There was a time when people left the house without water bottles or any worry about that lack, when thirst was remedied by what flowed from the well or the tap, and not another thought was given to the subject. Things have changed. Now many of us grab a bottle every time we head out the door, and some of those bottles are high-tech, branded, or filled with water from the other side of the planet. Is all that really necessary? How much time, money, energy, and worry should we actually be spending on our hydration?
As you may remember from middle-school science, our bodies are mostly water. This means that every organ, all our tissues, and every single cell needs enough water to work correctly.
Water is needed for:
- Making saliva, and proper digestion
- Regulating body temperature
- Getting rid of waste products and preventing constipation
- Cushioning bones and lubricating joints so they can move more smoothly
- Balancing the chemicals that your body produces. In particular, your brain uses water to make hormones and neurotransmitters.
- Functioning as a shock absorber for your brain and spinal cord, and, if pregnant, your fetus. (Remember, lactating increases water needs too!)
- Keeping you cool. Sweat is mostly water, and when it evaporates, it cools the tissues beneath it.
Dehydration occurs when you lose more water than you take in, and your body no longer has enough fluids to work properly. Children most often become dehydrated if they’ve been throwing up or having diarrhea. Older people may have physical conditions or take medications that make dehydration more likely. But dehydration can happen to anyone, at any time, if they don’t drink enough water.
Unfortunately, thirst isn’t always a reliable signal that you need to drink some water. Many people don’t feel thirsty until they’re already dehydrated. Signs and symptoms differ by age:
In babies and young children:
- Thirst (sometimes)
- Less frequent urination
- Dark-colored urine
Take hydration seriously...
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- Sunken eyes, cheeks
- No wet diapers for three hours
- Sunken soft spot on top of the skull
- Listlessness or irritability
Because the complications of dehydration can be dangerous:
- Heat injury - If you’ve been exercising vigorously and sweating a lot, but not drinking enough fluid, you could develop a “heat injury.” This can range in severity from mild heat cramps, to heat exhaustion, or even to potentially life-threatening heatstroke.
- Urinary and kidney problems - If you’re repeatedly dehydrated or dehydrated for an extended time, this can lead to urinary tract infections, kidney stones, or even kidney failure.
- Seizures - Losing too much fluid, either from throwing up, having diarrhea, or sweating heavily, can upset your electrolyte balance. Electrolytes (such as potassium and sodium) help carry electrical signals from cell to cell. If they’re out of whack, your normal electrical messages can get scrambled. This can lead to involuntary muscle contractions or loss of consciousness.
- Low blood volume shock - (hypovolemic shock). This is one of the most serious, and possibly life-threatening, dangers of dehydration. Loss of fluids means not enough blood volume. This causes a drop in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of oxygen in your body.