Let’s Talk about Water
Let’s Talk about Water & Hydration
This week, I thought I’d revisit the topic of hydration. This came to light after a client had an unfortunate incident of passing out unconscious, was rushed to A&E in an ambulance then spent 24 hours in hospital to be monitored. The only finding at the end of this time? Dehydration.
At the other end of the scale to this, I recall a blot to the reputation of nutritionists when I was still a student (although I doubt the practitioner in question was properly qualified), whose advice to a client was to consume 4L of water a day. Unfortunately, the client had forgotten on one particular day, consumed most of this water in one go and died.
On a brighter note(!) these incidents are extremely rare, but it reminds us of the essential role that water plays to the functioning of the body and making sure we consume the right amount.
Why are water and hydration so important?
For survival, we need water before we need food. We can survive weeks without food, but only days without water.
An adult body is approximately 60% water. When we start to think about where this fluid is located in the body, we can start to appreciate why it is so important.
The brain and heart are 73% water, lungs are about 83% water, skin 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79% water. Then think of all the fluid in the body: between joints we have synovial fluid that cushions and prevents friction; lymph fluid transports waste from tissues and white blood cells, extracellular fluid between cells and of course the intracellular fluid that enables cells to function.
We lose between 2-3L of fluid every day. We lose more when it is hot, when we exercise and if we take certain medications (like diuretics). More is lost from having diarrhoea or vomiting. Read that, we lose 1.5L on a 3-hour flight!
In the first incident above, electrolytes in the blood (such as sodium and potassium) remain too high when the body is dehydrated. In the second, electrolytes are too diluted if water is consumed far too rapidly.
Electrolytes help your body regulate chemical reactions, maintain the balance between fluids inside and outside your cells, and help muscle contraction (especially the heart). Maintaining the right balance of electrolytes is essential for the proper working of the body, and the kidneys and adrenal glands will do their utmost to ensure this happens.
What are the signs of dehydration?
Everyday signs of dehydration are :
- dry skin
- dry mouth
- poor concentration
- low energy
- stiff joints
- concentrated dark strong smelling urine
- orthostatic hypotension (when you feel dizzy standing up quickly)
You may think feeling thirsty would be the obvious sign, but I tend to believe we lose the thirst signal when we do not drink enough and often mistake thirst for hunger. The more we are in the habit of consuming water, the quicker we become aware that we require it.
But what is the right quantity of water to consume?
You can obtain some fluid from food. But the majority is obtained from the fluid we consume each day.
As we lose 2-3L fluid each day, we should therefore aim to consume 2-3L fluid every day. I advise most people to drink 2L hydrating fluids – mostly water. But more fluid is required if taller/heavier/more active, for example.
Aim for 2/3 of your daily fluids to come from water sources. This can be herbal and fruit teas as they are hydrating sources. Or very diluted cordials (but watch the sugars). Naturally flavoured waters like hot water with lemon slices or refrigerated water with mint or cucumber are helpful for those who say they dislike plain water itself.
Teas and coffees do count, but they have a mild diuretic effect AND the caffeine is a stimulant, so should be kept to a minimum. Absolutely no more than 4 cups (not mugs) a day.
Always remember that your fluids should be sipped throughout the day, from waking up to going to bed. You can stop earlier if concerned it will cause you to wake up for the toilet, but do not reduce your daily required intake.
Pukka tea anyone?
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