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Healthy Living

Had Enough To Drink?

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 be confused.”

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 clean water.

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.