Hydration for Health

Drinking an adequate volume of fluid, primarily water, is vital to our health and wellness.  Water accounts for 60% of our total body weight and insufficient water intake or excessive water loss can wreak havoc with our health.  Dehydration—the state of depletion of total body water—tends to occur more commonly in the hotter summer months of the Northern Hemisphere.  Our bodies are remarkably well engineered and are designed to give us the proper feedback to maintain our health—whether it is fatigue begging for sleep, hunger demanding food or thirst calling for water.  So it is quite important for us to listen carefully to what our bodies are telling us, and respond appropriately.  When we become thirsty, it is usually a sign of mild dehydration, although excessive salt intake can also drive thirst.

Proper hydration is fundamental to maintain blood volume, blood pressure, temperature control as well as all of our metabolic processes.  Dehydration can occur under a number of circumstances, including excessive exposure to high temperatures, sweating from athletic pursuits, or that which results from vomiting, diarrhea, a bowel preparation for colonoscopy or simply not enough water consumption.

Body water is lost through obvious sources such as urination, bowel movements and sweating, but there are also insensible losses including vapor lost with breathing and evaporation of water from our skin in the absence of overt sweating.

If we are adequately hydrated, we will not be thirsty and our urine will appear dilute, similar to the color of light American beer.  Dehydration is marked by thirst, decreased urine output, and urine that is darker in color, similar to the color of a  amber, rich German beer.  Inadequate hydration can cause a host of symptoms, including fatigue, headache, lightheadedness and dizziness.  It can lead to confusion and impaired judgment, and if progressive, can ultimately cause heat stroke, a medical condition that demands emergent management and fluid resuscitation.  Children and the elderly are most at risk for the occurrence of dehydration.

Dehydration is one of the primary risk factors for kidney stones, that tend to occur when the urine gets very concentrated under which circumstances the calcium salts that are normally dissolved tend to precipitate out and form particles that can become stones.

In terms of weight management, thirst can often be confused or mistaken for hunger, and eating is a poor and inefficient means of rehydrating.  What we want and need when we are dehydrated is water and not calories.  Staying well hydrated can fill us up and suppress our hunger and help with the weight loss process, and as such, is an important component of many weight loss programs.

Our precise water requirement varies depending on our weight, the ambient temperature and our level of physical activity, so blanket generalizations such as 8 glasses per day–what I refer to as Cosmopolitan magazine dogma--are meaningless for an individual.  Adequate hydration is usually characterized by feeling well, lack of thirst, and adequate urine output that is clear or light yellow in color.  The bottom line is to be mindful of the external environment and mindful of the way our body feels, our thirst and our urine color—and to respond with increased water intake if circumstances dictate.  If it is a particularly hot day, or if we are going to be participating in vigorous athletic pursuits, it is best to pre-hydrate and to ensure that we have an adequate water supply in our possession.

Since we all tend to drink bottled water, for an interesting, eye-opening and astonishing report on the quality of the particular bottled water that you drink, consult the following website:

http://www.ewg.org/bottled-water-2011-search

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