pressure.

Water helps dilute blood for proper passage through the blood vessels. A lack of it makes the blood thicker, increasing your risk of having high blood pressure. 

3. Water provides moisture to mucous membranes.

Water prevents friction and damage by keeping the mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, and eyes moist. It also helps you swallow and digest food. Water keeps the mucus in your lungs moist to facilitate proper respiration.

4. The Digestive System depends on it.

Your bowel needs adequate water to work correctly. Proper hydration can help prevent digestive problems, constipation and neutralizes acidity in the stomach. The risk of heartburn and stomach ulcers increases with dehydration.

5. It provides cushion and lubrication.

H2O can cushion the brain, spinal cord, joints, and other sensitive tissues. Cartilage and spinal disks contain around 80% percent water, which serves as a shock absorber. Dehydration reduces this ability and can lead to joint pain. It can also affect the brain structure and function, leading to problems with thinking and reasoning. 

6. It aids in circulation and oxygen delivery throughout the body

The blood is responsible for carrying oxygen to different parts of the body. Since 90% of blood is water, the blood will not properly circulate in the body in the setting of dehydration.

Also, water helps dissolve minerals and nutrients, making it possible to reach other body parts. 

We’ll discuss this further under complications of dehydration.

7. It flushes bodily wastes.

Water is essential in the elimination of metabolic waste products and excess electrolytes. Sweat, urine, and feces flush out these wastes. Water is also crucial in controlling sodium levels in the body. 

8. It prevents kidney damage.

Your kidneys regulate the fluid level in the body. When your kidneys fail to excrete excess minerals due to low fluid consumption, they can develop kidney stones and other problems. 

We’ll discuss this further under complications of dehydration.

9. It boosts skin health and beauty

Water helps maintain your skin’s elasticity, texture, and appearance. With proper hydration, you are less likely to have scars and wrinkles, and you won’t be showing as many signs of aging as those who have inadequate fluid intake.

10. It can assist in weight loss

Drinking water instead of other sweetened beverages can help with weight loss because it’s sugar-free and calorie-free. It can also help prevent overeating when consumed before meals by creating a sense of fullness. 

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when you lose H2O, with or without salt, and your body doesn’t have as much water to replace it. Depending on how much fluid is lost, you can have mild, moderate, or severe dehydration.

Symptoms of Dehydration

To stay hydrated, you must understand and identify the symptoms of dehydration. The most common and easiest sign to recognize is when you start to feel thirsty. 

But thirst isn’t the only clue. Stay alert for other symptoms, including:

  • Dry mouth and cracked lips;
  • Dizziness or fainting;
  • Dry, cool skin;
  • Dark yellow urine;
  • Weakness;
  • Tiredness;
  • Mood changes and slow responses; and
  • Confusions and hallucinations.

If you cannot drink enough water to prevent further dehydration, more severe problems may ensue. Dehydration can decrease flow to the kidney and lead to kidney failure. You will eventually stop urinating, your kidneys will fail, and your body can no longer excrete toxins. In worst cases, dehydration may lead to death.

Causes of Dehydration

Losing body fluids every day by breathing, sweating, urinating, defecating, crying (tears), and spitting (saliva) is expected. Some of it is insensible fluid loss means loss from the water evaporation from the skin or breathing. Usually, you replace those lost fluids by drinking water and eating food that has high water content. 

Sometimes, you lose more water than usual when you have:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive urinating (Diabetes, diuretics, and certain medications can make you urinate a lot)

Other times, you may fail to replace lost fluids because:

  • You’re too busy and forget to drink enough water;
  • You don’t realize you’re thirsty (common in the elderly); and 
  • You don’t feel like drinking due to specific ailments like a sore throat or mouth sores.
  • You may have a condition like uncontrolled diabetes, where high blood sugars lead to excessive loss of fluids and dehydration. 

5 Complications of Dehydration

Now that we’ve established the importance of water imagine what happens to your body when you have insufficient fluid intake. All those bodily functions mentioned above will be compromised. Here are the top five dangers of dehydration:

HEAT INJURY

man touching sweaty forehead
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Regular exercise is beneficial to your physical and mental health. However, suppose you don’t replace the water lost during vigorous activities or insensible fluid loss, particularly in extreme temperatures. In that case, it can cause everything from heat cramps to heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. Fortunately, drinking enough water during and after exercise can prevent this potentially fatal condition.

URINARY AND KIDNEY PROBLEMS

Dehydration combined with poor fluid intake practices can contribute to many urinary problems, including urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney stones, kidney damage, and even kidney failure. 

The minerals and salt that bind together to form hard crystal-like stones inside the kidneys are kidney stones or renal calculi. The formation of these stones is often the result of poor hydration, making it difficult for the kidneys to eliminate those excess minerals. People are usually encouraged to increase their fluid intake to flush out the stones as a form of treatment.

SEIZURES

Seizures are caused and triggered by many things. One common cause is a depletion of crucial electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, in your body. Poor hydration can contribute to a deficiency in electrolytes, especially if there are electrolyte losses from medication or conditions. Since water regulates the flow of electrolytes, an insufficient supply could trigger reactions that may include seizures.

HYPOVOLEMIC SHOCK

Hypovolemic shock or low blood volume shock occurs when the amount of water in your body is too low. A decrease in blood volume can cause a drop in blood pressure, resulting in less oxygen delivered throughout your body. 

Losing more than 20% of your blood or fluid supply can lead to this life-threatening condition. If left untreated, the hypovolemic shock could result in multiple organ failure or death. 

CEREBRAL EDEMA

Sometimes, binge drinking to correct your dehydration can lead to swelling of the brain or cerebral edema. Your body may compensate for dehydration by pulling too much water back into your brain cells, causing them to swell and rupture, which could be fatal.  

Although increasing fluid intake in response to dehydration may seem intuitive, the key is replacing your lost fluid gradually. 

How to Prevent Dehydration?

Preventing dehydration is relatively simple. You have to drink plenty of fluids and eat food that contains water like fruits and vegetables. For most healthy people, thirst can be an adequate daily guideline of fluid intake. 

Be Wary of Too Much (hyponatremia)

Although poor hydration can lead to several health issues, drinking too much water can be just as dangerous. While it is a rare occurrence, excessive water can damage the body and cause hyponatremia

For water to reach toxic levels, you would have to drink several liters of water in a short period. Water intoxication occurs in individuals who are competitive athletes or have certain health conditions. Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychogenic polydipsia can lead to water intoxication.

Tips for Drinking More Water

  • To add variety, squeeze or slice of lemon, lime, mint leaves, or some strawberries. 
  • Keep a bottle of water handy in your bag, especially when traveling. 
  • Include drinking some water with each meal and snacks.
  • To add efficiency, put some ice cubes made from fresh fruits into your glass of water. 

Stay Hydrated, Stay Safe!

Now that you know how H2O impacts your body, always remember to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water can save you from acquiring potential health issues. Dehydration can happen to anyone, and it requires awareness. 

Fluid intake is not limited to water, so choose whatever beverage you like as long as you don’t forget to drink them. However, make sure that your beverage choices can also satisfy your nutritional and hydration needs. And keep in mind that even a simple act like drinking a glass of water when thirsty can keep you safe.    

woman drinking water while standing beside her bike
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

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