August 24, 2010
Water, water everywhere: and still people don't get enough to drink. These days, we have so much to choose from – soda, tea, coffee, juices, and sports, vitamin, and energy drinks – you'd think since water was part of all these we'd be covered, right?
Hydration = water
Dictionary.com defines "hydrate" as "To supply water to (a person, for example) in order to restore or maintain fluid balance: "Cold water is the fastest and safest way to hydrate an ordinary athlete." (Jane E. Brody)1
While we may drink a lot of fluids, we still might not be getting all the water we need. The Centers for Disease Control says feeling thirsty means you're already mildly dehydrated - that your body is losing fluids faster than it's taking them in. So it makes sense to "keep the tank topped" by drinking enough water so you don't get thirsty in the first place.2
And then there are the liquids that actually work to dehydrate us. Alcoholic beverages or drinks with caffeine make us urinate more often, costing us more than we gain from them. So don't count coffee, tea, soda, beer, or other alcoholic drinks into the total amount of liquid you need to stay healthy and hydrated.3
Did you know two-thirds of your body weight is water? That means a 120-pound person carries 80 pounds of water. You might wonder how we're not cousins to camels! But while camels can lose up to 40 percent of their bodies' water weight, for humans such a thing would mean death.4
The bottom line is everything in the human body depends on water. Intestines, liver, heart, blood, brain – without water, none of these would work. Our blood is water-based, as are the cells that are the basic building blocks of everything we are.
Scientists say the food we eat is good for about 20 percent of the water our bodies need each day.5 Even though some foods like tomatoes and watermelon have high amounts of water, you'd still have to eat a whole lot – piles of them every day – to equal what you'll get from 8 daily glasses of water.
Now let's talk about something near and dear to everyone's heart, at least from a health point of view: sweat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says when our body temperatures go above normal (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), our brains send out an alarm. This makes us sweat, which cools us down and protects vital systems like our hearts and brains. Like air conditioners, our bodies have built-in thermostats that help control temperature, and our sweat is their coolant. Whether it's from physical activity or just the weather, when we get hot, our internal air conditioners kick in, and we start to sweat. So we need to keep our tanks full by drinking lots of water.6
So how much do I need to drink?
It can take some getting used to, but drinking more water is a habit worth picking up. Start with an 8-ounce glass of water with each meal and an 8-ounce glass between each meal, and congratulations! You're already up to 5 glasses a day, more than half of the eight 8-ounce glasses doctors say we need.
Exercise – Drink bottled water, water flavored with lemon or lime juice, or tap water before, during, and after exercise. One way to remember might be to think "2 + 2," which means to start adding to your body's water supply by drinking at least two cups of water two hours before you plan to play, work out, or just be in hot weather.
Once you get going, plan to take a break and drink about 10 ounces – that's 10 large gulps – from a water bottle every 15 to 20 minutes while you're exercising. And keep drinking after you finish.7 Remember: by the time your body says, "Hey! I feel thirsty!" you're already dehydrated.
Fruit and other cool snacks are another way to keep your body a little cooler. Peaches, oranges, watermelon, and grapes help fill your stomach and top up your water level.8
Finally, don't forget that sometimes – like when you're swimming – you may not notice you're sweating. But you are, and you can still get dehydrated, so play it safe. Drink up!
Sickness – Your body needs extra water to flush out toxins and other impurities in your system. More than ever, water is vital for this. The old saying says "Feed a cold and starve a fever;" we'd like to add "Flood a cold and drown a fever" to that. Your cells need all the help they can get to fight infection, and dehydrated cells aren't up to the job. Even, and especially, if someone is throwing up, he or she needs to drink water in small sips every 10 minutes.9
Breast-feeding, pregnancy, or long-term illness – All these mean big changes for our bodies; changes that can be very stressful. So don't deny your health the support it needs. Talk to your doctor, because dehydration is one of the worst things that can happen to a system that's already working really hard.
Signs of Dehydration 10
Signs of mild dehydration – treat by drinking liquid in small sips:
Signs of dangerous dehydration – call 911 right away:
Material for this article was gathered from various sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), The Mayo Clinic, and The University of Illinois.
Specific Sources: (1http://www.dictionary.com)
2CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.healthfinder.gov/scripts/SearchContext.asp?topic=2878)
6CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.healthfinder.gov/scripts/SearchContext.asp?topic=2878)
7CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.healthfinder.gov/scripts/SearchContext.asp?topic=2878)
8CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.healthfinder.gov/scripts/SearchContext.asp?topic=2878)
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