Water: it’s everywhere. Our planet is made up of more than 70% water, and our bodies are composed of about 75% water. So, it’s kind of a big deal; and yet, so many people don’t drink enough of it. Water is one of the most important resources on our planet, and it is predicted that insufficient clean water sources will be the cause of future political and economic strife. We know this. Yet somehow, many people underestimate the role water plays in the maintenance of health and its role in optimizing our day-to-day function.
Why do we need to drink water? Our bodies are composed of about 75% water, and even the structures in our bodies that we consider to be solid are composed of water: our bones are 22% water, our liver is 82% water, and our brain and muscles are 85% water. What do you think that means for the function of these organs and structures if we’re dehydrated?
- Just a mere 2% drop in our water levels can cause fuzzy short-term memory; a 5% drop can cause a 25-30% loss of energy; and a 15% drop can result in death.
- To put this into perspective, a 2% drop in water for someone who weighs 140lbs is about 3lbs of water weight; a 5% drop is about 7lbs; and a 15% drop is about 21lbs. Now you’d have to work really hard to lose 21lbs of water weight, but 3-7lbs is not that radical. And look at the impact that small amount has on your cognitive function!
- Mild dehydration slows your metabolism by 3% – this is relevant for those of you with weight-loss goals. If that metabolism slows, so does your weight loss.
- Interestingly, the 5th vertebrae in the lumbar spine is susceptible to dehydration. If you are someone who suffers from intermittent back pain, consider if you are drinking enough water!
Common signs and symptoms of mild dehydration include: increased thirst, dry mouth, feeling tired or sleepy, decreased urine output, headache, dry skin, and dizziness. If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, try having a glass of water and see how it helps!
Water is needed for many essential body processes.
- It is the solvent in which nutrients and wastes travel throughout the body. This is how vitamins, minerals, and hormones (our body’s chemical messengers) travel to our tissues; and it’s how the kidneys and bowels excrete unwanted waste materials. If your body isn’t getting rid of toxic by-products, they can build up in your tissues and cause inflammation which can lead to unwanted symptoms and eventually illness and disease if the root cause is not addressed.
- Water is also needed to regulate blood pressure.
- It makes up part of the digestive juices that break down our food so that the nutrients can be absorbed and used by our bodies.
- It lubricates the digestive tract so that food and waste can move through with ease.
- It lubricates our joints so we can move with ease and fluidity.
- Indirectly, it helps to regulate mood:.
- When we are in a dehydrated state, our body uses the amino acids Tryptophan and Tyrosine to transport wastes out of the body. However, these amino acids are needed to build the brain chemicals Serotonin, Melatonin, and Dopamine, which all help to regulate mood. (Serotonin helps with feeling happy and alert; melatonin helps with sleep; and dopamine helps with motivation and being able to feel pleasure.) Therefore, if we are dehydrated, these amino acids may become depleted over time to the point where we have limited stores and are not able to make adequate amounts of these necessary brain chemicals.
- Dehydration can also be linked to high cholesterol levels over time. When our body is dehydrated, this can cause a weakness in the tissues of our blood vessel walls which can lead to the development of what you could consider “cracks” in the wall. In response to this damage, the body lays down cholesterol as a defense mechanism. Over time, this can lead to the build-up of plaque in our arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, which puts individuals at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.
Factors that can lead to dehydration:
- Under consumption
- Medications (such as some blood pressure medications that have a diuretic effect)
- Exercise or activities that induce sweating (e.g. hot climate, sauna, etc.)
- Environment (e.g. dry office building, cabin of an airplane)
- Emotional trauma, shock, or mental stress
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Illness or infection
- High protein and high sugar diets
- Diabetes (due to high blood glucose levels)
- Chronic disease
- Consumption of alcohol and caffeine
Some of these factors increase the need for water because the metabolism of these products requires more water for detoxification and elimination (i.e. stress hormones, alcohol, breakdown of proteins and sugars, eliminating toxic by-products produced during illness/infection, etc.); some have a direct physiological affect and cause our organs to eliminate water from the body in increased amounts (i.e. diuretic effects of caffeine, alcohol, and some medications); and some just cause a physical fluid loss (i.e. sweating, vomiting, etc.).
Besides the common signs and symptoms of dehydration listed above, additional signs that you may be dehydrated include:
- Poor energy or fatigue
- Poor digestion – gas, bloating, abdominal distension, heartburn
- Dry skin or dry mucus membranes
- Arthritis or joint pain (due to poor joint lubrication)
- Poor memory or poor cognition (decreased fluid in the brain affect function of brain cells)
- Renal disease or kidney stones
- Hormonal disturbance
- Increased blood cholesterol (in response to damaged lining of blood vessels)
- Low mood, depression
- Allergies, hay fever (due to higher levels of histamines in the blood)
The question remains now: how much water should I drink?
While there is no magic number that applies to everyone, there is the commonly touted, eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. However, in a review published in the American Journal of Physiology, Dr. Heinz Valtin of Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire, set to answer this question, and he was unable to find any published literature notating the origin of the rule. He potentially traced it back to an apparently offhand comment made by the late influential nutritionist Fredrick J. Stare, who was said to be an early champion of drinking at least six glasses of water a day. (1)
The truth is that the amount of water an individual needs will fluctuate depending on activity level, climate, health, dietary choices, and stress levels. That being said, there is a general formula that can be used to give one a gauge as to how much they should generally be consuming on the daily.
Body weight (lbs) ÷ 2 = number of ounces of water per day
8 ounces = 1 cup
For example, for an individual who weights 140-lbs:
140-lbs ÷ 2 = 70 ounces of water per day.
70-oz ÷ 8-oz = 8.75 cups
Therefore, someone who weighs 140-lbs should be drinking between 8 and 9 glasses of water per day. However, if any of the factors mentioned above that increase risk of dehydration are applicable, this person will likely need to be drinking more than this.
Additionally, for those who consume coffee or alcohol:
- For every 1 cup of coffee consumed, it takes about 2 cups of water to break even.
- For every alcoholic drink consumed, the body can expel up to 4 times as much liquid. With alcohol consumption, it’s best to alternate every alcoholic drink with an 8-ounce glass of water to help avoid waking up with a hangover the next day.
It’s best to drink filtered water to remove chlorine and other unwanted chemicals that may contribute to poor health. (Did you know that the chlorine in our water supply can actually disrupt the healthy microflora in our digestive tract?)
Reverse osmosis or carbon filtered water are the best options, but if funds are limited, Santevia and Brita filters are cheap(er) and effective for removing chlorine (but not necessarily other contaminants).