I know that I bang this particular drum a great deal but having lived in Spain in the mountains where the sun is very strong and the humidity was very low, I know the difference between being hydrated and dehydrated.
As you will see from the list of symptoms in the post, many mimic the symptoms for several diseases such as rheumatism that can lead to being on medication when in fact a healthy level of fluids may be all that is needed.
The reason I am including in the family health series is because dehydration is a critical state for both the very young and the very old. It only takes a few hours without fluids for both these vulnerable age groups to be dangerous.
Recently I noticed that there were a few articles by the experts in the field of nutrition on the subject of hydration. What worried me in particular was that they were touting the belief that you don’t need to drink anymore than your usual cups of tea and coffee as you will obtain sufficient from the food that you eat.
It is true that eating fresh vegetables and fruit will provide you with some fluids but it is still not enough to supply your body with life giving fluids.
We can live for around 6 minutes without air, 6 days without fluids (depending on health and environmental factors) and 6 weeks without food. The very young and the elderly however have a much shorter window than 6 days before dehydration begins to cause severe health issues, more like 24 hours or less. In my experience of elderly care most are suffering from borderline dehydration resulting in urinary tract infections, increased symptoms of dementia and if not reversed can become life-threatening very quickly.
Why do we need fluids?
We are as humans made of protein with the few other bits and pieces thrown in. Protein has an extremely high water content and if we were wrung out to dry we would lose approximately 75% of our body weight. It would be a great way to lose weight if we could just plug in a hose and siphon off a couple of gallons from time to time but unfortunately that would be another failed fad diet. Each major organ consists of fluid including the brain 70% the lungs 90% and 80% in blood. As you can imagine, if those major organs become dehydrated the body is going to demand immediate action.
As an estimate we need 1 litre of fluid for every 50lbs of body weight.
So if you weight 10 stone..140lbs – 63kilos.. you would need 2.5 litres per day in varied fluids.
We need oxygen, fluid and food in that order
Not all fluids are created equal
- It is important to look at the quality of the fluids that you then are taking in.
- If you are eating a diet that is high in industrialised food, any fluid in the food will be contaminated with artificial flavourings, colourants and hydrogenated fats in many cases.
- If you drink a lot of coffee, which acts as a mild diuretic (and if you have gallbladder disease or have had it removed, diarrhea)
- Alcohol is a toxin that not only dehydrates the body but also impairs your kidney and liver function preventing them for removing those toxins from your body.
- Drinking fizzy sodas, diet or otherwise disrupts the blood sugar levels in your blood.
- Drinking mineral water with a high sodium level can disrupt the balance of electrolytes in your system
- You can obtain fluid content from fruit and vegetables but depending on your environment (warm, hot) they would not be sufficient to supply all you need.
- Teas, especially green tea and herbal teas do contribute to your daily fluid allowance but essentially there is no substitute for water.
Here are the symptoms of dehydration that reinforce that concept.
Fatigue and sluggishness.
Our bodies are about balance and they work very hard to maintain the equilibrium whether it is between calcium and magnesium, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, acidity and alkalinity. Even the smallest changes in fluid balance can affect all the other functions within the body including heart function as the organ has to work harder in order to supply the body with the oxygen and nutrients it requires.
As you become more dehydrated your body will begin to make some executive decisions in order to ensure its survival if fluid intake ceases altogether. It redirects blood to the muscles and away from skin areas resulting in a malfunction in our cooling and heating system. We heat up internally resulting in muscle cramps, light-headedness and fatigue.
Because most of us take in at least some liquid our bodies are left in a state of readiness, not quite dehydrated but not receiving the essential fluids it needs to perform efficiently. This means that we are in a constant state of near exhaustion and with inefficient processing power.
As in any part of the body, the brain relies heavily on fats and fluid in the correct balance to function. Loss of fluids thickens the blood, causing the heart to work harder to pump oxygen and nutrients around the system. The brain function is dependent on both oxygen and nutrients and if you are dehydrated it will be affected to varying degrees. Headaches will also vary in severity to mild, just behind the eyes to full blown migraines.
The other consequence can be a feeling of disorientation similar to mild forgetfulness with a touch of dizziness and vertigo.
There are two issues regarding our skin health and dehydration. One is the inability to flush out toxins from the body, which accumulate in the tissues and in the kidneys and liver. This can result in dry, scaly skin and conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Additionally water is nature’s moisturiser not only keeping our tissues moist and flexible but also keeping the nutrient rich blood flowing to the tiny capillaries near the skin. Water is actually one of the most effective anti-ageing agents you can use and it is very cheap.
Painful joints and muscles.
Cartilage has a very high water content and dehydration will affect its ability to cushion joints preventing friction, pain and swelling.
I have already established that with sufficient water you can dilute toxins and help flush them from the body but if you are dehydrated the immune system controls are unable to function and bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, poisons accumulate. If you combine lack of exercise to stimulate the circulatory system and dehydration you will suffer both joint and muscle pain.
Poor digestive function.
The digestive process requires fluid. If you drink a pint of water half an hour before a meal (you should not drink excessive amounts with a meal as it dilutes the stomach acid needed to process food) it will pass through the stomach into the intestine and back into the mucous barrier of the stomach. This barrier retains sodium carbonate, which is needed to neutralise acid as it passes through the mucous.
If you are dehydrated too much acid passes through and causes cramps.
Food intolerances and immune system malfunction.
When the body is dehydrated and toxins have accumulated the body’s defence mechanism is activated and histamine is released causing a reaction to anything else that you then put into the system such as food. There are certain foods that have a profile that is allergenic, for example, wheat, tomatoes, spinach, strawberries, seafood, aubergines and peppers. If your body is on the defensive the whole time it will react negatively within a very short space of time. This immune system overload obviously leads to an inability to fight infections, resulting usually in antibiotic intervention and a vicious circle develops.
Thirst and hunger.
There are two issues here. One is the lack of nutrients that are getting around the body in a timely fashion and the other is the hunger/thirst triggers for the body.
Lack of fluids kills the body within about 6 days and over our evolution the body has set up a communication system that will flash messages from the brain to your mouth which will then get dry and uncomfortable until you drink water. Unfortunately we override this messaging system by drinking anything we can lay our hands on in the form of sugar-laden soft drinks, designer coffees and sometimes alcohol. As these really do not satisfy the body’s requirement for pure water to work with you end up being thirsty again in a very short space of time. We develop cravings in an effort to satisfy the demand, which usually includes salty or sweet foods.
Hunger pangs are other signals that your body requires nourishment but if the body is dehydrated it can get confused with the thirst messages. After two or three days of drinking sufficient fluid in a day you will notice a marked reduction in both cravings and hunger pangs.
How to drink fluids.
- I have a large glass (500ml) first thing in the morning with a squeeze of lemon – in the winter I have a large mug of hot water with the juice of a lemon. This not only gives me a shot of Vitamin C but has an alkalising action on the body. Viruses and bacteria thrive in an acidic environment.
- I drink a normal tea and a coffee in the morning and two peppermint or green teas in the afternoon. –1.5 litres.
- I have a litre bottle of water on the go all day that I sip from when I am working.
- During the summer months with warmer temperatures in Spain I would have added add an extra 500ml per day.
- If I am on the treadmill for 30 minutes I also have an extra glass (of water)
N.B – If you are overweight you will need additional fluids: 1 litre of fluid for every 50lbs of body weight.
And I might have a glass of wine occasionally… but more than that and it begins to have a dehyrating effect.
I hope you have found helpful. Even as we move into the cooler months, it is important to remember that central heating has a drying effect on the body and you still need to keep hydrated.. Soups and hot drinks are useful and will help keep you well stocked up on fluids.
©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2021
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-three years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.
If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here:Sally’s books and reviews