Please excuse, in advance, the self centered nucleus of this blog. My last two weeks have been trying and have included, among other things, the element of water in a variety of situations. Typically I either drink water, or bath in it, but these two weeks have found water hydrating my son during surgery, cleansing my body with a hydro colonic, and triaging my friend Lisa back to health after a serious bout of dehydration. It got me thinking about how much water do we really need? Why is it so important? What happens when we are over, or under, hydrated?
On a cellular level, sodium and potassium are two important electrolytes (substances that turn in to ions and conduct electricity), which generate nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction to help our bodies function. Our cells work hard at making sure this balance is maintained through a process called homeostasis. Because water follows salt, hydration is important in this sodium and potassium balance and to our overall health.
Over hydration (diluting our sodium) makes fluid outside the cells migrate in the cells to maintain homeostasis. A severe case of over hydration causes the cells to explode, which can result in brain swelling and death. Over hydration is not as common as dehydration but warning signs include dizziness, confusion, irritability, headaches and impaired breathing.
Dehydration is equally harmful because the cells do not have their proper volume and causes blood pressure to drop, fever, rapid heartbeat and overworked kidneys. Symptoms of dehydration include feeling lightheaded or dizzy, fatigue, muscle weakness, constipation, and an overall “dry” feeling, which include urinating less then every 6-8 hours. Also urine should be clear or light yellow.
So, it looks like we all have differing hydration needs pending our body mass, exercise habits and where we live. Men need more water then women (approx 1 liter per day) and hydration should occur after exercising (1 extra glass before and after) and hot climates make us sweat more so more fluid intake is required. Generally though, since our bodies are approximately 60- 70% water and our brains are approximately 85% water it looks like a common suggestion for hydration is 2 liters of water a day.
If individuals drink coffee, tea or alcoholic beverages, an extra glass of water should be added for each dehydrating beverage.