Before I begin this newsletter, let me ask you a question. When do you drink water? When you’re thirsty? Or every now and then? Or during mealtimes only? Most of us are familiar with the saying, “Drink at least eight glasses of water.” How many of us really follow this?
What happens when you’re dehydrated?
Dehydration occurs when your body loses too much water or fluids. This can happen when you don’t drink enough water. Around 60 percent of the human body is made up of water (please see infographic). You need water to keep your skin smooth and young-looking. It also keeps your eyes and joints lubricated, eliminates toxins and wastes, and facilitates digestion. Why wouldn’t you want water?
Are you familiar with dehydration? If not, you should be. Dehydration can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. For our purposes, we’ll try to keep it simple and straightforward, that’s a promise.
Mild to Moderate Dehydration. Many of the mild and moderate symptoms of dehydration overlap so we have clumped them together under one heading. Here are the clues:
You’re thirsty. This is an early sign that your body needs more water. In fact when you’re thirsty you are already partially dehydrated. This clue tells you to increase your water intake (I don’t mean soft drinks or energy drinks, just water).
Dark coloured urine usually follows closely behind if you don’t listen to your thirst signal. The number of times you urinate per day also decreases.
You can feel dizzy or lightheaded.
You get exhausted or tired easily (easy fatigability).
Your lips and mouth are dry.
You may experience constipation because there isn’t enough water for the bowels to move things through smoothly.
You may also experience a headache. When you’re dehydrated, you also lose a lot of electrolytes (sodium, potassium and chloride). These electrolytes are needed by your body to function properly. If you lose enough of them, you can experience a headache. A headache caused by dehydration can be on just one side of your head or distributed all over. Walking or simple bending over can worsen it.
Muscle cramps can also occur because of the loss of electrolytes.
You feel weak.
Severe Dehydration. Before I start listing the signs that you might have severe dehydration, you have to realise that severe dehydration is a medical emergency. You have to take yourself (if you’re the one dehydrated) or the dehydrated person to the nearest medical facility. He needs to be given fluids intravenously (through a vein) immediately. Here are the clues:
You feel lethargic or confused.
You don’t urinate for more than eight straight hours.
You don’t have tears when you cry.
A really dry mouth, this may include difficult and painful swallowing.
Your heart beats faster. The regular heart rate beats between 60 to 100 beats per minute. In dehydration, your heart attempts to restore blood flow to vital organs (e.g. all areas of the heart itself and the brain) by beating faster (greater than 100 beats per minute). Blood is partly composed of plasma which is also made up of water.
Try pinching your skin. If it doesn’t come back abruptly to its former shape within 2 seconds, you may be severely dehydrated.
Your distal extremities (hands and feet) are cold. Your body diverts blood from your extremities to your vital organs to keep them functioning properly.
You may have sunken eyes.
Try taking your blood pressure. You can become hypotensive if you’re severely dehydrated. Hypotension is what causes dizziness and low levels of consciousness in dehydration.
Try taking your pulse too. You will observe that your pulse is weak.
You get irritated easily.
You can also experience vomiting and seizures. These two are caused by the loss of electrolytes.
If you’re constantly (chronically) dehydrated on a daily basis (mild to moderately), you can develop kidney stones, musculoskeletal and liver problems.
Prevent dehydration with the following tips:
Avoid drinking beverages that contain caffeine in them. Caffeine prevents the release of antidiuretic hormone from your brain, making you pee more. You lose more water when you regularly drink these caffeinated drinks. In addition to caffeinated beverages, alcoholic drinks can also increase water loss by making you urinate frequently.
If you’re doing strenuous exercise make sure you drink enough water to replace the bucket loads you just sweated out which soaked your shirt! Take quick water breaks and while you’re at it change that soaking wet t-shirt. This will also avoid situations where you smell like sweaty feet. Eeow.
During summer months, avoid exercising outside in the hottest afternoon sun. You don’t have to punish yourself with dehydration! Losing your precious electrolytes can cause your dehydration to move from moderate to severe very quickly.
For all you fitness bunnies out there, get yourself some electrolytes to add to your water for those extended fitness sessions. Especially in summer when you sweat like a horse (yes you). Electrolytes can even be purchased without added sugars if you want to add your own splash of juice instead. Replacing the sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium helps your cells get all that water you’re drinking.
During cold weather you may not notice how much water you’re losing through sweat and breathing. You may be underestimating your body’s ability to use water during these times. Make sure you are still getting enough water. If you’re having trouble with this when its freezing outside find a herbal tea you like such as peppermint. This helps your body get that extra fluid. Remember, when you exercise in winter, your body still needs the extra fluid.
Most importantly listen to your body when it tells you “I am thirsty”, even if you’re busy! If you notice any of the signs of dehydration described above drink plenty of water before things get worse. Remember, if dehydration becomes severe, it’s a medical emergency.