Feel Better, One Swallow at a Time

Doesn’t it seem like everyone is drinking more water? Bottled water is a multi-billion-dollar business. Supersized water bottles, often with filters and other high-tech features, are sold everywhere and are favorite branded giveaways. Today we have a better understanding of the health benefits of staying hydrated than we ever have before. Right?
Estimates vary, but anywhere between 50 and 75% of Americans are underhydrated. As many as 40% of us are chronically dehydrated enough to experience symptoms that we might confuse with other problems. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration, or a small loss of fluids, like 2% of your body weight, can impair cognitive function, attention and working memory, affecting your ability to concentrate and make decisions, as well as reduce endurance, strength and exercise capacity.
Even a little dehydration can cause fatigue, headache and muscle aches, making you feel like you are coming down with a flu that (thankfully) never materializes. Countless studies have shown that increasing water intake by an additional 16-24 ounces makes a profound difference in the way subjects feel. This may have something to do with the fact that the human body is approximately 60% water. Keeping our water levels replenished is essential to keeping us healthy.

Myths and Facts about Dehydration

Myth: The only symptom of dehydration is thirst.
Fact: Thirst is not always a reliable indicator of dehydration. By the time you feel thirsty, you may already be mildly dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to a range of symptoms beyond thirst, including dark yellow urine, dry mouth, dry skin, fatigue, dizziness and headaches. Other symptoms include muscle cramps, particularly during physical activity, and inability to sweat, especially in hot weather. Severe dehydration can lead to confusion, rapid heartbeat to balance low blood pressure, and even fainting, but let’s not go there.
Myth: Coffee and tea dehydrate you.
Fact: While caffeine is a mild diuretic, it doesn’t cause significant dehydration when consumed in moderate amounts. Coffee and tea can contribute to your daily fluid intake, but it’s best to balance them with water to stay properly hydrated.
Myth: Eight glasses of water a day is a must.
Fact: There is no one-size-fits-all rule for daily water intake. The recommended amount of water varies based on factors like age, activity level, climate and individual needs. The best approach to hydration is to pay attention to your body’s signals and drink accordingly.
Myth: Dehydration only happens in hot weather.
Fact: Dehydration can occur in any climate. Even in cold weather, your body loses fluids through respiration and other processes. Staying hydrated is crucial year-round.
Myth: You can’t overhydrate.
Fact: While rare, overhydration, known as hyponatremia or low sodium in your blood, can occur if you consume excessive amounts of water without adequate electrolyte intake. This condition can be dangerous and may lead to nausea, confusion, seizures and even coma.
Myth: Sports drinks are always the best for hydration.
Fact: Sports drinks are designed to quickly replenish electrolytes and sugar for athletes engaging in intense physical activity, but they contain too much sugar for most of us. While drinking water has been shown to be the best way to stay hydrated, many foods also contribute to your daily fluid intake. Fruits, vegetables and soups contain water and can help you meet your daily hydration goal.

How Can You Tell if You’re Chronically Dehydrated? Is That Different Than Just Being Dehydrated in the Moment?

Chronic dehydration and acute (momentary) dehydration are different. Chronic dehydration refers to a long-term, ongoing lack of adequate hydration, whereas acute dehydration is a temporary and immediate state of insufficient fluid in the body.
Recognizing chronic dehydration involves considering a set of signs and symptoms that persist over an extended period of time. Here are some ways to tell if you’re chronically dehydrated:
Dark Urine Over Time: If you consistently have dark yellow or amber-colored urine over several days or weeks, you may be chronically dehydrated. Urine color is a good indicator of your hydration status over time.
Infrequent Urination: Chronic dehydration can lead to a decreased frequency of urination. If you find that you urinate significantly less often than what has been typical for you, it may be a sign of chronic dehydration.
Dry Skin and Hair: Over time, chronic dehydration can lead to persistently dry skin and hair. You may notice that your skin lacks moisture, feels rough or appears less elastic or your hair is dry and brittle.
Chronic Fatigue: A constant feeling of tiredness and low energy can be a sign of chronic dehydration. Even if you get enough sleep, dehydration can make you feel perpetually tired.
Persistent Thirst: Chronic dehydration can cause persistent thirst, regardless of fluid intake. This persistent thirst is a telltale sign that your body lacks the fluids it needs to function properly.
Urinary Tract Issues: Chronic dehydration can contribute to urinary tract problems, including recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney stones.
Digestive Issues: Long-term dehydration can also affect digestion, leading to constipation or other gastrointestinal problems.
Changes in Cognitive Function: Prolonged dehydration can impact cognitive function, making it harder to concentrate and think clearly.
It’s essential to recognize that chronic dehydration can have serious health consequences, potentially leading to kidney issues, cardiovascular problems and an increased risk of urinary tract infections.

Dehydration is a Kidney Killer!

Dehydration can have significant adverse effects on the kidneys, and we need those for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance, as well as for filtering toxins from the blood.

When the body is dehydrated, the kidneys are forced to conserve water, resulting in concentrated urine. Dehydration disrupts the balance of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium and others) in the body. When the balance is disturbed, it can lead to muscle cramps, heart irregularities and other health problems.


Could Hunger Actually Be a Sign of Dehydration?

Yes, hunger can sometimes be mistaken for or triggered by dehydration. Basically, the brain has difficulty distinguishing between the sensations of thirst and hunger. When you’re mildly dehydrated, your body may send signals that are similar to those associated with hunger, such as stomach growling, low energy, cravings and poor mood. Dehydration can also affect your body’s ability to gauge fullness and satiety correctly. This means you might not feel as satisfied after a meal, leading you to eat more or feel hungry again soon after eating.
To help distinguish between hunger and dehydration, drink a glass of water and wait for a few minutes. If your “hunger” subsides, it was likely due to dehydration. The timing of your hunger symptoms can also be telling – if you’ve eaten recently and still feel hungry, you could actually be thirsty. On the other hand, if it’s been several hours since your last meal, your body may genuinely need food.

Bonus:  Drinking a Glass of Water Before Eating Can Help You Lose Weight!

Studies have shown that drinking a glass of water before eating can help you eat less; a strategy often recommended for those looking to manage their weight or practice portion control. Water takes up space in your stomach, so consuming a glass of water before a meal can make you feel fuller before you’ve even eaten anything, helping you consume less. Drinking a moderate glass of water (8-16 ounces) about 30 minutes before a meal is a good guideline to follow.
Some individuals find that drinking cold water suppresses their appetite more effectively, while room temperature water may be gentler on the stomach for some people, especially those with sensitive digestion.

Hacks To Help You Drink More Water Throughout the Day

You’ve heard a lot of these ideas before but knowing you could feel significantly better fast may be just the motivation you need to try them.
Set Reminders: Use your phone, a timer or a dedicated hydration app to remind you to drink water at regular intervals, such as every hour.
Keep a Water Bottle Handy: Carry a reusable water bottle with you throughout the day. Having water readily available makes it more convenient to drink.
Infuse Your Water: Add slices of citrus fruits, cucumber, mint leaves or berries to your water for a refreshing and flavorful twist.
Use a Straw: Drinking through a straw can make sipping water more enjoyable and may encourage you to drink more.
Create a Water Schedule: Set specific goals for water intake at different times of the day, like finishing a glass before each meal or having a glass when you wake up and before bed.
Make It a Habit: Associate drinking water with a specific daily routine, such as drinking a glass as soon as you wake up or with your afternoon snack.
Use a Large Container: Choose a larger glass or container to hold your water, which can make it feel like less of a chore to finish your daily water intake.
Opt for Sparkling Water: If you enjoy carbonated beverages, try sparkling water as an alternative to still water.
Incorporate Water-Rich Foods: Eat fruits and vegetables with high water content, like watermelon, cucumber and strawberries to increase your hydration.

The Bottom Line

Have you been feeling achy and sluggish? You may be dehydrated. Chronic dehydration can cause symptoms that may feel like the beginning of an illness or lack of sleep (although you may actually also need more sleep). Even though we are all more conscious about the benefits of staying hydrated, most of us are not hydrated enough. Try adding an additional 16-24 ounces to your day and see if you feel better. It may work wonders.

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