Staying Hydrated And The Dangers Of Dehydration

“Stay hydrated.” We’ve all heard the advice before, as well as all the promises and complications that come with it. Drink water to lose weight. Drink water for clearer skin. Coffee doesn’t count. It gets difficult to keep track of it all, especially when it is not always easy to distinguish fact from fiction. But proper hydration is nothing to be pushed aside, as it is integral to the body’s proper function. It is a good idea to know the basics of how much water to drink and why, so that everyone can accurately meet their body’s needs.

Eight glasses of water a day. When it comes to the amount of water we’re supposed to drink in a day, this seems to be the cardinal number. But how accurate is it really? The answer may not be as straightforward as it seems. For a long time, health specialists and scientists alike used the 8 ounce-8 glass rule as a guideline for how much to drink. This number originates from the year 1945, when the US Food and Nutrition Board recommended that for every calorie a person consumes, they also consume one milliliter of water. When put into context of the average person’s recommended daily intake, this rule of thumb yields (approximately) 64 oz of water a day, which is where the rule originates. However, this statement was widely misinterpreted, because many failed to note an important distinction; a great deal of this water is taken in through food, anyway. Though this may seem like an obvious mistake, the “8 by 8” rule stayed intact for a very long time, and is even still preached by some today. However, new research has recently been arising to further debunk this myth. For instance, Monash University in Australia conducted an experiment in 2016 which ultimately revealed that the body has a mechanism for controlling our water intake. Essentially, the experiment showed that when one is hydrated enough it becomes physically more difficult to swallow water. This finding called into question the 8x8 rule, as it showed the body is more than capable of knowing how much water to drink. Overall, there has been a shift towards this direction of thinking, and a good deal of experts now use the mantra of “just drink when you’re thirsty.” It is still recommended to drink throughout the day to stay hydrated, but every individual should simply listen to their body to determine what is healthy for themselves.

Now that we know how much water to drink, we come to perhaps the most important question: why stay hydrated? The obvious answer is that we cannot survive without water, but the question goes beyond this. Why is it that experts put emphasis on drinking more than enough water, rather than just what we would need to get by? There are a vast number of reasons for this, and far more than can be discussed here, but it is worth it to examine and understand some of the most important ones. For one, because water makes up a large portion of our blood, it is vital for the proper transport of oxygen and various other nutrients around our body. It plays roles in regulating the amount of sodium in the blood, as well as stabilizing blood pressure and heartbeat, to name just a few functions. If one does not drink a sufficient amount of water, these functions become much harder for the body to carry out properly.

For many people, though, staying hydrated is not so easy. And when water deficiency is very great, it is possible to enter the dangerous territory of dehydration. The National Institutes of Health defines dehydration as the state in which the body “doesn’t have enough fluid and electrolytes to work properly.” And while it may seem obvious that dehydration is caused by a lack of sufficient water, there are a variety of different factors that can lead to dehydration’s onset. For instance, people with Type 2 Diabetes are more prone to dehydration than the rest of the population. Their bodies try to flush out excess blood glucose through urine, which in turn leads to a quicker onset to dehydration if not careful. For women on their periods, hormone fluctuations may also lead to a greater required water intake, and for anyone that works out intensely, dehydration can become a danger quickly if water lost through sweat is not adequately replenished.

A variety of symptoms will warn a person if they are reaching the threshold of dehydration. First and foremost, they will experience a very prominent thirst. If one is on the verge of being dehydrated, though, it is important to drink slowly and over a period of time to regain water, as drinking excessively all at once can cause vomiting. A person’s urine can also indicate their level of hydration. Dark colored urine is more concentrated, indicating that a person’s water intake may be too low. Fatigue, headache, dry skin, and dizziness are also all possible side effects of dehydration. If you experience any of these and suspect that you may be dehydrated, it is important to slowly increase water intake, stop any physical activity, and avoid consuming anything that may have a diuretic effect.

Water is one of the of the human body’s greatest needs, but also one that we tend to disregard. Staying properly hydrated is central to our ability to function daily, and without proper water intake we risk dehydration and, in the long run, potentially severe damage to our bodies.

So, let’s raise a glass (of water!) to proper hydration.