There’s no question water is essential and necessary for our survival.
Our bodies are made up of 60% water, and it’s the major component
of most body parts. The brain and heart, for instance, are 73% water,
the lungs 83%.
Your body requires water to:
- Digest food
- Transport nutrients to cells so they can reproduce, grow and survive
- Move waste and toxins out of the body through urine
- Make saliva, for comfort and digestion
- Lubricate your joints and absorb shock in the brain and spine
- Regulate body temperature via sweat
- Allow the brain to produce hormones and neurotransmitters
“You also need water for your blood,” explains Torrance Memorial
Physican Network primary care physician Yusha Siddiqui, MD. “If
you’re dehydrated, pressure receptors recognize blood volume is
low, which sends a message for your heart to beat faster in order to maintain
flow to the brain. In severe cases, dehydration, which also accompanies
electrolyte imbalances and toxic metabolite buildup, can cause you to
Chronic dehydration can increase your risk of kidney stones and urinary
tract infections. “This is because you’re not producing enough
urine to dissolve the crystals. You are not urinating enough, and in the
long term you'll see an electrolyte imbalance.” Even a little
dehydration can make you feel, really bad.
“Lightheadedness, fatigue, poor stamina and concentration, and hypotension
(low blood pressure) can result from even a small—1%—drop
in bodily fluid,” Dr. Siddiqui continues. If you are lean, you lose
more fluid due to the skin-to-mass ratio.
“I’ve worked with many elderly patients who live in care homes,
and dehydration can be a big concern. They need to be given water even
if they don’t ask for it and need to have easy access to water.
It may be up to the families to recognize it,” she adds.
How can you tell if you are dehydrated? Is there anything to that saying
if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, it’s too
late? “Yes,” Dr. Siddiqui asserts. “If you wait, you’re
losing fluid and not matching the output. So if it’s hot and you
are active and sweating, head it off.”
Just the facts
Let’s start with the numbers. According to experts at the Human Performance
Lab at the University of Connecticut, an adult male needs to consume between
2.5 and 3.7 liters (about 3 quarts) of fluid each day; women need between
2 and 2.8 liters (approximately 2 quarts) daily, unless pregnant or lactating.
While some of this requirement is met by eating food—about 20%—we
also need to drink liquids: tea, soda—although of course there are
downsides to sugary and chemical-laced sodas—coffee (and no, coffee
is not dehydrating, according to a 2007 study conducted at UConn) and
The best way to tell if you are well-hydrated is to check your urine. If
you’re urinating every two to four hours and the color is light
yellow (although vitamins can affect urine color), you should be well-hydrated.
“If you see your urine is dark yellow and you know you are not hydrating,
you could be dehydrated,” says Dr. Siddiqui.
You also can download a urine color chart developed by the Human Performance
Lab (hydrationcheck.com) and use it to see if you’re consuming enough
liquid. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it could indeed indicate
a 1% drop in fluid. By 2% depletion you are officially dehydrated. Things
that can dehydrate you: exercise, heat, illness (especially if accompanied
by diarrhea and vomiting), alcohol, drugs and airline travel.
“Uncontrolled diabetes can cause dehydration because patients urinate
so much. Blood pressure medication can be a diuretic, so people taking
it should be aware. And if you drink less than 2 liters of water each
day, you could slip into the dehydration zone occasionally or even chronically.”
Yusha Siddiqui, MD, is a primary care physician with the Torrance Memorial
Physician Network. She practices at 3701 Skypark Drive in Torrance and
can be reached at 310-378-2234.
Tricks to make sure you’re hydrated:
- Wake up and drink a big glass of water—room temp, cold or hot—with lemon.
- Eat foods with plenty of water in them. Yogurt, any fruits or vegetables
that are juicy (think celery, tomatoes, cucumber).
- Keep a water bottle in your car and close at hand on your desk.
- Drink lots of water when flying and limit your Bloody Mary consumption.
- If you are drinking alcohol, balance it with drinking water. For every
glass of wine, drink a big glass of water.
- A trick our experts endorsed: Get a home soda machine and make bubbly tap
water; add lime or other fruit for flavor.