Without water, we can't survive, and we can only live roughly three days without it.
Water literally keeps us alive. We need it for our cells to function, organs to work, brain health, pH balance, elimination of toxins, lubrication of joints and spinal cord, oxygen transportation, digestion and the moistening of mucous membranes.
Even mild dehydration can lead to impaired cognitive function causing things like driver errors. As little as two hours or 2% dehydration can weaken brain function, affecting attention and executive functions like planning, reasoning and problem-solving. It can also negatively impact motor coordination and reaction times.
Signs that you are dehydrated include thirst, headache, bad breath, lethargy, dark coloured urine, muscle fatigue, and dizziness. More chronic symptoms can be dry skin, constipation, frequent headaches, constant tiredness and continued muscle weakness.
If your urine has a pale yellow colour, then you should be adequately hydrated. You can also try the pinch skin test if you're worried your hydration levels are low.
Here are some common mistakes that can lead to dehydration.
The evidence against salt and how it affects our overall health and wellbeing is far from conclusive. Sodium is an essential electrolyte, which is vital for proper hydration. So if you are avoiding salt like the plague, it could be contributing to dehydration.
If you are regularly consuming poor quality salt, then this could cause you to feel dehydrated. Ordinary table salt falls into this category. It has most of the good stuff removed and contains anti-caking agents to stop it from clustering together.
Sadly, this is the most common salt you find. It’s added to processed foods, on most restaurant tables, and in many households too.
However, unrefined, natural salts such as Himalayan salt, or sea salt, have a far superior mineral profile, and no additives, making them a healthier choice. If you eat these in moderation and avoid regular table salt, the sodium it provides will help to keep you hydrated.
So, if you’re avoiding salt because you’re worried about high blood pressure, think about the fact that proper hydration is crucial for heart health. Dehydration thickens your blood and narrows blood vessels, making you more prone to blood clots.
Adequate hydration makes it easier for your heart to pump blood around your body, and it doesn’t have to work as hard. Adding moderate amounts of good quality salt to your daily diet actually benefits your heart health as well as your hydration levels. Of course, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on your blood pressure.
To find out more about the myths around salt and how it can benefit your health and longevity, read ‘The Salt Fix’ by Dr. James DiNicolantonio. Or read our Salt Fix summary.
Not Drinking Water First Thing in the Morning
It’s not uncommon to wake and feel mildly dehydrated. Drinking a large glass of water first thing is an excellent first step to proper hydration, and the perfect way to start your day.
If you don’t do this, especially if your first drink is a coffee, you could be on the back foot for the rest of the day, never quite replenishing your hydration levels.
TOP TIP – Keep a pint glass of water by the bed. As soon as you wake up, drink the whole lot. Then you can enjoy your morning cup of coffee and stay hydrated.
Waiting Till You Feel Thirsty, then Gulping Water
So you’ve woken up and drunk a large glass of water. Brilliant, that’s an excellent start to your day. But does that mean that you don’t have to drink any more water until you feel thirsty again? Not necessarily.
It’s much more beneficial to drink consistently throughout the day.
Too many of us wait until we feel thirsty to drink some water, but the reality is that this isn’t always a good first indicator that you’re dehydrated. Many of us, particularly as we age, can have a less acute sense of thirst and your body may have needed water for some time.
Also, if you do tend to wait until you feel thirsty and then drink large volumes of water, your body won’t be able to effectively absorb it all and will flush most of it out.
Regularly drinking smaller amounts, without using thirst as an indicator, is a much more efficient way to stay hydrated.
Drinking 2 Litres of Water a Day
While this is a good benchmark, it may not be enough. Each one of us has different hydration requirements. Your activity levels, if you’re pregnant, your size, how much you sweat, or how much alcohol and caffeine you consume can all affect your hydration requirements.
TOP TIP – Not a fan of water? Flavour it up with herbs like mint and basil, fruit, or vegetables like cucumber.
You Have a High-Sugar Diet
While it’s common knowledge that too much sugar is bad, it’s tough for many of us to kick the habit, and so we are still consuming way too much.
A Western diet high in simple carbohydrate and sugary foods can lead to sugar collecting in your blood. So, if your blood sugar is consistently high, you will find that you start to urinate more frequently as your body tries to excrete any excess.
Of course, this leads to dehydration and you will begin to feel more thirsty. This is the reason why excessive thirst and urination is a common sign of diabetes.
You Don't Eat Enough Fruit & Veg
Aside from being an excellent source of beneficial nutrients, these are also hydrating, particularly watery ones like cucumber, celery, watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, lettuce, oranges, courgettes, tomatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli and peaches.
Fruits and vegetables are also a great source of electrolytes. When you become dehydrated, it depletes these essential minerals that are crucial for your health, wellbeing and performance.
They power your cells and help to maintain fluid balance and hydration, healthy pH levels, nerve and muscle function, and a healthy gut.
Too many of us in the Western world don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, so you need to make a concerted effort to have them with every meal.
Add some berries to your morning porridge, and make sure your plate is at least half full of vegetables for lunch and dinner. Ensure you eat lots of different colours too.
TOP TIP – Read this article for a list of fantastic electrolyte plant foods.
You Only Ever Drink Tea, Coffee, Sodas, Energy Drinks or Juice
It’s not uncommon for people to avoid water as they don’t enjoy drinking it, and instead reach for caffeinated or sugar-laden beverages when thirsty.
While coffee and tea in moderation don’t necessarily contribute to dehydration, drinking it several times a day can, especially if you’re not drinking much water or other hydrating drinks.
While they do contain some water, fruit juices, squash and sodas also come with added sugar, which can increase blood sugar levels, encouraging dehydration.
TOP TIP – Ditch your sugar-laden sodas and juices and infuse your drinking water with delicious fresh fruits instead. Think strawberries and other berries, cherries, watermelon, or pineapple. If you love your tea and coffee but are not keen on water, try drinking herbal and teas instead and stock up on plenty of fruit and vegetables.
The Bottom Line
It’s incredibly important to stay properly hydrated as it only takes 2% dehydration for your cognitive function and reaction times to start suffering. Water is vital for your health and the prevention of chronic disease, as your body can’t operate properly without enough of it.
The most effective way to hydrate is to consistently drink water and other hydrating beverages like herbal tea throughout the day. Don’t wait until you are thirsty.
Our hydration needs vary from person to person, and you may need more than eight 8oz glasses of water a day depending on your size, activity levels, and if you are pregnant.
If you think that you may be suffering from chronic dehydration and rarely eat salt, you could be low in sodium. Try regularly adding moderate amounts of unrefined salts like pink Himalayan or sea salt to your daily diet.
And if you’re not keen on water, you can always flavour it up with some delicious herb, fruit or vegetable combinations.
Lastly, if you would like the water you are drinking to provide enhanced hydration, consider investing in one of our water filters. They produce cleaner, safer, alkalised drinking water full of antioxidants and good structure.
Written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
If you are regularly consuming poor quality salt, this could cause you to feel dehydrated. Ordinary table salt falls into this category.