Eat Well to Be Well: Quench your thirst to avoid dehydration dangers

As summer temperatures rise, so do your chances of becoming dehydrated. Dehydration is when water loss exceeds water intake. If the percentage of water loss escalates too much, you can be in serious danger of major health effects and even death. Water is that critical and is your most important ally in avoiding dehydration. Understanding dehydration and becoming knowledgeable about how to protect yourself against this avoidable consequence can help you enjoy your summer to its fullest.

Your body’s water composition

Age and gender are a couple of factors determining our percent body water composition At birth, newborn babies have the highest percentage as their bodies are made up of 75-78 percent water making it the single largest substance in the human body. By age one that will have dropped to 65 percent. An adult’s body water content can range from 55- 60 percent with men having a higher content of water than women. Men have more muscle tissue which holds more water while women have more fat tissue, which does not hold as much water.

Why is water so important?

Water does so much more than just quench our thirst. It also:

  • Carries nutrients, hormones and oxygen to all the cells in your body.
  • Forms saliva and aids in the digestion of our food. Carries waste products from the cells for removal by the kidneys.
  • Is necessary for essential reactions within the body that would not happen without water.
  • Helps to lubricate our joints so we can move with ease.
  • Regulates body temperature by absorbing heat generated by your metabolism and eliminating excess heat through sweating.
  • Is important for proper functioning of our brain, muscles and kidneys. The brain is composed of 85 percent water. Loss of water content can lead to dizziness, fatigue, headache, confusion and disorientation. Our muscles contain 70 percent water. Dehydration is detrimental to the muscles since water regulates electrolytes. which help muscles to function during exercise. The kidneys depend on water to help dissolve and remove waste products such as urea and lactic acid. Too little water and the kidneys will have to work much harder to remove those waste products and toxins.

How much water do we need?

This is not an easy question to answer as our water needs vary from person to person. Factors determining our water needs include the foods you eat, your activity level, temperature and humidity, high altitude, certain medications, and your age. 060514-ewtbw-waterbottles2On average, the Dietary Reference Intakes recommends 13 cups of fluids for men and 9 cups of fluids for women each day. We can obtain 80 percent of the body’s daily water needs by consuming water and other beverages and 20 percent comes from food, particularly fruits and vegetables. The color of your urine can be a good indicator of your hydration. A well- hydrated person’s urine is clear and pale yellow. A person who is dehydrated will produce dark-colored urine and the amount is decreased.

Who is at risk of dehydration?

All of us. Sometimes we become dehydrated because we get busy and forget to drink or maybe we don’t have access to water. Other reasons can be the following:

  • The elderly. Their body’s ability to conserve water is reduced and their thirst sense is decreased.
  • Infants and children. They don’t tolerate heat well and they have more skin surface relative to their body size therefore they lose more water through evaporation from the skin.
  • Anyone with a chronic illness such as uncontrolled diabetes or kidney disease.
  • Athletes or anyone working outdoors in hot, humid weather.
  • Anyone experiencing diarrhea, vomiting or has a fever.

Signs of dehydration

It doesn’t take much of a percentage loss of water to begin showing symptoms of dehydration. With as little as only 1-2 percent water loss, you will begin having physiological responses and it will only worsen as you become more dehydrated. Signs include:

  • Thirst
  • Fatigue or light-headedness
  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • Heat intolerance
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Dark-colored urine and reduced urine output
  • Difficulty concentrating and irritability

Dehydration can lead to serious complications that include:

  • Heat stroke
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Brain swelling
  • Low blood volume
  • Coma and death

Ways to keep yourself well-hydrated

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To prevent dehydration you need to make smart beverage choices each day. Water is by far the best choice as it is rapidly absorbed and cools the body from the inside out. However, water is also present in other beverages such as milk, fruit juice, soups and broth. High water content foods such as fruits and vegetables can also help meet our water needs. Beverages such as carbonated soft drinks and sports drinks can also help with hydration but they do contain more sugar. This increased sugar not only increases calories but can cause gastric distress as it pulls body fluids into the stomach and intestines, taking fluids away from parts of the body needing fluid. Beverages containing caffeine such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, along with others that act as diuretics such as beer and wine, are not recommended as a good source of hydration. The high caffeinated beverages can bring about insomnia, headaches and abnormal heart rhythm, while diuretics cause you to go to the bathroom more frequently, thus losing water.

This summer, make water your best friend. It’ll keep you hydrated, it’ll keep you cool, and it’s an inexpensive way to avoid a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.

Sources: K-State Research and Extension, MayoClinic.org and the textbook The Science of Nutrition; photos courtesy ready.gov.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].


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