Are you thirsty?

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Staying hydrated is super important for oodles of reasons.  Dehydration can affect your mood, affect how you look, and adversely affect the function of your internal organs.  Yikes. Grab your water bottle.  Seriously–you are going to get thirsty reading this.  While researching and writing this post, I probably drank three or four times as much water as I normally drink.  

Staying hydrated is super important. / Photo available via CC0.

How Hydrating Affects your Body

Without intaking any fluid, you would only be able to survive about 3 days (versus 3 weeks without any food).  Looking at it that way, water could be considered the most important nutrient for your body.  

Dehydration begins at a cellular level.  Cells contain water and are surrounded by water (water makes up about 60% of your body’s weight [1]).  When the amount of water outside of the cell drops, the water inside the cell diffuses across the cell membrane to restore balance.  This causes the cell to shrink and the membrane to become less permeable which affects the transport of cellular waste products, decreases available energy to the body, and hampers the flow of hormones.  

Dehydration begins at the cellular level. / Photo available in the public domain

Because dehydration affects every single cell in your body, the effects of dehydration are vast.  The entirety of the physiologic effect is too numerous to list in this article, but I have listed a few.  Generally, if you feel “off” in one way or another, try drinking some water.  

Mild dehydration affects your mood.  It lowers concentration, increases perception of task difficulty, and causes headaches [2].  It increases anxiety and fatigue [3].  Dehydration adversely affects vigilance and working memory [3].  

Dehydration can lead to an increased blood pressure by thickening of the blood.  High blood pressure will adversely affect your mood and may cause headaches.

Kidneys need water to function properly.  Higher water volume through the kidneys helps dilute the concentration of minerals, making the minerals less likely to clump and form kidney stones [4].  Anyone that has had a kidney stone or seen someone dealing with a kidney stone knows the agony that the stones can cause.  Drink water to avoid kidney stones!!!

Constipation can occur when the body is dehydrated.  Proper hydration prevents the body from reabsorbing so much water from your large intestine, allowing for easier bowel movements [4].  

Proper hydration can also help with bad breath.  When you are dehydrated, your body doesn’t produce as much saliva.  Saliva helps wash away stuck food particles and keeps bad smelling bacteria in check.  Although not a substitute for brushing teeth, drinking water can help wash food particles down and also prevents dry-mouth.  

Although not directly responsible for weight loss, drinking water can help with weight loss.  Water, when substituted for other fluids that have calories help reduce overall calorie intake.  Additionally, if you drink water before eating a meal, it will help you to feel full even though you are eating less.

Chronic diseases and cancer have also been associated with chronic mild dehydration.  “Chronic mild dehydration” is hard for scientists to study as it is difficult to describe and quantify, but has been associated with: exercise induced asthma, diabetic hyperglycemia, hypertension, fatal coronary heart disease, venous thromboembolism, stroke, dental disease, urinary tract infections, bladder cancer, colon cancer, gallstones, mitral valve prolapse and glaucoma [4].  

How to Hydrate

But water is best.

Other drinks count towards your total fluid intake. / Photo available via CC0

Water is probably your best bet.  It is sugar free, fat free, and calorie free.  It doesn’t stain or otherwise adversely affect your teeth.  Many people don’t like the taste of water though and prefer to drink coffee (I am looking at you, Grandma (who solely drinks coffee)!), tea, sports drinks, juices, and carbonated beverages.  Personally I usually drink water, even when people are trying to offer me something special for the special occasion I am attending.  On the rare occasion I decide to get crazy, I will go for a chocolate milk, which is not typically served at bars and people will ask you if you are twelve, FYI.  Overall, even though I prefer water, any hydration will do.  But not alcohol.  Alcohol actually dehydrates your body (hangovers, anyone?).  If you are going to drink alcohol, it is a good practice to drink water in between drinks.  This will help you minimize the effects of the hangover.  Some of your daily fluid intake will also come from food.  Fruit tends to have lots of fluid to it, and some vegetables too.  

What About Bottled Water?

Many people drink bottled water because of a belief that bottled water is healthier than tap water.  While this may be true in some cases, generally tap water is held to a higher standard than bottled water.  Tap water is controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency and bottled water is controlled by the Food and Drug Administration.  While bottled water typically follows the standards that tap water is held to, tap water generally has tighter restrictions and many more inspections than a bottled water company.  Bottled water is anywhere between 300-2000 times more expensive than tap water and has adverse effects on the environment.  Even if you recycle the water bottles, it is still more damaging to the environment than filling up your own reusable water bottle from the tap.  I drink tap water because it is cheaper and more regulated.

Bottled water is controlled by the FDA, whereas tap water is controlled by the EPA. / Photo available via CC0.

If your tap water tastes gross, you could try using a filter.  You can install one directly in your water line, or just keep one in the fridge and refill it.  Be careful with water filters though.  The ones readily available at stores have replaceable filters.  Some filters catch the bacteria and hold them until the filter is replaced.  A 1996 study showed that filtered water from a commercial household water filter system typically has higher bacteria levels than unfiltered, straight from the tap [5].  Also, filters don’t get rid of all of the contaminants in the water.  Check the filter insert carefully to read which contaminants are filtered out.  

Bring Your Water Bottle With You Everywhere

The easiest tip to drinking more water is to carry a water bottle with you at all times.  Having your own water bottle allows you to drink when you are thirsty and helps to maintain hydration throughout the day.  It requires minimal effort to drink if your source of water is right next to you as opposed to walking downstairs, and all the way to the kitchen to get a cup out of the cupboard.

When I first started this habit nearly 15 years ago, I would carry my highlighter-yellow Nalgene water bottle (affiliate) with me everywhere.  However, Nalgenes don’t fit in bicycle water bottle cages or vehicle cup holders.  I now just use whatever random water bottle I have gotten at a local 5k, or that appear in my house one way or another.  I have realized that water bottles seem to come and go with frequency in my life, which makes investing in good water bottles moot.  I lost my favorite water bottle about 6 months ago, and I still miss it.  It was a red Polar Bottle (affiliate)–it had a top that didn’t require unscrewing to drink, it fit on my bicycle, it didn’t leak, it kept my water cold and held more water than the typical bicycle compatible water bottles.  It also had a mini nalgene-esque handle that which made it easy to carry or attach to my bag if it didn’t have a water bottle holder.  It was the best.  If you want to buy a water bottle to help initiate you into the “carrying water bottles with you everywhere,” I would recommend the Polar Bottle (affiliate).  There are plenty of options out there, though.  Get one you will use.

Carry a water bottle with you to help hydrate throughout the day. / Photo available via CC0

How Much Water Do You Need

It is hard to pinpoint an exact amount of water that you should be drinking.  Ball park estimates for men are around 13 cups per day and women around 9 cups per day [1].  However, this includes fluid from food and non water beverages and doesn’t take into account your exercise regime (even if you don’t exercise, you still need to drink because you lose water through skin evaporation, breathing, elimination, the temperature of the air around you (which can initiate more sweating and fluid loss), or the humidity of the air around you (dry air can pull water out of your body more easily than air with high humidity).  Drink water with meals, drink while exercising, and drink water when you are thirsty between meals.  Interestingly, the young and the elderly have dulled thirst mechanisms, so those populations may need a more regimented drinking schedule than “drink when you are thirsty.”

But, don’t drink too much.  Drinking too much water can dilute the concentration of electrolytes in your body resulting in a potentially fatal condition called “hyponatremia.”  Highly variable and depending on your body, drinking roughly 25 cups of water will cause hyponatremia.  Endurance athletes are susceptible, as are participants in “water drinking contests.”  Basically, don’t drink so much that you are uncomfortable.  Listen to your body.  

Urine Color

One of the best ways to gauge your hydration level is by noting the color of your urine.  Pale yellow urine is the color of proper hydration.  Be aware that some foods, medications, vitamins, and supplements can affect the color of your pee.  If your urine is consistently blue, green, pink/red, orange, or brown, you may want to consult your doctor.  The colors depicted in the chart are more of a rule of thumb, and not intended to be used clinically.  If you have questions about the color of your urine, consult your doctor.  

Urine color is an indication of of your body’s dehydration. / Chart by Bodymybody.com

My Conclusions

Are you thirsty yet?  What color is your urine?  Proper hydration is vital to your overall well being in the short term and the long term.  Keep a water bottle handy in the new year and drink up!

 


References

[1] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 05 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Dec. 2016.

[2] Armstrong, Lawrence E., Matthew S. Ganio, Douglas J. Casa, Elaine C. Lee, Brendon P. McDermott, Jennifer F. Klau, Liliana Jimenez, Laurent Le Bellego, Emmanuel Chevillotte, and Harris R. Lierberman. “Mild Dehydration Affects Mood in Healthy Young Women.”The Journal of Nutrition 142.2 (2012): 382-88. The Journal of Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Dec. 2016.

[3] Ganio, Matthew S., Lawrence E. Armstrong, Douglas J. Casa, Brendon P. McDermott, Elaine C. Lee, Linda M. Yamamoto, Stefania Marzano, Rebecca M. Lopez, Liliana Jimenez, Laurent Le Bellago, Emmanuel Chevillotte, and Harris R. Lieberman. “Mild Dehydration Impairs Cognitive Performance and Mood of Men.” British Journal of Nutrition 106.10 (2011): 1535-543. The British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge University Press, 07 June 2011. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.

[4] Popkin, Barry M., Kristen E. D’Anci, and Irwin H. Rosenberg. “Water, Hydration and Health.”Nutrition Reviews (2010): 439-58. Nutrition Reviews Oxford Journals. International Life Sciences Institute, 01 Aug. 2010. Web. 29 Dec. 2016.

[5] Daschner, F. D., H. Ruden, R. Simon, and J. Clotten. “Microbiological Contamination of Drinking Water in a Commercial Household Water Filter System.” European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases : Official Publication of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology. 15.3 (1996): 233-37. PubMed. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 28 Dec. 2016.


 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Great article and sooo true for most people! thanks for the tips and reminders. great way to start 2017—-HYDRATE!

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