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It seems like we are always hearing doctors and other health care professionals say “Stay hydrated, drink plenty of fluids”. While health care professionals, especially alternative and conventional experts, often disagree; they generally agree that adequate fluid intake is essential for health. There are only a handful of conditions which require that fluids be restricted. These limits are usually temporary, or related to specific kidney or heart problems. Usually, it is best to consume liquids liberally.
Adults are comprised of approximately 60% water by weight. Elders’ bodies may contain have 45% of water or less. The exact percentage varies with age, sex, muscle mass, and fat content. Women tend to have a lower percentage of water in their bodies than men do, as males often have more lean muscle mass. More water is contained in muscle than in fat. Water accounts for 70% to 80% of an infant’s body weight.
Water is needed for electrolytes to dissolve and disperse. It is essential for the delivery of nutrients and removal of wastes.
Most of the water in the human body is contained within individual cells. Approximately one third of it is found in spaces between cells, such as in the form of lymphatic fluid. A small percentage travels between cells and the extracellular fluid.
How Much Should I Drink?Ask your health care provider for specific recommendations. Health experts often recommend that adults consume a minimum of six to eight glasses of water daily. I recommend that you drink an amount of water which is measured in ounces, that is equal to half of your weight in pounds each day. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should aim to drink 70 ounces of water each day.
Does It Have to Be Water?
Water is best. It is calorie free and is the liquid portion of a beverage which your body needs.
Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are healthy and contain healthy fiber, enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants when prepared immediately before consumption; however, I view them more as meal substitutes than as alternatives to water. Commercial juices are often juice drinks which contain minimal benefits of fresh juices. Plus they may contain high amounts of sugars, artificial colorings, and other deleterious ingredients.
Dairy and dairy substitutes can be nutritious. Read labels carefully so that you may avoid artificial hormones. Many milk substitutes may be tasty, but are not particularly nutritious. Consuming dairy or milk substitutes too much can add on excess pounds.
Alcoholic beverages, and caffeine containing drinks have diuretic properties which actually dry out the body. The same holds true for soft drinks. Beverages with high concentrations of natural or artificial sweeteners may increase thirst.
Flavored waters can be expensive and may or may not contain ingredients which are not natural. Rather than obtaining vitamins and other nutrients from flavored waters, seek to obtain them from healthy foods and supplements.
Distilled water has had minerals removed, so I do not recommend its use. Natural spring water is best. You do not need to purchase bottled water unless your local source is not palatable or if it comes from a municipality which adds compounds, such as fluorine, which you wish to avoid. Avoid consuming serving sized water from plastic containers regularly as excess plastic reliance is not healthy for your health or that of the environment.
Sports drinks can be beneficial during times of exercise, illness, or excess heat as they contain beneficial electrolytes.
Water and Exercise
Drink plenty of water if you are engaging in vigorous activity, especially it is hot out. When the weather is hot, drink extra fluids even if you are relaxing. It is especially important that elders, people who have health issues, and children consume extra fluids when exercising or during hot weather as they dehydrate and become overheated faster than healthy adults. Overheating can lead to potentially fatal sunstroke.
Signs of Dehydration
Initially, if fluid intake is inadequate, you will feel thirsty. When thirst is prolonged and dehydration increases, the desire to drink may subside. The tongue may be swollen and dry. When dehydration is untreated, cracking of the tongue may arise. Saliva production may be scant or absent. The lips and gums may bleed. Tissues from the mouth may slough off. Thirst may be accompanied restlessness, agitation, anxiety and irritability. Rapid weight loss may occur. The skin may feel hot and dry. It is capable of “tenting”. This means that when small amount of skin is gently lifted between two fingers, it has lost is flexibility and remains upright, rather than returning to its normal positon. The eyes may be glassy, cloudy, and sunken. The fontanel on the top of an infant’s head, may shrink and become indented. Twitching or seizures may develop. The blood pressure will become weak. Fainting may occur. The respiratory rate and pulse speeds up. Untreated, dehydration leads to coma and death. It is a medical emergency.
If you see someone who appears dehydrated, attempt to get fluids into them if they are awake and able to swallow. Do not give fluids by mouth to an unconscious person. Call for emergency medical assistance immediately.
Causes of Dehydration
The most obvious cause of dehydration is not consuming enough liquid. Another factor is fluid loss. This may occur die to profuse sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting. People who have serious injuries, particularly large burns, may develop dehydration. Many kinds of medications promote dehydration. Diuretic medications, commonly referred to as “water pills” may cause a loss of electrolytes which can result in dehydration.
Mild Dehydration and the Brain
If you are mildly dehydrated, you may get a headache, feel irritable, and have difficulty thinking. Try drinking a cool glass of peppermint tea the next time you need to concentrate on a hot day. It will quench your thirst and boost your thinking.
Dehydration and the ElderlyConfusion among the elderly is sometimes a result of inadequate fluid intake. Many elders are on medications which are dehydrating, such as blood pressure drugs, and they do not eat or drink as much as they used to. They may have impaired kidney function or diabetes which interferes with a healthy balance of fluids.
Children and Dehydration
If you have a child who has developed vomiting and diarrhea, pay particular attention for signs of dehydration. It can occur within hours of repeated loose stools or vomiting. Dehydration may also arise in the presence of a high fever. Notice how often your sick child urinates. This can be used as an indicator of whether dehydration is developing.
If you cannot get your child to drink fluids, try ice pops. Do not hesitate to get emergency medical help if you think that your child may be showing signs of dehydration as your infant’s or child’s health may deteriorate rapidly. Fortunately, dehydration can be corrected quickly by interventions provided by emergency medical personnel.
Final Thoughts about Drinking Water and Preventing Dehydration
Drink well, stay healthy, and keep your family well. It is much easier to prevent dehydration than to suffer from the effects of it. Ask your health care provider for specific recommendations. Adjust your fluid intake according to your health, the weather, and your level of activity.