I’ve spent decades dehydrated. I didn’t know I was so severely parched until I started hydrating properly. The main reason that I didn’t realize how bad it was is because I very rarely feel thirsty. I’ve since learned that my body expresses dehydration through less obvious symptoms than thirst. Instead of thirst, I get a racing heart, dizziness, and I have difficulty recalling certain words when I’m talking. The symptoms go away immediately after I hydrate. Now, I just try to stay hydrated so my body doesn’t have to go through the stress.
The human body is more than fifty percent water – the brain is closer to seventy-five percent and the blood and kidneys are around eighty percent. We constantly lose water through breathing, sweating, and going to the bathroom. Without sufficient replenishment, muscles fatigue and cramp; skin dries out; toxins build up in all tissues; the body can’t regulate temperature through sweating; nutrients including oxygen are not transported properly through the blood; the bowels get sluggish; and the brain and kidneys can’t function properly. Basically, we can’t function well.
The kidneys in particular like to soak up the H2O. They regulate electrolytes, filter toxins out of the blood, and regulate blood pressure. Without sufficient water, sodium, potassium, and other minerals needed for muscle and nerve function, we become unbalanced. Toxins build up and cause infections and illness. In addition, low blood volume due to dehydration causes the heart to work harder to circulate the thick blood. Ultimately, people who don’t drink enough water can experience symptoms beyond thirst which include dizziness, fatigue, irritability, headaches, cognitive fuzziness, and decreased coordination.
It is usually athletes who are most concerned about staying hydrated, but young children and the elderly are also at an increased risk to suffer from symptoms of dehydration. In these populations, several seemingly unrelated symptoms such as, confusion, crankiness, sleepiness, heart palpitations, and constipation are overlooked as a symptom of dehydration.
One other seemingly unrelated symptom of dehydration is the sensation of hunger. The body will send a craving message for food because it is desperate for any type of fluid and doesn’t care if it gets it through a food source. Many people think they need to eat, but in fact what they need to do is drink. For people who experience thirst this way, the sensation of hunger goes away when they drink. Drinking water before a meal is often suggested as a way to aid in weight loss.
The best way to determine whether a person is dehydrated is the colour of their urine. Light or colourless urine is good. Dark yellow urine is an indicator of dehydration (note: vitamin B supplements will make urine turn more yellow).
I realize that the summer is almost over and some people will wonder why I’m mentioning hydration now. The reason is because we are usually good at hydrating when it’s hot out. It’s the rest of the time that we forget. Out of all the clients who come to see me at my office for counselling, approximately seventy-percent do not eat or hydrate properly, which makes them less resilient to the effects of stress. If you are currently going through a transition or dealing with a problem, it is even more important to take care of your body. Physical health and emotional health are intertwined.
Try whenever possible to encourage children to hydrate with water and avoid drinks that have caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic that pulls water away from the cells and has a dehydrating effect. A lot of people complain that they don’t like the taste of water, but that’s because they drink too much sugar. You can try to put a little lime or lemon in the water if you are weaning off sugar. Eventually, even the most sugar addicted person will start to like the taste of water again if they drink enough of it. We have some of the best water in the world, so turn the tap on and fill your glass, your granny’s glass, and your kid’s glass.