What is dehydration?
Dehydration is one of the most common but least recognised health problems. With the plethora of information about the benefits of drinking water, everyone knows we should drink more of it but most people find it hard to consume sufficient amounts daily.
Our bodies require adequate amount of water daily to function well and the requirements increase during exercise, illness or hot weather.
Many people think that they are getting enough fluids by drinking coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice or beer. The truth is that many of these drinks have a diuretic effect, encouraging the body to excrete water through urination, rather than retaining it. This could lead to chronic dehydration.
There are lots of mixed messages in the media about how much, and what to drink to avoid being dehydrated and this information can be confusing and contradictory at times. So I decided to write an easy water drinking guide focusing on practical strategies and actions on how to actually enjoy drinking more water.
Dehydration occurs when the amount of water excreted is greater than the amount being taken in. The body is very dynamic and always changing and this is especially true with water in the body. Dehydration occurs when fluid loss amounts to 1% or more of body weight; by 10% loss, it is life-threatening.
Most people are dehydrated to a degree pretty much all the time due to poor diet high in processed foods, high intake of coffee and simply not drinking enough water. Bear this in mind when assessing your water needs. The young and the elderly are especially susceptible to dehydration.
When you start drinking more water, be patient and increase it gradually! Years of chronic dehydration cannot be reversed overnight by simply drinking a couple of glasses of water. Don’t flood your body with sudden large amounts of water. Rather, increase your water intake gradually to get the benefits.
How to drink enough water daily and prevent dehydration
Here are a number of strategies for you to consider and implement as required:
- Determine how many glasses/ litres you need – individual water requirements depend on person’s weight, age, state of health, gender, temperature/ season, levels of activity and foods eaten. The ‘standard’ advice about eight glasses of water a day is not based on science but it has stuck as an urban nutrition myth, possibly because it’s easy to remember. There are different opinions on the amount of water needed daily; however, according to Dr Batmanghelidj, a recognised authority and researcher on water, we should aim for 25-35ml of water per kilogram of body weight. To calculate your water needs multiply your current weight by 35ml = e.g. 75kg x 35ml = 2,625 = 2.6 litres per day.
A few other clues/ indicators on your specific requirements include:
- Colour of the urine – if your urine is pale yellow or straw colour and is of a good quantity, that’s a good sign that you’re getting plenty of fluids. However, vitamin supplements, some foods and medications can affect the colour. For example, B vitamins can cause urine to become bright yellow. This should not be alarming as it just shows that the B vitamins were metabolised by the body and any excess was excreted. Conversely, if your urine is clear throughout the day, you’re likely drinking too much water and can potentially be depleting your electrolytes (see more on this below).
- Frequency of urinating – if you urinate frequently and you don’t have a medical condition such as diabetes, this is usually a good indicator of adequate water intake. Note that some medications and foods can increase your need to urinate, and adequate levels of electrolytes will slow it down.
- Thirst is not a good indicator of how much water you need or when – for most people thirst is a sign that the body is already mildly dehydrated. The older you are, the less sensitive become your thirst indicators.
- If you are very active (such as an athlete or exercise vigorously), outdoor worker, frequent sauna user, sitting in air-conditioned room all day, or eating a lot of processed foods, then you will need to increase your water intake accordingly by observing the signs mentioned above.
- Consider your water source – not all drinking water is created equal. Water tastes differently depending on its source and perhaps your impression of water is based on having only tried one or two specific types. Tap water can be especially hard to drink because of its taste and smell. Find sources of water you really like (filtered, spring, flavoured) and stick with it.
- Drink only water for a while – this might seem counter-intuitive but when you drink sweet beverages like soft drinks or juice all the time, it is hard for water to compete. Your taste for sweetness will decrease if you expose yourself to less of it. You might even find that after not drinking them for a while, they taste too sweet.
- If needed, change the taste of water – it’s simple to make slight improvements to the taste of the water without adding too many calories or making it unhealthy. I will talk about specific strategies in Part 2 of this article. Many people who drink sparkling (carbonated) water find plain water comparatively unpalatable. Sparkling water is better than none but it leaches the valuable trace mineral phosphorus from the body plus the consumption pf sparkling water in larger quantities can cause bloating and flatulence.
- Trick yourself into liking water – learn to like the taste of water by associating it with pleasant things. Each time you drink water, think of something that makes you happy – a person you love, an activity you enjoy, a food you like etc. Try drinking water when you are enjoying good company, or when you are doing pleasurable things. This is called classical or Pavlovian conditioning. When something you love (the conditioned stimulus) is paired with drinking water (the unconditioned stimulus), you eventually associate the two stimuli together, and, in this case, you will learn to love the taste of water because you associate it with things you love. Give it a go!
- Learn about the benefits of drinking water – the more you know about why water is good for you, the stronger your desire will become to drink it, and the more enjoyable it will be. Bottom line: our bodies are around 75% water and all biochemical processes need water to keep the body going and functioning well. For example, water plays an important part of removing toxins from our bodies and in keeping our entire system well hydrated and functioning properly. Another factor to consider is the loss of water causing dehydration. Urine, waste elimination, sweat, tears, and breathing cause us to lose water all the time. It’s estimated we loose around 1 litre of water when we sleep, therefore drinking water on rising is so beneficial. Therefore water needs to be replenished constantly to avoid dehydration.
- Always keep water near you – having water with you is a certain means for getting you to drink it! The more you resort to drinking it in place of other liquids, the more it will taste the very best to you.
- Get a water purification system – purified water tastes good and may help make drinking water more appealing to you. Be aware though that as you grow accustomed to purified water, you may find that tap water leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
- Climate can drastically change how much water you need – on hot days that require you to be outside, you should drink more water to counteract the fluids loss when you sweat. This not only keeps your body hydrated, it can prevent heat-related illness. Just as important (but often overlooked) is consuming enough fluids in cold and wet conditions. The human body works much more efficiently (including heating and cooling) when properly hydrated. Inadequate water intake affects the brain’s function first, which can become very dangerous (especially in extreme conditions).
- Purchase a bottle the size of your water goal – purchase a glass water bottle that holds the amount of water you wish to drink each day, or use a combination of 1-litre and half-litre bottles. Drink the water slowly throughout the day, half a glass per hour seems to be an optimal pace for the body to utilise and absorb water well. This will also allow you to easily see how much water you are consuming. However, if you don’t drink all the water you intended during the day, don’t try to gulp it at the end of the day. Excess water will be excreted and will cause you to visit the bathroom more often than intended!
- The more toxic you are the more water you need – if you have a more toxic lifestyle such as high stress, drug/ alcohol use, live in a polluted city, have negative attitude, are in negative relationships, you will need to drink more water. Stress creates inflammation in the body and water is used to cool it off.
- Caffeine increases excretion of water from the body (diuretic effect) – consuming caffeine in any form, whether in coffee, soft drinks, strong tea or in over-the-counter stimulant pills, actually deplete water from your body leading to dehydration. You need to drink an extra glass of water (in addition to your daily requirement) per each cup / glass of caffeine containing beverages to compensate.
- The energetics of water – the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto in Japan has shown how water can take on the vibrations or energy of the environment it is in. He has shown how water from a very polluted area will have a very different structure or energy signature than water from a pristine environment. He has also shown how the same water can be altered by intentions consciously given towards it. Beyond scientific proof, many know this to be true from experiences with holy water from sacred places, healing springs and baths. If this resonates with you, check out the reference section below for further reading suggestions.
- People with some heart conditions, high blood pressure or swelling of the lower legs (oedema) need to avoid excess water. If you have a history of kidney problems, especially if you have had a transplant, consult your doctor before increasing your fluid intakes. NB kidney stones can be caused by not drinking enough water. Therefore if you don’t drink water often you have an increased risk of kidney stones.
- You shouldn’t drink too much water while eating as it dilutes stomach acid and can cause digestive problems. It’s best to have water between meals – a good guide is to have glass of water 1 hour before or two hours after a meal.
- Don’t reuse plastic water bottles that are intended for one time use. These bottles leach chemicals into the water after multiple uses. There are chemicals in plastics that mimic the estrogen in our bodies causing and contributing to a whole host of health issues. Also the bottle, if not properly cleaned, may harbour bacteria from the mouth. Such bottles deteriorate in sunlight and leach chemicals into the water even faster.
- Never store plastic water bottles in a car exposed to sun for the above reasons. If you wish to always have water around, use a glass water bottle.
- Increasing your water intake in the late evening may cause you to have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. To avoid this, stop drinking water a few hours before bedtime – or make sure you visit the toilet before bed!
- It is possible to “overdose” on water. Water intoxication occurs when the electrolytes in the body are so diluted that they have trouble keeping the balance of water between inside and outside of cells. What that means is that drinking too much water (while not getting enough electrolytes) can cause your cells to burst. If you plan on doing heavy prolonged exercise, be sure to alternate sports drinks with regular water to keep your electrolytes in balance. Three glasses of water to one glass of (typical sugary) sports drink is OK if you rely on sports drinks for electrolytes during very heavy prolonged exercise, such as a marathon.
- Gatorade and other sugary electrolyte drinks also contain acetic acid which can increase rates of tooth decay. There is no real reason to drink electrolyte drinks unless you are exercising heavily.
Read Part 2 of this article for practical information on how to make flavoured water and electrolyte recipes.
Natural and Lifestyle Solutions for Chronic Diseases
Naturopath || Herbalist || Nutritionist || Reiki Practitioner
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- Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, “The Water Cure, Water: for Health, for Healing, for Life: You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty, and Your Body’s Many Cries for Water.
- Dr. Masaru Emoto, “The Messages of Water”, 1999.
- Dr. Masaru Emoto “Hidden Messages in Water”, 2004.
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Joanna Sochan is a Natural Medicine Practitioner and founder of Naturimedica Holistic Health & Wellness. She has a passion for helping her clients transform their lives by becoming healthy and well naturally. Joanna is an adrenal fatigue, sleep and gut health expert helping tired, stressed or unwell individuals to regain their energy, sleep better and be happier, more relaxed and calm. Joanna practices in Sydney and Lake Macquarie, Australia and also conducts Skype / phone consultations for clients Australia-wide. View full bio.