Dehydration: Do You Drink Enough Water?
You may already know that the human body is over 60% water. And you may have been told that the average adult should drink about 8 glasses of water every day. But did you know that by the time a person actually feels thirsty, their body has lost roughly 1 % of its total water? Dehydration can have a physical effect on our bodies before we even experience thirst. Once the body loses only 0.5 % of its water, there is already an increased strain on the heart. Obviously dehydration has a wide range of severity depending on the total amount of water lost and the length of time without replenishment.
A few years ago, I was in a position in which dehydration was a very realistic possibility. In the summer of 2007, I set out to become the first man to successfully roller-blade non-stop from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, B.C. skating 6-10 hours a day for 4 months. I was faced with all kinds of obstacles and weather. Dehydration was one concern I thought about every day. I was generally very careful to ensure adequate amounts of water to keep myself hydrated. However, I was faced with several days of record-breaking heat which proved to be too much. By 9:00am, the heat was so unbearable that I began feeling sluggish, thirsty and light-headed. I was forced to retreat to the shade of my safety vehicle for the majority of the day and would limit my skating to the early morning and later in the evening. Fortunately I had the means and mindset to avoid any major problems, but many people do not recognize the early warning signs and get into serious trouble.
We know that we need to stay hydrated. And we know we need water to stay hydrated. But what we often don’t consider are the reasons why hydrating is crucial. Other than feeling thirsty, there are numerous physiological effects dehydration can have on our bodies. Here are a few points that are often over-looked which emphasize the importance of hydrating:
- Carries glucose (energy) to working muscles – whether you’re an athlete or not, you use muscles every-day. Without water, there would be no efficient way for our muscles to get the energy they need.
- Elimination of metabolic waste – we need water to allow every cell in our body to excrete the waste products resulting from regular metabolism. This waste then needs to be transport through our bodies and eventually eliminated in the form of urine or feces.
- Regulate body temperature – we need to maintain a consistent body temperature within a narrow range to survive. Water helps to regulate this temperature.
- Joint and ligament lubrication – water is actually the main lubricant in our joints which enables us to move smoothly and pain-free. I’ve actually seen cases in which individuals have been able to alleviate some arthritic pain by simply increasing their water consumption.
- Aide vitamin and mineral absorption and assimilation – all of the vitamins and minerals we consume through a healthy diet needs to be absorbed and assimilated into our bodies. Many people take supplements but receive no benefit because they aren’t absorbing or assimilating the nutrients. Drinking more water can promote the use of water-soluble nutrients by our bodies.
Warning signs of dehydration can vary with respect to intensity. Some of the first symptoms include fatigue, thirst, flushed skin, light headedness and dark urine with strong odor. As the lack of water progresses, symptoms can become more obvious and could include difficulty swallowing, stumbling, clumsiness, delirium, shriveled skin, sunken eyes, dim vision, painful urination and muscle spasms or cramping.
If left untreated, dehydration can place serious strain on many aspects to your health. As mentioned before an extra burden to the heart and cardio-vascular system can occur very early. Severe situations can result in reduced mental capacities and even lead to a coma. A healthy individual could possibly survive for about 6-7 days (of course there are many factors) without any water before their body would completely shut down.
There are varying opinions with respect to the amount of water we should be drinking each day. Recent studies are proposing that we don’t actually lose as much water during exercise as we used to think. The premise being that although we may sweat a lot of fluid out, our respiration may promote some water retention naturally. According to one study, British scientists estimated that a marathoner could potentially lose 1 to 3 % of their body mass without any loss of water.
Nevertheless, I am still of the opinion that we, as North Americans, do not drink nearly enough clean water to maintain optimal health. I personally live by the guideline of consuming 1/2 an ounce of water for every pound I weigh. So to use myself as an example, I weigh roughly 165 lbs. This means I drink just over 80 ounces (nearly 2.5 liters) of water every day. Of course, this amount can vary depending on other factors like activity levels and external temperatures. I’ve seen many clients who, after simply increasing their water consumption, experience incredible improvements, such as higher energy, better elimination, improved digestion and decreases joint pains.
I’ve heard the excuse that “I don’t drink much water because it goes right through me and I have to pee all the time!” If you fall into this group of people, you’re not alone. Perhaps you feel like your body really isn’t absorbing any of the water. One tip I give my clients is to try adding a small pinch of unrefined sea salt to your water. It may sound odd, but trust me, it works. If you can taste the salt, you’ve used a little bit too much. The minerals in the salt will actually promote the uptake of water into your cells, so you will absorb more and excrete less. Sea salt in my water was one trick I used religiously during my 4-month journey across Canada.
We are very fortunate to be living in a country in which access to clean drinking water is easily accessible. So start drinking more and let yourself experience the rejuvenating effects it will have on your well-being.