Recognizing dehydration and tips to staying hydrated
“To the gurgling beat of my greedy throat, pure, delicious, beautiful, crystalline water flowed into my system. Liquid life, it was…A sense of well-being quickly overcame me. My mouth became moist and soft. I forgot about the back of my throat. My skin relaxed. My joints moved with greater ease…Strength and suppleness came back to my muscles. My head became clearer. Truly, I was coming back to life from the dead. It was glorious…I tell you, to be drunk on alcohol is disgraceful, but to be drunk on water is noble and ecstatic.” -- Pi Patel, a character in the novel Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, upon discovery of pure drinking water on a lifeboat while stranded at sea.
Let’s hope that none of us ever find ourselves in such a dire, extreme situation. Pi Patel survives, but without water he wouldn’t have lasted much longer. It’s true that water is “liquid life.” Without sufficient hydration, even under normal, everyday circumstances, our bodies suffer. Water is crucial to a wide variety of functions in the human body: it acts as a solvent for food and aids in the absorption of nutrients; it also serves as a vehicle of transport of blood cells, helps in production and transport of hormones and neurotransmitters, and lubricates joint spaces. It is critical in kidney function, flushing out toxins through the urine, which should be pale to almost clear - darker urine can indicate higher concentrations of toxins and possible dehydration. (Brightly colored urine can also be a side-effect of your vitamin regimen. Ask your physician about this). Water requirements are increased with consumption of alcohol and caffeinated beverages, such as tea, coffee and soda, which act as diuretics.
Many of us have been coping with the summertime heat and humidity which, along with physical activity, can increase our fluid intake needs. There’s much more to staying hydrated than the seemingly standard 8-cups-a-day recommendation. Daily requirements vary from person to person. For active gals, drinking an additional 8 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of exercise should be sufficient without going overboard. Although rare, it is possible to drink too much water. Hyponatremia, also known as water intoxication, occurs when so much excess water is consumed that the very necessary levels of salt in the blood get diluted. Unless you’re training for a marathon and are obsessive about drinking water, it is unlikely that you’ll suffer from this condition.
I’ve found a few helpful tips to stay hydrated. Try drinking a full glass of water first thing in the morning, then have your AM caffeine fix. Drink an additional glass of water for every caffeinated beverage you drink throughout the day. Alternate a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. This will also reduce your chances of a hangover. If you spend a great deal of time jumping in and out of a hot car all day, freeze a few plastic bottles of water, leaving room for expansion when it turns to ice. Grab a bottle out of the freezer on your way out of the house, and it will gradually melt throughout the day, leaving you with refreshingly chilled drinking water. The same tip is a good idea if you’ll be exercising outdoors.
According to F. Batmanghelidj, M.D. and author of You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty! Water for Health, for Healing, for Life, a dry mouth is not an accurate indicator of water needs. He lists fourteen signs of dehydration other than thirst:
1. Feeling tired without a plausible reason
2. Feeling flushed
3. Feeling irritable and unreasonably short-tempered
4. Feeling anxious
5. Feeling dejected and inadequate
6. Feeling depressed
7. Feeling heavy-headed
8. Disturbed sleep, particularly in the elderly
9. Anger and quick temper
10. Unreasonable impatience
11. Very short attention span
12. Shortness of breath in an otherwise healthy person without lung disease or infection
13. Cravings for manufactured beverages such as coffee, tea, sodas, and alcoholic drinks
14. Dreaming of oceans, rivers, or other bodies of water
Who would have guessed? It looks more like a list of indications for scheduling an appointment with your psychotherapist! But that is exactly the author’s point. He claims that the present-day medical establishment is improperly treating “illnesses” that could otherwise be treated by adequate hydration. Don’t worry -- I won’t go off on a Tom Cruise-like rant or lecture. My personal feeling is that when in doubt, one should always seek medical attention when ill, and in the meantime keep hydrated. So pay attention to what your body is telling you and drink up!
The health benefits of drinking water outlined in this article are based on the assumption that your water supply meets government standards and is uncontaminated by industrial chemicals (remember the movie Erin Brockovich?). For more information on your local drinking water supply, click on the following link to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency site: www.epa.gov
Also, if learning more about the specific contaminants, infectious diseases and minerals found in drinking water, check out The Water We Drink: Water quality and its affects on health by Joshua I. Barzilay, M.D., Winkler G. Weinberg, M.D., and J. William Eley, M.D.
The Good Water Company, www.goodwaterco.com sells water testing supplies, along with filters and other treatment products. The site also lists water contaminants and effective ways to treat and/or remove them.
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