Health & Wellbeing Women's Health

What Dehydration Does To Your Body: Ask The Body Experts

Everyone feels a little parched from time to time but regularly getting dehydrated is bad news for your general health and wellbeing. It’s surprising how much better you can feel by simply glugging more water throughout the day.

Here, we get the lowdown on water intake and staying hydrated from Sara Davenport, holistic health expert and author of Reboot Your Health.

Why is hydration important?

Sara explains that although you’re likely to drink about 75,000 litres of water in your lifetime, many of us often don’t drink enough, or we substitute with coffee, tea and soft drinks, without realising that these actually act as diuretics, triggering dehydration. In case you’re wondering, it takes roughly three glasses of water to neutralise the caffeine in one cup of tea or coffee.

“Drinking water – pure water with nothing in it – is vital for health, as 80 percent of your brain, 90 percent of your blood and 96 percent of your liver consists of water. Water is involved in nearly every chemical reaction in your body; it regulates body temperature, carries nutrients to your cells and tissues, and carries toxins away and disposes of them. Water protects your organs and tissue, and helps with the digestion, absorption and elimination of food,”  Sara says.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

Regular, everyday activities of simply breathing, moving, sweating and urinating cause us to lose water from our bodies – even more so when we’re exercising – and a simple way to tell whether or not you’re drinking enough is to look at the colour of your urine. Sara says that, ‘it should be pale yellow and odourless. If your urine is dark yellow, then you probably need to drink more water. And remember, hot weather increases water loss, as does fever or illness.”

What does dehydration do to my body?

If the amount of water in your body is reduced by just one percent, you’ll feel thirsty, but 75 percent of us are actually dehydrated on a regular basis. We can live without food for about a month, but can only survive for three to seven days without water.

At the most serious end of the spectrum, Sara says that dehydration is a major issue for the health of the kidneys. If you don’t drink enough water each day, they stop working properly, ultimately resulting in kidney stones and, more seriously, prerenal failure. Prerenal failure is when the kidneys don’t receive enough blood to filter. It can happen when plaque narrows the blood vessels, or it can be triggered by sepsis, a heart attack or liver failure. Sara believes that the unhealthy fad for taking water pills to lose weight is also a contributor to more serious kidney problems.

Dehydration is also major cause of early afternoon tiredness. “Even mild dehydration can slow down your metabolism as much as three percent, and increase feelings of anxiety and tiredness,” Sara says. “Dehydration can also trigger anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue and attention deficit disorder (ADD).” 

Drinking about two litres of water daily can help you stay hydrated, and cause headaches and back and joint pain to vanish. It can also increase energy expenditure by about 96 calories per day.

Sara says that drinking water about 30 minutes before meals can reduce the number of calories you eat. “In one study, dieters who drank 500ml of water before meals lost 44 percent more weight over a period of 12 weeks, compared to those who didn’t, as metabolic rate increases by 30 percent for up to 40 minutes,” she explains.

If you’re always thirsty, your mouth is dry and your lips feel cracked however much water you drink then something isn’t working properly. It may not be how much water you’re taking in, but how well it is being utilised by your body, Sara advises.

“Drugs for heart disease, stomach ulcers and depression can all alter your thirst mechanism, and certain diseases do the same – diabetes being the major culprit. Old age also brings with it the same problem. Sometimes the issue lies with the kidneys, because diabetes and high blood pressure can affect how they function, as can an infection or kidney stones, and you may need a couple of acupuncture sessions to strengthen your kidney meridian,” she says.

You should see your doctor if you consistently have a thirst that can’t be quenched.

Any tips to stay hydrated?

Sara encourages that we should try to be much more aware throughout the day of how much liquid we are taking in. “Work out how much and what you’re drinking, and then increase the amount of water if necessary. Women should drink around two litres of water a day,” she says.

“Keep a bottle of water on your desk, in your car or close at hand at all times. Half the problem is that we simply forget to drink. Top yourself up by drinking small glasses regularly during the day and try to drink water at room temperature as it’s less shocking to the gut – if you drink cold water, the body has to use energy to heat it to body temperature.”

“If you regularly buy bottled water, choose glass bottles where possible, as plastic bottles contain phthalates that can leach chemicals into your water.

“Approximately 20 percent of your daily water intake comes from the food you eat. 
Eat more high-water foods: Cucumbers, celery, lettuce, watermelon and most fruits and vegetables tend to be low in calories and high in nutrients.”