One of my patients good-naturedly teases me by calling me “Dr. Water” because I’m always stressing the importance of drinking enough water every day. It’s true, though. Drinking water is one of the best health boosting things you can do for yourself. It can relieve a lot of nagging symptoms and keep you alive! In fact, more people are brought to the hospital every day for symptoms of dehydration than most other illnesses!
Here’s what I tell my patients about the importance of drinking enough water and the dangers and symptoms of dehydration so you can avoid a trip to the ER!
Symptoms of Dehydration
As I tell my patients, our bodies are about 75% water! We float in it for 9 months as a fetus and never lose our need for water’s protection. We need water to keep our tissues and organs hydrated and able to function correctly. We need water to move nutrients, hormones and myriad other substances throughout our bodies. Our brain, which is about 85% water itself, has its own “pan” of water that it floats in and draws from to work correctly. It’s no wonder then that one of the important symptoms of dehydration is confusion and irritability – our brain needs water!
Water also helps remove toxins through our liver and kidneys and flush waste from our intestines. With all the functions that water performs in our bodies, it’s only common sense that we need to replace water every day to make up for what we use. When we don’t, that’s when our body starts to “talk back” by giving us warning signals that we need more water such as the following:
➢ Fatigue – overall lack of energy; thought to play a part in chronic fatigue syndrome.
➢ Muscle aches – middle of the night leg cramps, calf pain, and general stiffness; a contributing factor to fibromyalgia pain.
➢ Joint aches – arthritis may start from a chronic state of dehydration where the joint is “dry” and inflammation can set in.
➢ Depression/Brain Fog – confusion and depression can result if the brain cannot make its “hydroelectricity” or fire its neurons correctly causing a state of chronic dehydration. .
➢ Loose skin – skin “tenting” heralds dehydration. Pull the skin on the back of your hand, if it tents and does not snap back quickly, you’re dehydrated.
➢ Premature wrinkles – many facial wrinkles and lines are from dehydration, not age.
➢ Gall/kidney stones – stones from toxins and minerals that don’t get diluted and washed out of these organs correctly.
➢ High blood pressure – dehydration tells your kidneys to slow down and conserve whatever water the body has. Potassium levels decrease and blood pressure rises.
➢ Constipation – a lot of money is spent on over-the-counter laxatives when drinking more water (and fiber) could prevent being constipated.
➢ Heartburn – excess stomach acid could be remedied by drinking enough water.
➢ Dark urine – one of the first telltale signs of dehydration is heavy, dark yellow or brownish urine. Urine should be clear or slightly yellow tinged.
➢ Fainting/Stroke – dehydration can cause you to faint, have heat stroke, or a real stroke because of too thick blood that can develop clots along with blood pressure spikes that can occur in dehydrated states.
How Can You Avoid Dehydration?
It may seem simple enough, to avoid dehydration just drink more water! However, it gets a little more complicated than that. Dehydration can sneak up on you through just your activities of daily living, what you eat, what you do. Here are some things to watch for:
➢ Food intake: Whenever food intake decreases, so does your body’s water levels, especially if you are dieting and watching sugar/carbohydrate intake. Don’t go below 40-50 grams of carbohydrate a day. Less than this will cause you to urinate frequently.
➢ Exercise/sweating: Be sure to replace lost water by drinking enough water before and after exercise.
➢ Caffeine/Sugar/Alcohol/Medications: All these substances can have a “drying” effect on your body. I recommend drinking 1 extra cup of water for every 1 cup of coffee, 8 oz bottle of regular or diet soda, or drink of alcohol. If you use artificial sweeteners, or take prescription drugs, and even vitamin supplements, add extra water.
➢ Extreme weather: Very hot humid climates as well as very cold, dry climates can produce dehydration. Adjust your water intake up in these conditions.
➢ Illness: If you get an illness that makes you vomit or have diarrhea, be very careful to replace water. You can do this through hot, clear broths which also add some extra needed salt or through commercial electrolyte replacements.
How Much Water Should I Drink?
This is a common question asked by my patients all the time. Most health practitioners agree on eight, 8 ounce glasses of water a day. The Institute of Medicine states women should drink 9 cups (72 ounces) of water a day and men 13 cups (104 ounces). However, as advised above, add extra depending on your particular activities, food/drink intake, and environment.
Many of my patients go through their daily lives in a chronic, mild state of dehydration and don’t know it. Likely you do too. It can masquerade as other health issues and be overlooked. Thirst is not a reliable indicator either as it only kicks in when dehydration is already present and the signal can weaken as people grow older. As I tell my patients, protect yourself against the many dangers of dehydration by drinking adequate water throughout the day. Think of it as very inexpensive and beneficial health insurance!
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
Natural Health News
Photo Credit: Sayan Samana