On average a human can survive 3 weeks without food but only 3 days without water, although circumstance obviously plays a big part in how long we can survive.
The average human adult’s body is made up of around 60% water and an infant around 75%. Your brain is made up of around 73% water. Water is essential for every single cell and every function of your body. Water flows through your blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients to your cells, it helps detoxify your body by flushing out toxins. Without water you cannot digest or absorb your food. It lubricates your joints and eyes and regulates your body temperature.
In my clinic I find that a lot of people have difficulty remaining hydrated. They either forget to drink or just don’t like drinking water. It is important though to realise that by the time you experience thirst you have lost between 1-2% of your body’s entire water content and by this stage, dehydration is already having a negative impact on your body. In fact even when just a small percentage of water in your body is lost, every function in your body is impaired. By this time you may be experiencing a dry mouth, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness or light headedness. Your digestion is likely to be compromised and your brain function is decreased. Going even further without water can lead to irritability and confusion, extreme thirst, low or high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and even death. Even mild dehydration can have adverse effects on mood and energy and your ability to think clearly according to studies conducted at the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory.
Short term and chronic dehydration can cause many problems throughout your body.
Constipation is often caused by something as simple as not enough water. Without water to soften the stools, they become hard and impacted.
Headaches can often occur because of dehydration. If you suffer from headaches, try drinking some water. If the headache is from lack of water, it will go as soon as you rehydrate your body.
Weight gain is also another potential side effect from dehydration. When dehydrated, cells are depleted of energy so they then rely on energy from food. People then tend to eat more, when in actual fact the body needs water not food. Dehydration also slows down your metabolism to help conserve energy. Toxins are stored in fat cells, so when the body is dehydrated it will not break down fat cells because of the possibility of the toxins not being able to be efficiently eliminated.
Respiratory symptoms like asthma and allergies can be symptoms of dehydration. When dehydrated, the body conserves water by increasing histamine which in turn restricts the airways, limiting the amount of water lost when exhaling.
Joint pain and stiffness can be another sign of chronic dehydration. The cartilage is composed mainly of water and is therefore weakened when there is insufficient water.
Bladder infections are also more common when people don’t consume enough water, because the pathogens are not flushed out of the body
Kidneys filter blood and in doing so allow wastes to be excreted via urine. Without sufficient water, urea nitrogen and creatinine can build up in the body, causing kidney damage. According to a study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, even mild dehydration may be a risk factor in progression of all types of chronic kidney diseases.
According to the Urology Care Foundation in America, a major risk factor for kidney stones is constant low urine volume from dehydration. Kidney stones are made up of crystallised minerals that build up due to insufficient water – and they are extremely painful!
The fact that our brain is made up of around 73% water tells you how important water is for brain function. Confusion, irritability, brain fog, depression, anxiety and poor memory are just some of the symptoms of dehydration. The brain relies on water for the production of neurotransmitters and nerve transmission. Your brain literally shrinks when you don’t drink enough water.
High or low blood pressure can often be a symptom of dehydration. When the blood contains less volume due to dehydration, blood pressure can lower but chronic dehydration then forces the body to hold onto sodium which then leads to high blood pressure.
If all of these conditions aren’t enough to make you head for the water – want to remain looking young??? Skin begins to wrinkle prematurely due to chronic dehydration.
Apart from the obvious sign of thirst, dry skin that doesn’t “bounce back” when you pinch it shows that you are severely dehydrated. Your urine colour is also a good indicator of your hydration level. It should be a very pale colour, almost clear.
It is obviously very difficult to generalise on how much water needs to be consumed to remain hydrated. It is dependent on the temperature, activity and diet of each individual, but as a general rule around 30ml per kilogram of body weight is a good start. Is someone eats a diet high in processed foods, then more needs to be consumed because less is obtained from food.
A good way to remind yourself to drink plenty of water is to have a 2 litre glass bottle that you fill up every morning with filtered water. Mark lines on the bottle every 250ml with a time marked on each line. So the top line will be a mark at 1.75 litres and it might have 8.00 am on it. The next line down will be at 1.5 litres and it will be marked with 10.00 am etc. When you look at the bottle during the day, you can easily see how much water you have consumed and how much more you need to drink before the day is over. You can also add some flavouring to it, like fresh mint leaves or make a herbal tea and drink it cold. Just be aware that some herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, dandelion and others, have a diuretic effect.
So buy yourself a good water filter and do your body a favour!
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist. Stafford and The Gap, Brisbane