Dehydration - A Major Health Concern
Water is the essence of life. It is the most important nutrient in our bodies, making up roughly 70 percent of our muscle and brain tissue. Only oxygen is craved by the body more than water.
Unfortunately, most Americans and Canadians do not consume sufficient water every day to meet their bodies' most basic requirements, leaving them dehydrated. Dehydration itself is responsible for a wide range of common ailments experienced by just about everyone in today's busy, fast-paced world, including headaches and fatigue.
When we breathe, we lose moisture to the air every time we exhale - as much as two cups a day! Furthermore, our bodies lose water through evaporation from the surface of our skin even without rigorous exercise, and of course we also pass water in our urine. During the course of an average day, a healthy adult can lose eight to 10 cups of water. Add in exercise, and this number rises considerably.
If we fail to replenish the water we lose through these natural processes, we set off a physiological reaction that can have serious health effects. The following is the natural progression of dehydration and its effects on the body (symptoms):
- because your kidneys will begin to conserve water, your urine will become concentrated and will be amber colored as opposed to a normal light-tinted yellow color.
- constipation and/or bloating may be noticed
- 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. It is probable that similar percentages apply to 90% of the world population.
- In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger.
- Even mild dehydration will slow down one's metabolism as much as 3%.
- One glass of water shut down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the dieters studied in a University of Washington study.
- Lack of water is the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue.
- Research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.
- A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page.
- dry skin, mucous membranes, and lips
- thirst, often extreme
- flushed face
- sunken eyes or sunken fontanels (soft spot on head) in infants
- lack of tears in crying infant
- "doughy" skin that doesn't bounce back when pinched
- dizziness / vertigo / lightheadedness
- up to 30% decline in physical labor capacity, muscle cramping
- cold hands and feet
- problems concentrating
- impatience and extreme irritability
- major reduction in urine production
- weak irregular heart beat (often racing) and low blood pressure
- rapid breathing
- failure of body's heat regulation systems (sweating, for example)
- vomiting and/or diarrhea
- shock, collapse or unconsciousness
- coma and death
To prevent dehydration, experts recommend that everyone drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day.
According to nutritionists, the best way to fight the heat and the cold is to drink plenty of water.
Keeping Cool in the Heat
- Add two glasses a day to your 8-glass minimum. Also, keep in mind that heavy perspiration from physical activity can result in the loss of 12, 14 or even 16 glasses of water per day!
- Drink before you get thirsty. If you wait until you're thirsty, you're already slightly dehydrated. Thirst is an unreliable indicator of your hydration needs.
- Reduce your physical activity level if it is overly hot.
- Monitor infants, children, and the elderly. In addition to being more susceptible to dehydration, they are also often unable to express their thirst or to hydrate themselves.
- Pregnant women need to drink more water. They need to accommodate the needs of the fetus and the fluid losses due to increased heat production and perspiration. Lactating women need to increase water intake to replace fluid lost through nursing.
- Don't count beverages containing caffeine or alcohol toward your 8 glasses! Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate your body, so you need to compensate for them. Drink an extra glass of water for each cup of regular coffee or tea, and for each glass of an alcoholic beverage that you drink.
Cold Weather Hydration
In the winter, skiers don't always realize that drinking copious amounts of water will help them perform and feel better. A 1998 study conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine monitored skiers and compared a well-hydrated group (using back-mounted hydration packs) with a "no-water" group. The results showed how dehydration can dramatically affect a skier's day. The combination of drier air, high altitude and exercise can bring on effects of dehydration ranging from fatigue to frost bite. Although skiers are often tempted to drink hot beverages or alcohol, these only add to the effects of dehydration. Don't rely on thirst to be your guide. Drink water steadily over the course of the day, at least twelve 8-ounce glasses or more if you are an aggressive skier or snowboarder.