Water is essential for life. We all know that..
So if hydration is a topic that we all know something about, why is the practical daily application generally poor?
One of the most powerful changes that I see in my clients is that when they start drinking optimal amounts of water their sense of thirst is reawakened and they become more in tune with the fluid needs of their body. I hope you might experience the same.
The importance of hydration should not be underestimated. The human body is around 70% water, so maintaining the right balance of water is vital to enable your body to function optimally. Every cell in our body depends on hydration to function optimally. If our cells aren’t adequately hydrated, they can decrease in size and lose the ability to function as they should. Staying hydrated helps us to carry essential nutrients to our cells, supports in regulating bowel movements and enables detoxification. Beyond this, water plays a leading role in every body system.
Our bodies use a specialised system to ensure optimal fluid levels. This is achieved through intricate osmoreceptors in the brain. When these receptors sense a low level of hydration, they stimulate a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which signals to us that we are thirsty. Thirst is usually the first sign of dehydration that we notice. However, we usually notice the sensation of thirst long after the body’s requirement for hydration. The thirst cue can kick in when we have already lost 1-2% of water. Even losing 1% of our fluid can lead to decreased cognitive and physical performance. As we age, our sense of thirst can decline so it is important not to rely on thirst to indicate when we should be drinking more water.
Alongside this, dehydration has been linked to weight imbalance and water retention. Osmoreceptors are also responsible for signalling to the kidneys to conserve water by releasing a hormone called Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH). This hormone directs the kidneys to absorb more water from the body to keep hydration levels high. This can lead to water retention and weight gain. In contrast, drinking more water can help us to lose weight.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from the mild to severe, including headaches, migraines, dry skin, hunger, and fatigue. When we are dehydrated our brain can shrink and pull away from the skull. This can lead to impaired cognitive function, which results in a need to exert more energy to complete simple tasks. If we rehydrate, our brain will resume to its normal size!
Dehydration can cause fatigue in our physical bodies as well as affecting concentration, focus and our mood. To relieve these symptoms we turn to poor habits such as eating sugar, refined carbohydrates and increasing our caffeine intake. All of this can spike our blood sugar and increase fatigue further.
However, fruit and vegetables can also contribute to overall liquid intake. They not only provide a wider variety of nutrients needed for many processes, but they also help with hydration because they contain large quantities of water in proportion to their weight. Watery fruit and vegetables often contain significant levels of minerals and sugars, so they can hydrate you more effectively than water alone.
Hydration is key for detoxification and immune function. Nutrients and communication signals are transported throughout the body via the blood stream. A well hydrated immune system will increase the removal of toxins and waste materials.
Several factors contribute to hydration needs including age, sex, size, physical activity and climate. If you notice that your urine is yellow coloured or dark, or that you are urinating less than every 2-4 hours, it is likely that you are dehydrated. Keep a close eye out, as this is your feedback to increase fluid intake. Optimally, your urine should be pale in colour, a bit like white wine!
A word of caution: there are some foods that can affect the colour of your urine, such as beetroot (may make it a little pink) and asparagus (may make it a little green). If you are taking any supplement which includes vitamin B3 this may contribute to a neon yellow colour to your urine. See below a urine colour chart which will help you to determine if you need to drink more!
Tips to support your hydration levels.
Ensure to start your day with two large glasses of water. Not only will this help to flush out the waste and toxins that may have accumulated overnight, but it will also help to provide a hydration buffer through the day and jumpstart your digestion.
Increasing fluid intake toward the beginning of the day can prevent sleep interruption at night.
Keep a close eye to your thirst cues. Common cues are: dry mouth and lips, infrequent urination, headache, fatigue and hunger.
Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, melons, berries, cucumbers, watermelon, celery and tomatoes all have a high water content.
Herbal tea’s can contribute to your hydration levels, though coffee and black tea can be dehydrating, so compensate with increased water intake.
Many commercial drinks are high in sugar and calories, colourants, preservatives, sweeteners, and caffeine. Healthier options are coconut water, diluted fruit juice or vegetable juices which contain needed minerals and electrolytes.