What Does Dehydration Do to My Body?
HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD YOU DRINK IN A DAY?
Did you know that ⅔ of your body is water? That would mean that the average person is around 60% water, which is kind of crazy to think about. With so much of your body being water, it’s no wonder that so much research has been done on which water we should and should not be drinking — but are we getting enough of it?
It is recommended that men drink a daily average of 3.7 liters (15.5 cups) and women drink 2.7 liters (11.5 cups) (1). But this does not take into account how much exercise you do, your pregnancy status, and whether or not you work outside in a hot, humid environment or in a cold, stationary office job. It is also possible to drink too much water. The amount of water you need may be influenced by some medications like certain antidepressants which cause you to retain water and if you have thyroid, kidney, liver, or heart problems, and how much water you are drinking in a short amount of time. The bottom line is that suggested daily averages should be taken as such — suggestions. Monitor your level of thirst throughout the day, your urine color, and your overall condition to determine whether you are drinking too little water. Additionally, make sure to consult with your doctor if you are concerned about how your medication, age, and health status affect how much water you should drink in a day.
WHAT DOES WATER REALLY DO FOR YOU?
Water is the lifesource of the world. It keeps your body functioning properly. A few benefits of drinking sufficient water throughout the day include (2):
ADVANTAGES OF HYDRATION
Carrying nutrients and oxygen to your cells
Flushing bacteria from your bladder
Protecting organs and tissues
Regulating body temperature
Maintaining electrolyte (sodium) balance
Keeping your skin healthy
Lubricating your eyes and joints
WHAT IS DEHYDRATION?
When a person is dehydrated, they are losing more fluids than they are putting into their body. Because our bodies are ⅔ water, it’s essential to maintain our normal bodily processes. If your body loses just 1% to 2% of its water content, you will begin to experience the first symptoms of dehydration. When you go through the first stages of dehydration, your body will begin to feel thirsty or fatigued. Then, you may get a headache and develop a dry or sticky mouth. You may then notice a change in your urine color and experience muscle cramps or dizziness.
By the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. This is because there is a delay between the time your brain signals that you are thirsty and the actual level of dehydration you are at. So what are the signs to look for?
SYMPTOMS OF DEHYDRATION
Dehydration is especially dangerous for children and older adults. Children have a higher surface to volume ratio, so they are especially vulnerable to dehydration. They also are unable to tell you that they are thirsty and cannot get water for themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, as we get older, our sense of thirst lessens and the volume of water in our bodies declines as our bodies are no longer conserving water as well as they used to. Diabetes, dementia, and certain medications further increase risk of dehydration.
With different ages comes different signs and symptoms of dehydration. Here’s what to look for:
- No tears when crying
- No wet diapers for three hours
- Dry tongue and mouth
- Sunken soft spot on top of skull
- Listlessness and restlessness
- Sunken eyes and cheeks
- Fast breathing
- Cold, blotchy-looking hands and feet
- Dark yellow urine
- Dark-coloured urine
- Extreme thirst
- Dry mouth, lips, and eyes
- Loss of stamina and strength
- Muscle cramps
- Headache from hangover: Alcohol dehydrates you, so if you wake up the next morning with a headache, make sure to rehydrate yourself
DANGERS OF DEHYDRATION
When dehydration is not treated, this can lead to a variety of potential dangers (3):
- Heat injury: Heat injury may result due to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.
- Kidney and urinary problems: Kidney stones, kidney failure, and urinary tract infections may occur when your body is put in a state of stress as a result of not receiving enough water.
- Hypovolemic shock: When your blood volume lowers, this causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in oxygen in the blood. This may put your body in a state of stress called hypovolemic shock, which is potentially life threatening.
WHEN TO GET MEDICAL HELP
If you experience the following symptoms, then it may be time to seek medical help:
- Blood in the stool/black stool
- Struggle to keep fluids down
- 24+ hours of diarrhea
- Confusion or disorientation
- Abnormal sleep levels or decrease in energy
- Rapid heart beat
- Weak pulse
- Low levels of consciousness
- Not passing urine for 8 hours
- Persistent dizziness
If a child has vomited more than three times in 24 hours or has experienced six or more episodes of diarrhea in 24 hours, seek medical attention.
IS OVERHYDRATION REAL?
Yes! When you drink too much water over a short period of time, your body may experience hyponatremia, or overhydration. When you drink too much water in a short period of time, the salt levels in your blood become diluted. This mainly affects long-distance athletes who do not replenish the salt levels in their body. This sodium is an electrolyte that helps your body regulate how much water is in and around your cells. Symptoms of hyponatremia include:
- Brain swelling, which may cause confusion, seizures, coma, or death
Depending on its severity, hyponatremia can be treated by receiving an IV sodium solution to slowly raise your blood sodium levels. Hyponatremia can also be avoided by making sure to replenish your salt and electrolyte levels by drinking a rehydration beverage when performing an endurance sport. Gatorade and Powerade are good options, as they contain sodium and electrolytes.
The most effective way to treat dehydration is to replenish your body with fluids and lost electrolytes. Other solutions include:
- Taking oral rehydration solutions that contain potassium, sodium salts, glucose, and starch.
- Be sure to hydrate the day before doing strenuous exercise.
- Drinking diluted squash, fruit juice, or diluted fruit juice. Sweet drinks can help replace lost sugar.
- Eat salty foods to replace lost salt. Do not take salt tablets or straight salt, as it may dehydrate you further. Gatorade and Powerade contain sodium and electrolytes so are a good option to help combat the effects of dehydration.
- If vomiting, take small sips as often as possible.
- Give children diluted squash or a rehydration solution (available from pharmacies). You might find that a teaspoon or syringe can be helpful for getting fluid into a young child.
What Not to Do:
- Do not dilute baby formula.
- Avoid soft drinks, as they have more sugar than you need and may be hard to get down.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, as these will only dehydrate you more.
- Don’t give children large amounts of water alone, as it will dilute the already low level of minerals in their bodies.
To avoid dehydration, make sure you are not waiting until you are thirsty to drink. Make sure you are hydrating with high quality water like hydrogen water that improves gut health, energy, and cognitive function. If you are doing exceptionally strenuous exercise, make sure to drink products like Gatorade or Powerade that have electrolytes and salt. Be aware of the signs of dehydration to keep yourself, your children, and your older family members safe. Become familiar with how to treat dehydration and know what signs to look for when it comes to deciding when to seek medical attention.