Dare we mention dehydration...
Posted on 24th July 2019 at 08:32
With the promised – or threatened (!) – heatwave upon us, it seemed like a good time to revisit one of our pet subjects. Water. And, yes, we know it’s not seen as a very exciting topic BUT – and it’s a bit but – we can’t exist without it. Despite what advertisers would like to tell us, it’s what our bodies were designed to run on. It really is that simple.
Just as important, is being able to recognise the signs that you’re not drinking enough of the right things. In other words, you’re becoming dehydrated. Although, by an ironic twist of fate, by the time you realise you’re thirsty you’re already mildly dehydrated...
Over the years, we’ve noticed how creative people can be when asked what they drink each day. And, in case you were wondering, it’s not a trick question. It’s just that dehydration plays a part in a huge number of health problems. Often, simply increasing a person’s water intake can have seemingly magical effects.
Anyway, before we digress any further, it’s amazing the answers this simple question can invoke. While it’s true that tea, coffee, fruit juices, fizzy drinks, wine and beer all contain water – hurrah (!) – they also contain caffeine, tannin, sugar, artificial sweeteners and many other things too. And all of these use up valuable water reserves.
In other words, have exactly the opposite effect to the one hoped for. It’s the reason why people find themselves wanting another drink so soon afterwards… They’re drinking more but, instead of becoming better hydrated, are stuck in a downwards spiral of increasing dehydration.
Let’s quickly look at two of the most common offenders, starting with caffeine, the effects of which are well known. Naturally found in tea and coffee, it’s also added to many so called “energy” or “performance” drinks to give them an extra “kick”. A stimulant, it acts on both the Central Nervous System and stress hormones, making us feel more alert and energetic. However, in larger amounts it can tip people over into feeling irritable and wired.
Like all stimulants, caffeine increases the metabolic rate and the speed at which water is used by the body. It also leads to increased urination, as the by products are removed from the body, so causing further water loss.
Then there are the all too tempting sugary drinks which come in many different guises. “Healthy” and less so. These have a different effect, quickly raising blood sugar levels and stimulating the release of insulin, to bring it back down to a safe level. Large amounts of water are needed to process – and remove – the sugar from the body. And, again, it increases urination. It’s the reason why frequent, very dilute urine is a well known symptoms of Diabetes, as the body tries to remove excess sugar from the blood.
Why is there all this fuss about dehydration?
Well, quite simply, water is a major constituent of our bodies and needed for a huge range of body functions. These include moisturising the skin, lubricating the joints, providing the medium for many metabolic process and the all important elimination of toxins.
It only takes a small change in hydration levels for the body to start making changes to compensate. These are quite subtle to start with but quickly have knock on effects around the body as a whole.
For example, it’s well known that dehydration reduces the amount of water in the blood, making it more viscous and sticky. This puts strain on the Heart and Circulatory System as a whole, as well as causing a rise in blood pressure. Less well known is that dehydration also causes fluid levels in tissues in / around the Brain to fall resulting in poorer concentration, confusion and “fuzzy” thinking.
Here’s a quick reminder of the symptoms of mild dehydration:
• Thirsty with a dry, sticky mouth
• Feeling tired or sleepy
• Dizziness or light headedness
• Headache (!)
• Dry skin and / or eyes
• Muscle cramps
• Little urine
Which can progress on to:
• Extreme thirst
• Confusion and irritability
• Dry skin that doesn’t bounce back when pinched
• Sunken eyes
• Shallow and fast breathing with a rapid heartbeat
• Little / no urine, which is much darker than usual
And don’t forget that babies and small children, as well as those of more mature years (!) are more likely to become dehydrated.
In the latter case, older people often don’t realise they are thirsty, as the thirst mechanism becomes weaker with age. So, it’s easy to see how they can get into problems without ever realising it. Of more concern is that many of the mental symptoms of dehydration are very similar to those for Dementia / Alzheimers, which isn’t a diagnosis that anyone wants…
So what’s the solution?
Well, as usual, it’s simple and proactive. Drinking plenty of the right things as you go through the day. Ideally water, although herb teas also count. That way, you’ll be ahead of the game.
The easiest way to stay hydrated is to make sure that you always have some water with you, whether a bottle in your bag or glass on your desk. It reminds you to take regular sips of water during the day AND is much easier than having to drink a larger amount once you realise you’re thirsty. And don’t forget that, by the time this happens, you’ve already started to become dehydrated.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t have the occasional cup of tea or coffee, just use it as a reminder to have a glass of water while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil – or gizmo do its stuff (!).
The guideline for daily water intake you’ll most regularly hear is two litres of water a day, although there are several large BUT’s with this figure. Not only does it depend on how active you are – physically and mentally, as both burn up water – but also your age, health and the weather as well.
As we’ve already mentioned, tea, coffee, alcohol and fizzy drinks don’t count; however much you would like to persuade yourself they do (!). Worse still, you need to make sure you drink the same again of these drinks just to counteract their dehydrating effects.
If this sounds far too much like hard work, the good news is that as soon as you start to drink more water, then you’ve broken the dehydration cycle. You won’t then be so thirsty. And, if you’re not so thirsty, then you won’t find yourself reaching for another tea / coffee / fizzy drink shortly after the last one.
If you’re still not convinced, the simplest way to check whether you’re drinking enough is to have a quick peek at your urine. Colourless is a good sign and what you should be aiming at. Yellow is the first sign that the body is starting to become dehydrated. Orange – or, even worse, brown – means that the body is truly dehydrated. At this stage, the kidneys are put under pressure, with the other body organs and functions following on quickly behind.
Drinking water is one of those things that always seems to get a bad press. It’s seen as boring and not worth the effort. But, as so often is the case, the opposite is really true. Water is an essential part of life and who we are. It really is that simple.
As always, the choice is yours.
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