By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Water is the lubricant our bodies need to function, and when we don't take care to stay hydrated, they can let us know that they're mad at us in some pretty unfortunate ways. As we continue through what has been a toasty midwestern summer, remember to keep a bottle of water nearby, whether you work outside in construction or sit at an office behind a desk; if you're working out or sitting and reading that summer novel on the porch.
Everything we do uses water, and so it's important to take care and replenish it at a proportional tempo to which we are losing it. If any of these symptoms reflect a struggle in your life, consider that you might need to start paying more attention to your fluid intake, and start sipping on your eight 8 ounce glasses a day.
1. Crankiness, Lack of Concentration, and "Mental Fog"
Moody much? Sometimes it's due to hunger or lack of sleep, or that guy in the meeting who wouldn't stop interrupting you. (Ugh, that guy.) But it might surprise you that it could be dehydration that's impacting your sense of well-being. The University of Connecticut's Human Performance Laboratory carried out two studies that showed that even mild dehydration (noted as a net loss of 1.5% of the body's water) can negatively alter mood, concentration, and energy level. The studies note that the effects of mild dehydration were the same whether the study participants were sitting at rest or had performed light exercise. And since thirst tends to set in when we are about 1-2% dehydrated, you might not even know you need to drink something until you're already grumpy or unproductive.
2. Sleeping Poorly and Tiredness
The negative impact of missing out on a good night's sleep can reverberate throughout your day. One of the causes of poor sleep is dehydration. The Mayo Clinic suggests that the aspiration of eight 8 ounce glasses of water per day is an oversimplification, though it's a reasonable goal that's easy to remember. (The average man should be drinking 2.5 - 3.7 liters daily, the average woman 2-2.5 liters.) Neglecting to hydrate yourself throughout the day and responding to your activity levels with adequate water intake can have a significant impact on your night. And since our bodies already lose water overnight due to perspiration, natural body processes, and even breathing, the loss of fluids may be the culprit of those hours you spend tossing and turning.
Adding to the issue, it's not uncommon to use the evening to unwind with a glass of wine or a Manhattan, even choosing to skip the water so you're not up using the bathroom throughout the night, interrupting sleep. You might think that being a little drowsy from drink will send you on to dreamland, but as alcohol is a diruretic, it can cause sleep to evade you through the night. You may fall asleep faster, but it's less likely you'll stay asleep. Combine that with not replenishing that water, and you might be in for a night chasing elusive zzz's.
3. Headache or Joint Pain
It's hard to complete even menial tasks when in pain, headaches being particularly debilitating. Scientists believe blood vessels in the brain may actually narrow during a dehydrated state, in order to regulate fluid throughout the body. This causes brain matter to contract, shrinking away from the skull, making it more difficult for oxygen and blood to reach the brain, causing a headache.
Our joints also require lubricant from water stores within the body, and if deprived, can ache. Cartilage is made up of a spongy material that cushions the friction of two or more bones interacting with one another. But in order for that spongy material to remain, well, spongy, water must be present to plump it up. When fluid in the body is at a premium, it will send what fluid it has to where it is most needed, often sacrificing less primary structures, like the cartilage of our joints, causing them to wither, and become stiff and achy.
4. Halitosis and Dry Mouth
Halitosis, or bad breath, is one of those little indignities that can become a big issue. It impacts our relationships, work life, and our dental health. One cause of halitosis is dry mouth, and dry mouth can be caused by a number of things, one of the most obvious being dehydration. Saliva is instrumental in washing our mouths of debris, food particulate, and microorganisms that cause disease. It also provides protection to the soft and hard tissues within our mouths against the acidity in our foods and acids produced by the natural bacteria that live there. Without adequate saliva, tooth decay is more likely to occur. Staying hydrated provides your salivary glands with the fluid they need to act as a primary defense against bad breath and dry mouth.
5. Muscle Cramping
Adequate fluid balance helps lubricate every cell in the body. Muscle cells are no exception, and can grow vocally irritable when not hydrated properly. When we use our muscles, they contract and lengthen which pulls water in from and then back out into the interstitial space, creating a pump of sorts. However, if the body notices an imbalance of fluid due to dehydration, this pump can work in the opposite way, drawing fluid out of the muscles and into the bloodstream, causing muscles to protest by cramping or seizing. This is true for rigorous exercise such as strength training or distance running, but can also be the case for less rigorous work like gardening or light housework.
6. Food Cravings (Particularly Sweets)
Gut flora is comprised of anywhere from 500 -1000 types of bacteria, with one study published by NCBI suggesting that collectively, human gut microbiota is comprised of 35,000 floral species. Researchers are finding that these little guys are instrumental in many functions of our bodies beyond digestion, including nutrient and drug metabolism, immunity and pathogen protection, and integrity of the structure of the intestinal tract. It therefore behooves us to take care of our gut flora. But dehydration can create an environment in your gut where certain types of sugar-loving bacteria will thrive, causing you to crave the sugar that feeds them. Prolonged submission to sugar cravings can lead to obesity, diabetes, tooth and gum disease, heart disease, neuropathy, and stroke. Not only can staying hydrated help normalize your gut flora, it can also help you stay fuller longer, making it easier to cut back on those sugary snacks.
7. Dry, Unhealthy Skin and Cracked Lips
Skin is the largest organ of our bodies, and its job is to protect us from pathogens, help regulate our body temperature, and aid in sensation. It is comprised of three layers, the innermost dermis, the epidermis, and the protective outer layer, the stratum corneum. The skin of our lips has a thinner stratum corneum, making lips particularly susceptible to damage. Water keeps skin cells plump and the surface smooth. When dehydrated, the water in skin cells is rerouted to the vital organs, which may cause our lips or knuckles to painfully crack open. If you're looking for a way to keep your lips, knuckles, and the rest of your skin smooth and healthy, your best bet is to nourish from within, and then find an emollient cream to protect the outer layer.
8. Weakened Immune System
In a nutshell, the immune system's job is to recognize and eliminate pathogens, and then remove them from the body. Water is intrinsic to the system, keeping immune cells healthy, as well as assisting in the flushing of harmful toxins, invaders and the waste of neutralized pathogens out of our bodies. Water also oxygenates the blood which helps all cells in the body (including immune cells) function properly, lubricates eyes and the mouth to flush out potential threats before they even enter the body, and aids in digestion. Without adequate stores of water in the body, the immune system suffers, and you'll be more prone to getting sick. Stay hydrated, stay healthy.
9. Weight Gain
Weight is a touchy subject, and you'll get no judgment here. But maintaining a healthy weight--whatever that means for you--is intrinsic to the health of your body and mind. One of the easiest ways to get on the path to a healthy body is to stay hydrated. Drinking water helps you stay fuller for longer, keeping snacking and excess eating to a minimum. It's also not uncommon to mistake thirst for hunger, so if you're thirsty but think you're hungry, you're going to be taking in unnecessary calories rather than the water your body is thirsting for. Water rich foods like fruits and vegetables can also help you stay hydrated, and make for a tasty, healthy snack.
It seems counterintuitive that drinking water can help with bloating, but it's true. Dehydration can indeed be the cause of your bloating, and in that case, drinking water is the best cure. When you're dehydrated, water is being horded by the body because it needs more than it has, so it is reluctant to let any water go. Rather than using your water stores to cycle out waste from all of your cells, you are retaining that water within the body, thus also holding on to all of the byproducts of your bodily processes. Drinking water will help your cells cycle waste out of the body, flushing out excess water as well.
A UK study from 2015 reported that drivers experiencing mild dehydration had comparable driving errors "similar to that observed following the ingestion of an alcoholic beverage resulting in a blood alcohol content of approximately 0.08%, or while sleep deprived." The study goes on to note that 1.2 million people worldwide are killed and 50 million injured as a result of traffic accidents annually, with driver error being the lead cause of road traffic accidents. As the weather heats up, Minnesotans are more mobile and activity bound. Perhaps you work outdoors in the heat and humidity, causing you to sweat a lot. Remember to stay hydrated while doing any activity, particularly those that can put yourself or others in danger.