Constantly tired, have a headache or a backache? Before you start popping some pills, think about the last time you drank a glass of water? Most likely you are dehydrated!

Two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, water is the most essential element for our survival after plain old air, yet most of us are walking around dehydrated. While our body can last a few weeks without food, we can only survive a few short days without water. The human body is anywhere from 55% to 78% water (depending on body size, age and sex); but as a rule of thumb, it is considered that two-thirds of one’s body weight is water, making it the main component of one’s body. In fact, water is everywhere in us - from within our cells, to our blood, to every single one of our organs and tissues, including the brain, the lungs and all our muscles.

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So what happens when we don’t drink enough H20? Simple - dehydration. While a 10% drop in our body’s water supply will land us in the hospital, a mere 2% drop can trigger signs of dehydration, including: trouble concentrating, headaches, fatigue and difficulty focusing on smaller print, such as a book or a computer screen. In fact, mild dehydration is one of the most common causes of daytime fatigue as blood carries oxygen to the brain, and when blood volume is low (due to dehydration) the brain receives less oxygen than it needs, resulting in fatigue and difficulty concentrating. 

Now most people think that they do not need to worry about dehydration, as it is something that happens only when you do not drink liquids on an excruciatingly hot summer day, right? Wrong. Referred to as acute dehydration, this form can occur suddenly after rigorous exercise, excessive perspiration, or if you do not drink enough water that specific day – and leads to the sudden onset of symptoms. However, this is not the only type of dehydration: chronic dehydration is a condition that occurs over time when a person does not drink enough fluids day after day. While chronic dehydration does not have the sudden and intense nature of the acute form, it affects nearly 75% of Americans and can result in many serious health problems

But what about soda or juice, don’t these count as liquids? While it is true that coffee, soft drinks, juices and even alcoholic beverages such as wine contain water, they also contain massive amounts of caffeine, sugar, artificial ingredients and alcohol that dehydrate the body. In fact drinking these beverages can do more harm than good. For example, drinks with high sugar  content, such as Coca-Cola or concentrated fruit juice, drastically raise blood sugar levels and the body must in turn use massive amounts of water to help bring them down. Caffeine, on the other hand, has a strong diuretic effect, causing us to expel more water then we should.  While its fine and even beneficial to have a few cups of coffee a day, or to drink a glass of wine at dinner, replacing one or more of your eight glasses of water with one of these beverages is a definite no-no. Above average consumption of such beverages can lead to chronic dehydration, which results in many different complications and illnesses.  Remember that every day, we can lose up to a half gallon of water just through normal perspiration, urination and breathing; and for those who exercise or exert more energy (physical labor) that amount increases substantially. Therefore it is very important to consciously and continually replenish your body with water throughout the day, not only when you’re feeling thirsty.

So apart from being present in every single tissue, organ and cell in our body, what exactly does water do?

Drink Up to Fuel Up

Water bottlesFor starters, our body's detoxification system is probably the single most important process to achieve optimal health, and the one function that relies most heavily on an excess intake of (clean) water. We have all heard that we should drink a minimum of eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day, and there is a reason for it. In order for the body to properly flush out harmful toxins we need to consume a certain level of water. When we do not drink enough our cells become dehydrated, and begin to retain metabolic waste products. Moreover, the kidneys will hold on to water, reducing urine output and causing retention of harmful waste material. However, that’s not all water does – far from it in fact.

Water forms the base for saliva, is needed in our cartilage to protect our joints (see below) as well as to regulate metabolic activity. Water balance is the relationship between water that is consumed and water that is lost from the body by all routes (urine, breathing and skin). One of the main reasons the water balance in the body is so crucial to our health is its role in regulating our internal body temperature. It is needed to formulate sweat, which in turn is needed to release heat when we become too hot. H2O is also required to maintain a normal PH balance within the body.

After oxygen, H20 is the most important element for survival; but did you know that water is actually needed to disperse oxygen throughout our body? Water moistens oxygen for breathing, as well as is needed to carry oxygen (and nutrients) to all the cells in the body. Water also plays an important role in proper kidney function and skin tone.

Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day to Keep the Doctor Away

While acute dehydration can lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating and fatigue, chronic dehydration can result in a series of illnesses and persistent pain. H2O is one of the best solvents in our body – and as a result it dilutes minerals and salts in our urine that can lead to kidney stones. In fact, it is advised that people who are prone to kidney stones should increase their water intake to 12 eight-ounce glasses of water per day as stones cannot form in urine that is sufficiently diluted. Mild dehydration can also lead to urinary tract infections, as the toxins in the urine are not sufficiently diluted.

Water bottleMoving on, did you know that chronic dehydration is a major cause of arthritis – a group of conditions involving damage to the joints due to the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage lies between all the joints and serves as necessary padding to ensure that the bones don’t rub directly against each other while we are moving as well as absorbs shock when pressure is exerted on the joints. However, as cartilage is 85% water, even mild dehydration can minimize its effectiveness. When cartilage does not have enough water, our bones start to rub up against each other causing pain and swelling. Dehydration is also one of the main causes of lower back pain as the discs between the spinal cord are made up of large volumes of water and when are body is lacking, these discs contain less water, become smaller and therefore are less capable of providing support.

Moreover, to protect its mucous membranes against its own acidic digestive fluid, the stomach produces a layer of mucous (which is almost entirely water). However when there is not enough liquid to go around, the stomach will reduce the amount of protective mucous that it forms and without this layer, our stomach is more vulnerable to ulcers. Chronic dehydration is also one of the root causes of heart burn as well as gastritis.

So water (or lack thereof) can affect our brain, our bones and our gastrointestinal system; but what about the vascular system?  Low levels of water, leads to low blood viscosity which can cause blood pressure to plummet – resulting in feeling faint and weak. However, when it comes to blood pressure, dehydration is a double edged sword as chronic dehydration can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure). Here’s how that works: as we know, dehydration reduces the quantity of water in the bloodstream. As a direct response, the body constricts the capillaries and the arteries, thereby reducing the fluid volume and ensuring that there is enough pressure in the vascular system to allow a steady supply of blood and water to the essential organs – resulting in hypertension. As we all know, high blood pressure leads to heart attack, strokes and other cardiovascular problems.

Moreover, when dehydration occurs histamine is produced, as it helps prioritize where the rationed supplies of water should go. Histamine generally has a “bad” rep as it is the substance that causes allergic reactions, however in this case it is actually the good guy. Unfortunately, excess histamine in the body caused by chronic dehydration may cause inflammation and may also result in symptoms that can be mistaken for other disorders such as allergies.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg; dehydration can also affect cholesterol, insulin levels and may even be linked with cancer. In fact, studies have shown that drinking eight glasses of water a day may also decrease the risk of colon and bladder cancer and may potentially even reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Drink Up to Lighten Up (literally)

As we know drinking eight glasses of water a day prevents fatigue and boosts your metabolism, thereby giving you more energy and helping you burn calories faster (the essence of weight loss). In fact, studies have shown that drinking hot water with lemon juice in the morning speeds up your metabolism for the entire day. However, drinking adequate amounts of water goes further than just ensuring that our metabolism functions properly.

Feeling bloated, and don’t know why? Apart from having consumed to much salt yesterday, chances are you may be dehydrated. Yes it does sound odd that drinking more water is the key to de-bloat, but it’s true. When the body does not receive enough water, it desperately tries to hold on to any fluid that it can, leading to unwanted fluid retention. However, proper hydration goes one step further – it may actually help you lose some of those unwanted pounds.

To begin with, feeling thirsty and hungry often go hand-in-hand, so many times when you think you are hungry, you’re body is really just craving some H2O. You might accidentally start eating instead of drinking (a calories free) glass of water. The next time you are feeling hungry, drink a big glass of H2O and then wait 10-15 minutes. If you are still feeling hungry, then you know your body needs food; but if you’re not, then you were just thirsty and have you have saved your body some unnecessary calories. 

Water also slows the rate at which food leaves our stomach, helping us to fill full longer and thereby stopping us from snacking between meals. Moreover, eating foods with higher water content also helps dieters – for instance fruits with high water content are more filling and have fewer calories. Take for instance the dried fruit versus fresh fruit example: a cup of dried apricots has roughly 400 calories, which is almost four times the amount in a cup of sliced fresh apricots. Foods with higher water content are also absorbed more slowly as well as provide part of our recommended daily water intake.

So how much water is enough? It is typically recommended that the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate loses about 2.5 liters (just over 10 cups) a day.  As food usually provides about 20 percent of one’s total fluid intake, drinking an additional 2 liters of water (eight or nine cups) or other liquids that day will typically replace your lost fluids.

So don’t make your body beg for what it needs, drink up today, to feel better tomorrow.

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