Summer’s heat can easily make you feel parched, even while doing simple tasks, like walking your dog or picking up groceries, but did you know that when a feeling of thirst presents itself, you are already mildly dehydrated? You may be thinking, what’s so wrong with being a little thirsty? Read on to discover how the lack of an unassuming element in your daily routine – water – can affect everything from your productivity levels to your skin elasticity.
What is Dehydration?
Did you know that water makes up 60% of the human body? Indeed, it is a vital nutrient and without it, you could only live for an average of 3 days. Water is essential for a variety of bodily functions, from regulating body temperature (through breath vapor and sweat) to keeping the pH of the body in balance; from aiding the brain in the production and use of certain hormones, to eliminating toxins and metabolic waste from cells. And a feeling of thirst is one of the first signs that your body does not have enough fluids to perform its necessary functions – like producing enough sweat to keep you cool, for instance, as you mow the lawn on a hot day. In fact, you only need to lose 3% of your body weight in water to begin feeling negative effects. Shockingly, 75% of U.S. citizens are chronically dehydrated – especially the elderly, with dehydration being a frequent cause of hospital admissions.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Scanty, dark, or cloudy urine
- Tiredness, confusion, lack of concentration
- High heart rate accompanied by low blood pressure
- Loss of appetite, while also craving carbohydrates or sugar
- Muscle stiffness and cramps
Dehydration, Fatigue, and Brain Fog
As mentioned above, a major sign of dehydration is a term known as “brain fog.” The brain is 75% water and when there is not enough, cognitive functions – including concentration, memory recall, alertness, processing speed – even mood – are impaired. A study among 20 young women, which investigated the effects of mild dehydration induced by strict water deprivation for 24 hours, found its subjects experiencing more confusion and fatigue as well as less alertness and vigor during the study. Once water was consumed after the 24-hour period, subjects reported immediately feeling less confused and more alert. Why does dehydration bring on a sense of lethargy? It seems that lack of water redirects blood to working muscles and away from the skin’s pores, weakening your body's ability to sweat and hence, diffuse heat. The increase in internal body temperature can then result in muscle stiffness and cramps, light-headedness, cognitive decline, and fatigue.
Stay Hydrated for Glowing Skin
Pinch the skin of your arm or abdomen into a tent shape and hold for a few seconds. Watch how quickly it springs back into place when you release it – well-hydrated skin will snap back immediately whereas dry skin will respond much slower. The time it takes for your skin to resume to normal is called skin turgor and poor turgor is directly related to dehydration. Water acts as a lubricant between joints as well as skin cells and when there is not enough water present, your skin becomes stiff and experiences friction, which slows down its ability to spring back. If you are over 65, due to the skin’s natural loss of elasticity with age, a skin turgor test is not as accurate, but it can be an effective way to evaluate dehydration in children. Not only does water impact the stiffness of the skin, but it can also affect how dull it appears, if it is itchy, has fine lines or wrinkles, or even if there are dark circles present under the eyes. In fact, a study in 2015 among 49 women around the age of 24 found that increasing dietary water intake affects skin cells in a similar way as a topical moisturizer and that higher water consumption positively impacts normal skin physiology, particularly among women who drink lower than average amounts.
How Much Water is Enough?
So, how much water is a healthy amount? The answer varies because there is no widespread consensus regarding water requirements among different demographic groups. The study mentioned above investigated two groups of women over a 30-day period – one group consumed less than 3.2 liters of water a day while the other consumed more than 5. You’ve heard of the saying “drink 8 glasses of water a day,” but how big is your glass? The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report that adult men should drink 3.7 liters and women, 2.7 liters per day if they are healthy, sedentary, and living in temperate climates. You may need to modify your fluid intake, however, if you exercise regularly, live in hot or humid climates or high altitudes, are sick (feverish, experiencing diarrhea or vomiting), or are breastfeeding. Also, if you are elderly the fact that you have lower muscle mass, reduced kidney function, and a decreased sensation of thirst, factors into how much fluid you should consume each day. The best answer to how much water is enough is one with so many personal conditions that you may want to consult with your primary care physician or a dietitian to find the right amount for you.
Here are some effortless ways to incorporate more water into your diet:
- Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. This cleanses your liver and kidneys and immediately helps rehydrate your body after a long night without water.
- Drink a glass of water before each meal. It will help your body digest food more easily.
- Check the color of your urine. You are looking for copious amounts of clear or light-colored urine.
- Invest in a water bottle with marked measurements. Not only will it serve as a visual reminder to drink more water throughout the day, but it will also help track your intake.
- Set a daily goal. Once you have consulted a doctor or dietitian, you can aim for the amount prescribed every day.
- Add flavorings such as fruit or herbal tea. Infusing water with fruit is easy to do, and tea can be made in large jugs once or twice a week.
In fact, Hibiscus Delight Tea is the perfect tea blend, made with hibiscus flowers, elderberries, orange peel, lemongrass, and cinnamon, to encourage hydration on a hot summer’s day. Make it in big batches and store chilled in your refrigerator. The main ingredient – hibiscus flowers – are tart in flavor and are chock full of antioxidants, including anthocyanins, which lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as help cleanse the liver. Elderberries are known for their immunoprotective or immunostimulatory effects, while providing a punch of tanginess to this tea. Orange peel adds citrus flavor to this tea blend and is perfectly paired with hibiscus and elderberry by providing an array of B Vitamins, Vitamin C and polyphenols which together boost immunity as well as reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Lemongrass adds more citrus flavor plus another dose of antioxidants including quercetin, a well-known anti-inflammatory. And finally, cinnamon adds a spicy note as well as even more polyphenols and the ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Not only is this tea blend great for the heart, but its slightly tart and tangy flavor will inspire you to drink more fluids and stay hydrated!