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  • Dr Deborah Thorne, DMSc, PA

Water: How much do you really need? (Feel Good Fridays)


Summer is upon us and all of us have felt the heat especially here in the Southwest for the last few weeks. Most of us know the importance of drinking plenty of fluids in order to avoid becoming overheated and dehydrated but do we really know how much water to drink? There are many benefits to staying hydrated including better energy, physical performance, and avoiding headaches to name a few. Dehydration can cause your blood pressure to drop which can make you feel weak and unstable, like driving a car with an empty tank.

How do I know if I'm hydrated?

The signs of dehydration can include lightheadedness, headaches, dry mouth and eyes, constipation, and very concentrated urine. Sometimes we just get busy and forget to drink water so it's good to take water with you before leaving the house every day. Sometimes people want a variety of beverages throughout the day and that's OK as long as it doesn’t contain caffeine. Caffeine acts as a diuretic and will remove water from your system rather than replace it. Another option are sport drinks which are especially helpful if you are sweating a lot throughout the day and depleting your electrolytes. Gatorade, Powerade, or any of those sport beverages have electrolytes but unfortunately, they also contain high fructose corn syrup that is not good for your body. Water is your best go-to with some added salt and a touch of honey or sugar.

Who’s at risk of dehydration?

Certain individuals require extra care and caution when considering adequate fluid intake throughout the day. Individuals who have high blood pressure/heart/kidney disease may have more fluid removed than replaced through medications. Athletes or those that exercise intensely definitely need greater fluid intake. Working in the hot sun where the air is dry (SW New Mexico!) increase the demand for large amounts of water replacement. Pregnant and breast-feeding women need to be aware of their need for more fluids.

Signs of dehydration

Skin: itchy, rough, flaking or redness, cracked skin or lips, tightening or shrinking of the skin’s integrity. If you pinch and lift your skin and it stays ‘tented’, you know you are underhydrated

Breath: mouth dryness and stickiness, bad breath. The body needs ample amounts of water to make saliva; when you have less, bacteria has a chance to grow and cause halitosis or bad breath

Urine: Color says a lot. If it's light straw-colored you're probably hydrated; if its a dark yellow and smells strong, more than likely you are dehydrated

Hunger Cravings: Studies have shown that a hunger signal is triggered when you are dehydrated; this prompts people to eat instead of drink. The next time you get ‘hungry’ ask yourself if it’s really food and not water that you need instead. Drink more water and lose weight!

Constipation: Body waste is removed through bowel movements but without adequate hydration, stool will be dry and hard to pass; this leads to waste staying in the body longer than it should and forcing it out can cause hemorrhoids.

Blood pressure: 55% of your blood is liquid so water loss can significantly affect your volume and blood pressure causing it to drop

Fatigue: Dehydration can make you feel like you have no energy. In a small study dehydrated men reported they felt fatigued lethargic and tired and had low blood pressure due to dehydration. Easy fix is to drink more water

Headaches: Even mild dehydration can trigger a headache. Studies have found that women are more susceptible to this effect and is linked to low blood pressure which are both due to less water intake. Water may help increase blood pressure and ease the associated symptoms

Fainting: Severe dehydration can lead to fainting especially after rising from a seated or lying position. Once again, this correlates with low blood volume and low blood pressure therefore hydration is the remedy!

Cardiac (Heart): Dehydration can cause palpitations, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing as your heart is fighting to pump blood through your body.

Brain function: Just like muscle, the brain is greater than 70% water so when dehydration hits, symptoms include poor concentration, decreased alertness, slow reaction time. Studies done on Individuals driving a vehicle while dehydrated demonstrated drifting across into another lane combined with a slow reaction time while breaking. It concluded that one’s driving ability was similar to driving under the influence of alcohol or with sleep deprivation. Yikes!

Pain: Dehydration can heighten your brain’s sensitivity to pain signals; joints have ample amounts of fluid for lubrication but if fluids are low, there is less cushioning and greater pain felt

Mood: studies have shown that adults report depression, anxiety and tension more due to dehydration; tasks seem more challenging along with irritability and confusion

So are 8 glasses of water a day enough??

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is:

· About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men

· About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women

These standards are based on other beverages and foods that have a high-water content. About 20 percent of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks.

What about pregnant and nursing moms? Pregnant women should drink about 10 cups (2.4 liters) of fluids daily and women who breast-feed consume about 13 cups (3.1 liters) of fluids a day.

In summary

It’s hot and you need water! Is it possible to drink too much? Absolutely! Copious amounts of water that your body does not need can actually cause death. Overhydration, water intoxication or ‘water poisoning’ can severely affect your electrolyte status, that is, sodium, triggering seizures and a coma. Hydrate your body but be sensible about what your needs are. Tune into your body’s signals for fluid and give it what it needs.





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