Is Drinking Water Really That Important?
Our bodies need plenty of water to be able to function properly, which isn’t too surprising when you consider that so much of it is made up of water. We lose water every day every time we breathe, sweat, go to the bathroom and even blink. If you don’t replace what you’re losing, it can lead to dehydration.
Even being just a little bit dehydrated can make you feel tired and affect your concentration levels. You’ll probably first notice it if you get headaches or a dry mouth.
If you’re dehydrated more often than not, it can affect your health and wellbeing in other ways too. Here are some of the things that could happen if you don’t drink enough to maintain good health.
How to tell if you’re dehydrated
How can you spot the signs that you might be dehydrated? A few of the things that may signal this include:
- Being thirsty
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed (especially with fast position changes)
- Feeling tired and fatigued
- Having dark colored urine that may also have a strong smell
- A dry mouth and dry lips
- Muscle cramps
- Not going to the bathroom much and not passing much urine when you do go
You could be more likely to be dehydrated if you have diabetes, aren’t very well, have spent a while out in the sun, got sweaty after working out or are taking diuretics that make you go to the bathroom more.
Dehydration and inflammation
Dehydration can increase the amount of inflammation in your body. As you probably know, inflammation is heavily linked to a lot of illnesses so this isn’t something you want to encourage! High blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, and even cancer are just a few of the health problems that have inflammation as a big culprit.
Dehydration and immunity
When you are dehydrated, it affects the immune system. If you’re dehydrated, it’s a lot harder for your body to get rid of toxins and waste products. And if this is the case, it can affect how well your body can fight off infections and other illnesses. Higher levels of inflammation in your body can also have a negative effect on your immunity.
Experts also think that chronic dehydration can make your immune system more likely to turn in on itself and attack healthy cells as well as threats. This is a key factor in autoimmune conditions.
Dehydration and heart health
Not being properly hydrated can have an effect on your cardiovascular system too. In particular, blood flow can be affected. To begin with, your blood pressure can drop, which is why you’re prone to feeling dizzy. As your body tries to raise it again, it can put a lot of strain on your heart.
In the emergency department, we have a fast (and free) evaluation for dehydration. We check someone’s pulse and blood pressure when they are laying flat, then again when seated, and then we have them stand up and do it again. If they are dehydrated, they have changes in their heart rate and blood pressure and often get dizzy. The treatment? Fluids.
Dehydration and brain health
Headaches and concentration problems are some of the signs of mild dehydration but the effects on the brain can go far beyond this. Your brain needs a fair amount of water to keep it functioning at its best—even more so than the rest of your body. This is why even slight dehydration can have a big impact on your cognition and energy levels.
Mild dehydration can impair concentration, alertness, and short-term memory. Not only that, but other researchers found that people who were dehydrated had more fatigue, confusion, and anger. Your hydration matters for your brain and mental health.
Migraines and other headaches can also be impacted by your hydration levels. Folk wisdom has long told us that the first thing to do for a headache is to drink 1-2 glasses of water. Some people question if it is the ibuprofen/Tylenol that helps or if it is actually the water used to swallow the medications. Improved hydration helped participants in a randomized study reduce the intensity of their headaches as well as the duration.
Dehydration and digestive health
Usually, you’ll lose a decent amount of water in your stool and this helps it to be passed more easily. If you’re not very hydrated, your body will try to hang onto more water and tries to extract water from digested food in your small intestine. The end result? Constipation is a lot more likely. Your stool will be harder and drier, which can be a lot more difficult to pass.
Dehydration and joint health
Your joints need a certain amount of lubrication to stop them rubbing against each other and not drinking enough water can upset this delicate balance. If you’re well hydrated, any cartilage that does start to wear away will be replaced by new cartilage but if you’re dehydrated, this is can take a lot longer to happen. The nutrients that you need for repair and renewal find it much harder to get to their destination and joint problems can become a problem.
Dehydration and the prevention of chronic diseases
Mild dehydration plays a role in many diseases of the body. Do you identify with any of the problems listed by researchers Manz and Wentz? They list constipation, exercise asthma, diabetic ketoacidosis, UTIs, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart disease.
Too much is also bad
After all those reasons to stay properly hydrated, you might be tempted to drink a ton of water, right? As with everything about your body, moderation is key. Too little is bad (see all those reasons above) but too much can also be very dangerous. Too much water can cause your electrolyte levels to change and can even cause death.
The easiest way to calculate your water needs is to take your weight in pounds and divide that in half. The number you end up with is how many ounces you should be drinking each day—at a baseline. For example, if you weigh 140 lbs that would be 70 ounces per day of water. If you weigh 220 pounds, you would want to aim for 110 ounces of water per day. Or, you can use Mayo Clinic’s recommendation: 3 liters (100 ounces) for men and 2.2 liters (75 ounces) for women.
So there you have it – staying well hydrated can help your immunity and digestion, and keep your heart, kidneys, joints, and brain healthier. Have you had enough water today? Share this post, then go have a drink of refreshing, life-giving water.