…but many of us are not getting enough by a long stretch; and here in Arizona carrying a water bottle is equivalent to carrying an umbrella in Seattle!
We all know that hydration is important, but few of us know why and understand the ramifications of even mild dehydration. In my practice, I see patients’ joint pain get better, their brain fog resolved and their energy levels increase – just by drinking more water.
Staying well-hydrated is important for many reasons, some of them are common knowledge, but others will surprise you. Did you know, for example, that being chronically dehydrated can cause you to lose those stubborn five pounds, or even gain weight?
In this blog, I want to shed some light into how your water intake maybe related to chronic health conditions and also contribute to optimal health.
Water makes up 60% of our body weight and hydration is critical for the basic functioning of our cells. Every system in our body, from cardiovascular, to digestive, to urinary, needs it to survive. I am sure you have heard the rule that says you can survive 2 weeks without food, 2 days without water and 2 minutes without air. On a summer day in Phoenix, you don’t even have 2 days, but merely hours.
Dehydration is the process when more water moves out of your cells then into them. It is not just water you lose, but with it, important electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, critical to keeping your body in homeostasis – balance that is!
Let’s take a look at five physiological functions that are affected by dehydration:
1. Brain Health
Not getting enough water actually leads to the shrinking of brain cells, thereby negatively affecting cognitive function. Even mild dehydration – as little as 2% – can impair mood, concentration and even reaction time. This has become evident on MRI and other imaging studies and during many cognitive performance tests. It also is not age dependent, but was found to be true for a younger demographics as well.
At the same time, studies have shown that dehydration, especially when chronic, has a negative effect on mood and the quality of your sleep, which in itself leads to cognitive deficits.
Next to water, sleep is another hugely important component to your health. We live in a society that is chronically sleep deprived and considers five to six hours of sleep a night enough. The reality lack of sleep affects cognition, reaction time, immune function….and …and ..and. So drink water to make sure you get good sleep and get enough!
3. Detoxification Support and Kidney Stone Prevention
Adequate water intake supports the body’s detoxification organs and processes. It helps remove waste and harmful substances through the urinary system, breathing, bowel movements and perspiration. Proper hydration also prevents mineral crystals (kidney stones) from forming in the urinary tract as well as flushing out bacteria that can lead to urinary tract infections.
4. Improved skin tone and joint health
Yes, water is important for your looks! Skimp on your water intake and you literally shrivel up. Making sure you stay well hydrated, on the other hand, benefits the prevention of wrinkles and can even reverse fine lines with more efficacy than collagen as some studies have shown.
The cartilage in your joints contains about 80% water, so staying hydrated helps your joints stay well-lubricated, thereby reducing friction, which in turn means smoother working joints and fewer aches and pains. Same goes for ligaments and tendons. Chronic dehydration can cause your tendons and ligaments to become brittle and tear faster.
You maybe eating healthy, exercising regularly, but the pounds are not coming off. Could it be that you are not drinking enough? Research in this area finds that you are more prone to reach for food when you are dehydrated and on top of that your metabolism won’t function at peak performance, the digestive system does not work properly and efficiently, thus hindering your weight loss efforts.
You may have also heard that drinking a glass of water before lunch or dinner will help you feel full quicker and studies have shown that doing just that, can result in substantial reduction in body weight and mass – aside from keeping you hydrated.
How do you know that you are dehydrated?
Some signs of dehydration may be obvious, such as excessive thirst, less-frequent urination and the darker colored urine. However, fatigue, lethargy, lack of energy, dizziness and confusion could also point to you not drinking enough water. When you catch yourself reaching for a snack, have a glass of water first. Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger.
How much water do you need?
In the past we have been told to drink 8 glasses of water a day, but the truth is that the amount of water a person needs for optimal hydration depends on body weight, age, activity level and then of course on external factors, such as climate and season. To meet hydration goals, consume 1/3 of your body weight in fluid ounces and more if you are physically active – or live in Arizona :-)!
Start your day with a tall glass of water to re-hydrate after 6-8 hours of sleep and refill your water bottle several times throughout the day. Keep water handy and hydrate before and after physical activity. Learn to pay attention to signs that point to the need for water, such as
- Excessive thirst
- Irritability, low mood
- Repeated yawning, fatigue
- Lack of focus
Keep in mind, though, that 20% of your daily fluids are consumed with food and that you can also conserve stored water by building muscle mass through exercise! (another reason for regular exercise)
While water should be your first choice to hydrate, the myth that caffeinated drinks such as tea should be avoided due to their diuretic effect on the body has long been debunked. In fact, tea (iced or hot) has less caffeine than coffee and gives you more water than it causes you to lose, therefore being overall hydrating.
Sometimes taking care of your health is easier and simpler than we think and in this case – a little water goes a long way – make sure you get enough!