I have always struggled with getting enough water, even though I know better. As a kid I had sunstroke almost every summer, several times a season. I would be gone for hours on my bike and never thought to bring water along for the ride. Dehydration was the cause of two of my most frightening memories ever. I remember being so dehydrated on a hike in rural Morocco that I honestly thought I would end up dead on a remote hill, baking in the hot sun, far from home. A passing stranger gave me enough water (I was just about crawling at that point) to allow me to get back to my hotel where I was violently ill for two more days. In hindsight, I should have tried to find medical assistance! A couple years later I remember going into contractions in my 5th month of pregnancy with my first daughter – the cause? Dehydration. Terrifying.
I have never been that dehydrated again, but consumption of water is something I have to be mindful of every day.
What Is Dehydration?
Basically, dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than it takes in.
Depending on the type of fluid lost, dehydration can be hypotonic (loss of electrolytes such as sodium), hypertonic (loss of water), or isotonic (loss of both water and electrolytes).
Did you know that water makes up over ⅔ of your body, and is vital for many important functions, such as lubricating your joints, facilitating digestion, and keeping skin healthy?
Losing as little as one to two percent of your body’s water can cause you to become thirsty.
What Happens When You’re Dehydrated?
Because water plays such a vital role in the functioning of your body, you may have drastic reactions when you become dehydrated.
Aside from just feeling thirsty, it can cause a decrease in brain tissue fluid, which results in changes in brain volume. Your brain is about 73% water. This can lead to confusion, slurred speech, light headedness, a throbbing headache, and dizziness.
Also, your blood can become thicker, which means your heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body. This can make your heart race. Dehydration can also cause rapid decreases in your blood pressure.
What Causes Dehydration?
Aside from simply not drinking enough water there are other causes of dehydration, which often go along with other symptoms or illness. Diarrhea and vomiting can result not just in loss of fluids, but also loss of minerals and electrolytes as well. This can also be made worse when combined with a fever, which generally results in losing even more fluid through sweat.
Excessive sweating due to prolonged vigorous activity, and not replenishing fluids can also lead to dehydration.
Finally, increased urination due to diabetes, or certain medications can lead to dehydration.
Complications From Dehydration
Although mild dehydration may just result in a dry mouth, dry skin, or headache, severe dehydration carries with it worse symptoms, discussed above.
If you are chronically under hydrated, it can result in kidney stones, constipation, fatigue, and electrolyte imbalances. A lot of people fall into this category. If you are someone who drinks water only when thirsty, you may fall into this category. I see a LOT of dehydrated people in the clinic.
Natural Solutions For Dehydration
Severe dehydration is life threatening and requires immediate attention. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of severe dehydration, such as confusion, rapid heartbeat and breathing, fever, or unconsciousness, go to an emergency room or call an ambulance immediately as measures such as IV fluids may be required.
Most often, chronic under hydration can be remedied simply by consistently increasing your water intake.
1. Drink More Water
If your body doesn’t have enough water, the best thing to do is drink more of it. I usually find that setting reminders on my phone is a useful way to get more water in.
8-10 glasses of water (approximately 2 litres) is generally recommended, depending on your activity level, and the temperatures you are exposed to, you may need more.
Always pack water, especially in hot summer months. If you are already under hydrated, you can quickly get into a dangerous situation if you are out on a long hike under the hot sun. Never underestimate the need for hydrating when you are exercising in the heat – packing enough water can literally save your life!
2. Include More Hydrating Foods
Foods which are high in water content can also help to stave off dehydration. Fruits and veggies contribute to your hydration levels. Watermelon, celery, cucumber, bell pepper, citrus fruits, pineapple and carrots are all full of water!
Remember that caffeinated drinks like coffee are dehydrating, and don’t count toward your total water intake for the day.
3. Replace Lost Electrolytes
Depending on your activity level, it is important to also consider replacing electrolytes when you are sweating a lot. Most sport drinks are full of sugar, colour and additives. Adding a little salt and some raw honey to your water bottle is a good alternative. Other options include coconut water, herbal teas, kombucha, or bone broth.
4. Watch Your Hydration Levels When You’re Ill
Monitoring water intake when sick is important, especially if your illness is causing vomiting, diarrhea, or involves a fever which is causing you to sweat a lot. Taking tiny sips of water, or any of the electrolyte replacements discussed is critical to avoiding dangerous levels of dehydration. Always be on the lookout for the symptoms of severe dehydration, and seek medical attention if you think your dehydration has reached critical levels.
Do you feel like you are always thirsty, despite drinking lots of water?
Come in and see one of our Naturopaths. They can help get to the bottom of it.