Do You Drink Enough Water?

Joan Haynes, ND

Summer is here, and one thing is certain – it’s dry and hot. Now is a great time to assess your water intake. Did you know that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated? Here are 5 warning signs and symptoms of chronic dehydration, and tips on optimizing your water intake so you can feel your best all year long (and stay in that top 25 %!)

  1. Fatigue
    Dehydration is the number one cause of daytime fatigue. Dehydration of the tissues causes enzymatic activity to slow down (slowing the metabolism.)
  2. Constipation
    When chewed food enters the colon, the body absorbs excess water from the colon walls, allowing the stool to form properly. In chronic dehydration, the body sacrifices the ideal consistency of the stool in order to give water to more vital parts of the body. The result: hard dried out stool that is difficult to pass.
  3. Excess weight
    Thirst is often confused with hunger. One glass of water shut down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the dieters studied in a University of Washington study.
  4. Pain
    Pain can be a localized sign of dehydration. Headaches are commonly caused by lack of adequate water. Preliminary research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day (half of that coming from food and drinks other than plain water) could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.
  5. Brain-fog
    A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page. Obvious signs of dehydration include dry mouth, crinkled skin, excessive thirst, or absence of urination for over 6 hours. These are more serious symptoms, and need to be corrected immediately.

Tips to Optimize Water Intake

  1. How much is enough?
    Thirst is not always a reliable indicator, so its good to keep track. Experts disagree on the exact amount of water each person needs. A commonly used calculation is to divide your weight in pounds by two, then convert this figure to ounces, and drink that many ounces of water daily. Example: 150 pounds/2 = 75 ounces of water per day. A simpler version is the 8-10 (8 oz) glasses per day rule. Learn to read your body’s signs, be willing to experiment, and you will find the right amount for yourself.
  2. What counts?
    Contrary to popular belief, caffeine is only a mild diuretic so a cup or two of coffee and/or tea can count toward your total fluid intake. Avoid energy drinks that often have huge amounts of caffeine and sugar. Alcohol subtracts from your daily fluid total, as it is a diuretic and will cause dehydration. In general filtered or spring water is best but if you are having trouble getting it down, consider using some diluted fruit juice or lemon slices to add some flavor.
  3. What are the best times to drink?
    It is recommended by some that you not drink water with meals, unless you need to, as it is thought to dilute the digestive juices. Good times to drink water are on rising, at least 1/2 hour before meals and 2-3 hours after. If you don’t like waking at night to urinate, stop drinking after 6 pm.
  4. When might I need more?
    You need more if the temperature is hot or if you exercise. A general rule is to add an extra 2 glasses per day for every 5°F over 85°F if you are at rest, and more if you exercise.
  5. What about electrolytes?
    Adding electrolytes is important with exercise and in hot weather. Electrolytes increase water absorption, and replace vital minerals lost in sweating. Instead of Gatorade, consider a healthier version called Recharge available in natural food stores. Coconut water is a good (although expensive) option. Another option is to eat salty snacks on hot sweaty, heavy exercise days.

Here is my own favorite way to get myself to drink water regularly and to rehydrate if I’ve gotten low:

In a quart mason jar or large glass, I fill it 80-90% of the way with filtered water, then I add 10-20% Simply Lemonade (a grocery store lemonade with real lemons and real sugar).  Then I add 1/8 – ¼ teaspoon salt (I prefer Celtic sea salt).  This tasty drink goes down much easier than water and rehydrates me quickly.  I find that adding a straw and ice helps me drink more.

Interested in learning more? Check out Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by Dr. Batmanghelidj, MD.