Water, the elixir of life
Posted on 13th July 2022 at 07:20
With the current spell of hot weather – well, hot for the UK (!) – it’s easy for people to become dehydrated without even realising it. Perhaps it’s due to them not being used to hot weather and simply not recognising the warning signs. Having said that, many of the classic signs of dehydration seem so obvious – to us at least (!) – that it can sometimes be hard to understand how people don’t seem to join the dots.
So, this week, we’re going to take another look at the most common signs of dehydration. And, don’t be fooled, they apply all year round, not just in the summer (!).
Let’s begin with the most obvious ones of feeling thirsty or having a dry mouth. Now you may think these are blindingly obvious but you’d be surprised.
To start with, by the time you notice you’re feeling thirsty – or your mouth is dry – YOU’RE ALREADY DEHYDRATED. Neither of these are a sign you’re ABOUT to become dehydrated. It’s your body telling you that you’re ALREADY dehydrated and need to drink some water NOW to redress the balance. And not tea, coffee or the like. More on this later.
Just to complicate matters further, people often mistake feeling thirsty for feeling hungry. While it may sound strange, the thirst sensation is very similar to that for hunger. In addition, many of the symptoms of dehydration are the same as those for hunger such as feeling headachy, weak or dizzy; making it easy to see how this happens. So, rather than stopping for a minute to ask whether they’re thirsty or hungry, people automatically assume they’re hungry and reach for something to eat.
As an aside, this is one of the many reasons that diets fail. It’s also the reason why dieters are often advised to drink a glass of water when they start to feel hungry. Not, as it’s often mistakenly thought, to fill them up – so they eat less – but so they can find out whether they really are hungry or just thirsty.
With it being so easy to confuse feeling thirsty for feeling hungry, it’s no surprise that distinguishing between the two becomes harder as we become older. A fascinating piece of research found that after a few hours without water, younger people would quickly reach for a glass of water to redress the balance. However older people, even with a glass of water within easy reach, consistently mistook the feeling of thirst for hunger and reached for food rather than water. With dehydration playing a major part in many problems of old age, it’s begs the question as to how many of these issues could be quickly and easily improved – or even reversed – by simply drinking more water on an ongoing basis.
And then there’s the other classic sign of dehydration, the colour of your urine. Again, this isn’t rocket science. Whether it’s dark or strongly smelling urine, the message is the same. As is not going to the loo very often, either way. And we trust you don’t need us to spell it out to you!
So 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 processes 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. To start with these are quite subtle, 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
• Dry skin and / or eyes
• Muscle cramps
• Little urine
Resting somewhere cool and sipping – not gulping (!) – room temperature water will usually resolve the matter very quickly. Adding oral rehydration sachets to the water or a pinch of sea salt to each glass can help speed the process along. It’s then a case of making sure the person remains well hydrated.
However, mild dehydration can quickly 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
ALL of these symptoms are cause for concern and that urgent medical attention is needed.
Finally, 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 look very like those for Dementia / Alzheimers, which isn’t a diagnosis that anyone wants…
What do I need to do?
There really are no prizes for guessing the solution (!) but we’ll say it anyway. As so often is the case it’s very simple and is probably the number one thing we talk to clients about. It’s all about prevention, being proactive, rather than cure. Making sure you stay hydrated, rather than having to address the problem later on.
The easiest way to stay hydrated is to make sure you always have some water with you, whether a bottle in your bag or glass wherever you are. Having regular sips of water during the day is much easier than having to drink a larger amount once you realise you’re thirsty.
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.
As you should already know (!) tea, coffee, alcohol and fizzy drinks don’t count. Worse still, you need to make sure that you drink the same again of these drinks just to counteract their dehydrating effects. This is why we always suggest having a glass of water while waiting for the kettle to boil, if you’re going to have a cup of tea or coffee.
You also need to bear in mind that if it’s hot – or you’re physically active – then you’ll need to drink more water to replace that lost in sweat / perspiration. And the same comments apply if you’re mentally active too, as the brain and nervous system burn up large amounts of water too.
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. It really is that simple.
If you’re still not convinced, the simplest way to check if 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 simple 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 who we are and the elixir of life.
As always, the choice is yours.
Picture by unknown author
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