How much water do you consume in a day? Ever given much thought to it?
For years, I didn’t. I think it’s something I had in common with a lot of people, because believe it or not, every day, a large portion of America walks around unknowingly dehydrated.
And it’s not just during the summertime.
You can become dehydrated just as easily in the chilliest of winters as you can under a blazing summer heat. It’s such a common predicament, chances are that you’re dehydrated at this very moment (maybe without even realizing it).
But is dehydration really a thing in this day and age in America? Or any first world country with such open access to clean water? That sounds like more of a problem for someone lost in a desert without a camel.
Doesn’t your body just tell you when you need water by getting thirsty?
Well. Yes and no.
Yes, your body will send you thirst signals when it starts to get desperate. But no, not right away. Because thirst is actually one of the last symptoms of dehydration. Meaning that by the time you’re thirsty, your body is already dehydrated.
But exactly how important is hydration in relation to a healthy lifestyle?
For starters, the human body is made up of a lot of water.
Your lungs contain 83% water, 79% in your muscles and kidneys, 73% in the heart and brain, 64% in the skin and even 31% in your bones. All tallied up, that gives the average person up to 60% of total body composition in water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
And that water is an absolutely vital ingredient throughout your body.
Your organs, blood and countless of your most basic bodily functions thrive and depend on it. Quite literally, it is the liquid life force that keeps everything running smoothly and efficiently.
Water is a pretty important deal. So accordingly, the lack of water is a pretty big one too.
6 Effects of Dehydration
Your body needs water like your car needs oil. Run low or on the wrong kind of oil and your car is going to have problems and ultimately experience a break down.
The same thing can happen to your body when it’s running dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when your body expends more fluid than you’re replenishing. Here are six signals to look for that may be your body’s check engine light flashing.
Your Energy Is Zapped
Dehydration can leave you feeling zapped. Even with a full night’s sleep, you might feel like you have little to no energy to meet a project deadline, play with your kids or fuel through a workout.
Many people misinterpret this tiredness as a lack of sleep and turn to the aid of coffee or an energy drink for a boost.
Unfortunately, not only will it not solve the problem, the caffeine in these types of drinks can act as a diuretic and possibly worsen the problem by flushing more fluid out of your system. You might feel a brief burst of alertness from the caffeine but that stamina is often short-lived and followed by a further energy crash.
Your Focus is Foggy
Because such a high percentage of your brain is comprised of water (73%), lack of fluid and proper hydration can slow down its production speed.
That can translate into difficulty focusing on work, school or specific tasks. You might feel a general sense of distraction or foggy-headedness. It might also surface in the form of a nasty headache no amount of Asprin or even a pair of reading glasses can cure.
You’re Easily Fatigued
Fatigue, dizziness, and lightheadedness are side effects experienced in the early stages of dehydration. These signs are commonly misconstrued as hunger.
You might find yourself reaching for an energy bar or something from the nearest vending machine. But while a snack might momentarily boost your blood sugar or glucose, but it won’t restore strength or overall energy.
Ya Got Potty Problems
Adequate hydration plays a big role in what goes down during your trips to the porcelain throne. And it’s all fun and games until someone cries “constipation” or “inadequate urine output”.
All bathroom humor aside, lack of fluids can result in some real difficulty for the bladder and the gastrointestinal tract. Regular bowel and urinary movements are pivotal ways your body removes internal waste to help protect you from disease and gastrointestinal ailments.
Bowel movements in particular aid in the distribution and balance of healthy bacteria throughout your gut. And a 2012 study from the American College of Gastroenterology found that individuals with a history of chronic constipation were at an increased risk for colon cancer.
Your Skin Is Dry
Composed of 64 percent water, your skin also needs access to its fair share of hydration. Without it, that epidermis is going to start looking dry, drab and become irritable.
And moisturizer isn’t going to fix it. You can slab as much baby oil and miracle cream onto it as you want, but lotion is only designed to help retain moisture already present in the body, not supply it.
You Overheat Easily
To prevent overheating, the body’s primary cooling system is the secretion of liquid through pores, sweat glands, and the lungs. But when that system is short on juice, your body begins losing the ability to regulate internal temperatures.
When that happens it can mean a seriously scary shut-down. Especially in the hotter seasons, it can leave you with significantly higher susceptibility to heat-related illnesses, like heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.
Feeling thirsty yet?
Fortunately, there is a remedy to dehydration. Unfortunately, the solution is somewhat lengthy and fairly complicated. If you have a pen and paper handy, get ready to take some notes. Okay. Here we go:
Drink more water. (Mind-blowing, amirite?)
Yes, as a smart cookie like yourself has probably been able to deduce by now, the key to treating a hydration deficiency is in fact, to supply more hydration.
But wait, you may say, isn’t drinking too much water an equally risky issue?
Overhydration and water intoxication are, after all, life-threatening conditions. People have actually died from them. Water may be good for you, but when is it too much of a good thing?
According to Scientific American, the average adult can drink about four cups of water in an hour without causing any issues for the kidneys. To exceed that amount, by just one cup, would require someone to consume 60 cups (3.75 gallons) of water over 12 hours.
So chances of the average Joe contracting any type of water-related poisoning without a preexisting kidney condition are reassuringly slim.
By now you’ve probably heard someone refer to the old 8×8 rule: Everyone should drink eight 8oz cups of water a day. That advice is actually more of an old wives’ tale and unsupported by any hard medical evidence. But it’s still not a bad place to start.
The actual recommendation by The Institute of Medicine for adequate intake is approximately 13 cups of total beverages for men and 9 for women a day (although there are benefits associated with drinking more than the minimal recommendations).
The best way to gauge whether you’re adequately hydrated throughout the day is through (bear with me now) your urine. Not only should you be urinating more often during the course of the day, according to the Mayo Clinic, your urine should also be more of a colorless, pale yellow shade.
It’s also better to strategically sip on liquids continually throughout the day vs downing massive quantities. Your body can only process and absorb so much at once. And try to steer clear of drinks that contain fairly large amounts of sugar, salt, caffeine or alcohol. Recommended beverage options include water (flavored, plain or lightly carbonated), milk and even decaffeinated coffee or tea.
Other Posts You May Enjoy
1. “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body.” USGS, U.S. Geological Survey, https://on.doi.gov/2ZFOQEy
2. Yoon, Carol Kaesuk. “U.S. Drinking Itself Dry, Study Finds.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 June 1998, https://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/16/science/us-drinking-itself-dry-study-finds.html.
3. Brody, Jane E. “PERSONAL HEALTH; For Lifelong Gains, Just Add Water. Repeat.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 July 2000, www.nytimes.com/2000/07/11/health/personal-health-for-lifelong-gains-just-add-water-repeat.html.
4. “Fit Facts Healthy Hydration .” ACE, American Council on Exercise, 2008, acewebcontent.azureedge.net/assets/education-resources/lifestyle/fitfacts/pdfs/fitfacts/itemid_173.pdf.
5. “Get the Facts: Drinking Water and Intake | Nutrition | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 Aug. 2016, www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/plain-water-the-healthier-choice.html.
6. “Water & Nutrition | Drinking Water | Healthy Water | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Oct. 2016, www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/nutrition/index.html.
7. Dunbar, Brian. “Follow the Water: Finding a Perfect Match for Life.” NASA, NASA, 16 Mar. 2007, www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/everydaylife/jamestown-water-fs.html.
8. “The Water in You: Water and the Human Body.” USGS, U.S. Geological Survey, water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html.
9. “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Sept. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256.
10. “Chronic Constipation Linked to Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 22 Oct. 2012, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121022081228.htm.
11. Birnbaum, Elisa H. “Work-up of the Constipated Patient.” Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery, Thieme Medical Publishers, Nov. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2780252/.
12. Vandeputte, Doris, et al. “Stool Consistency Is Strongly Associated with Gut Microbiota Richness and Composition, Enterotypes and Bacterial Growth Rates.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, BMJ Publishing Group, Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26069274.
13. Ballantyne, Coco. “Strange but True: Drinking Too Much Water Can Kill.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 21 June 2007, www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-drinking-too-much-water-can-kill/.
Originally published 7-23-2015. Updated 6-13-19.
All writing copyright © 2013 Rachel Elise Weems Woods
Images copyright © Bigstockphoto.com