The hot, humid, hazy days that we experienced this summer probably had you reaching for your water bottle more frequently or enjoying an icy slushy or lemonade to help beat the heat.
But did you know that lack of hydration is one of the most commonly overlooked conditions and that a large majority of people suffer from chronic, low-grade dehydration? This is often due to poor eating and drinking habits or simply not actively focusing on getting an adequate intake level throughout the day. To help prevent this problem we first need to know why adequate hydration is one of the most important elements to our health and how not enough can impair our body’s functioning.
We are made of approximately 60 per cent water. It is found in every cell, tissue and organ and must be continually replenished. Essentially, it is involved in almost every body function. Water carries nutrients and oxygen to all of the cells in the body. It regulates body temperature, improves digestive function, prevents constipation and helps to process and remove wastes and toxins from the body. It also literally moisturizes your skin from the inside out to keep it supple, elastic and free from dryness.
Water also lubricates and cushions your joints and helps to maximize the fat-burning capability of your muscles. By maintaining an adequate intake of water before, during and after exercise you can reduce/eliminate muscle fatigue and soreness often experienced after physical activity. These are just some of the important roles water plays in the functioning of our organs and body systems; without it we cannot survive.
But back to the low-grade dehydration that I mentioned earlier. What consequences does this have on our day-to-day activities and health and how can we recognize the signs?
First, it is important to know that you should not wait until you are thirsty to drink. Thirst is a late signal that you are already dehydrated. Sometimes the body’s signals of thirst are misinterpreted as hunger pangs so try to have a glass of water first, wait 20 minutes and then determine if you are in fact hungry. Urine characteristics are also a good indicator. Normal urine should be almost clear to pale yellow in colour. If you are not drinking enough it may appear cloudy/and or dark and have a strong odour due to decreased output because it is more concentrated than it normally would be if you were adequately hydrated.
One of the most common causes of daytime fatigue is dehydration so before you grab that candy bar or cup of java to get through an afternoon slump, try heading to the water cooler instead. Some people also experience irritability or headaches due to lack of water. If you notice that you have difficulty with tasks like simple math or have trouble focusing on small print or your computer screen or have fuzzy short-term memory, you may well be suffering from lack of fluids.
When we are dehydrated, the level of energy generation in the brain is decreased and therefore many brain functions such as memory and concentration may be impaired. In fact, a dehydrated brain is often an underlying factor in cases of depression. If not addressed, long-term chronic dehydration is often a contributing cause in many degenerative conditions and illnesses.
So how much water is enough? You may be surprised to learn that the proverbial eight to 10 glasses per day may not be entirely true, at least for everyone.
There are many factors which influence the amount of water we need. These include diet, climate or temperature, activity level, if we are ill and our size. The size factor in particular provides a good reference point. As a general rule, I recommend to my clients to divide their body weight in half with the result being the number of ounces that they should drink per day. For example, a person weighing 140 pounds should aim for 70 ounces per day. This amount should be increased accordingly with physical activity or if you are ill with the flu or a cold for example.
Here are some tips to help you become more conscious of your hydration status and ensure your intake is adequate:
1. Get in the habit of taking a water bottle with you everywhere you go (I.e. in the car, walking, etc.) Once it becomes a habit then it is second nature.
2. Using a straw to drink will help to increase the amount you consume.
3. Give your water some extra flavour by adding a slice of lime or lemon or some cucumber. This improves the taste and you may find that you are enjoying your water a bit more and drinking more than usual.
4. Start your day by drinking one to two glasses on an empty stomach. When you are sleeping, your body is actually quite busy ‘cleaning house.’ By drinking water first thing in the morning you are helping your liver and kidneys to eliminate toxins and wastes more efficiently.
5. Remember that foods can also help to keep you hydrated. High water content foods include broth-based soups, melons, celery, tomatoes and cucumbers.
6. Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol. Although a source of fluids, other ingredients that are present in these beverages contribute to dehydration due to their diuretic effects. If you do consume one of these drinks be sure to compensate by drinking an extra glass of water.
Lastly, ensure that your water is of good quality. Water helps to keep our internal organ systems purified but will be of little benefit if we ingest additional toxins and contaminants. Choose a high quality bottled water or consider having a water purification system installed in your home.
By making these simple changes, we can become more conscious of the role water plays in a healthy lifestyle. So drink more water. Your skin, your hair, your mind and your body will thank you.
Dawn E. Sutherland Dort, RHN, NNCP is a natural nutrition practitioner in private practice in the Stewiacke area. firstname.lastname@example.org