If you often feel thirsty but don’t particularly like to drink water, forget to rehydrate, or tend to be quite a thirstless person, then you could be suffering from dehydration. Other people at risk include older adults, athletes and people at higher altitudes.
Why should this be of any concern to you? Because even mild dehydration can cause your brain to feel addled as your cognitive ability begins to decline. For example, feeling dehydrated by as little as 2% can cause you to make errors while driving as your anticipatory perception, judgement and reflexes become sluggish.
Low-level dehydration can also cause headaches, tiredness, dizziness, weakness and thirst.
We cannot survive past three days without water, and we all need ample hydration to keep our bodies running optimally. Without proper hydration, you can quickly deteriorate as your body needs water to do every single job from cellular and organ function to digestion, maintaining healthy skin and joint and eye lubrication.
Electrolytes – essential minerals with an important job
Dehydration can cause electrolyte depletion and imbalance.
Electrolytes are essential minerals that we get from food and drink. They live in your body fluids and have a slight electrical charge that powers your cells.
These minerals (sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium) play a vital role in:
- Body fluid balance and hydration
- Body pH balance (or acid/alkaline balance) – crucial for optimum health, energy and immunity
- Maintaining heart health
- Nerve and muscle function
- Managing blood pressure
- Gut health
- Moving nutrients into, and toxins out of, your cells
If you are regularly dehydrated, you could be lacking in these vital minerals, and it may be affecting your health. It’s so important to stay hydrated if you want to keep your mineral levels balanced.
Electrolytes help you to hydrate more effectively
As mentioned above, electrolytes aid fluid balance and hydration.
Replenishing electrolytes can help you to retain water more effectively, encouraging ideal hydration levels. Your body will run much more smoothly, enabling optimal performance.
A diet high in vegetables and fruits should help to supply you with enough of these valuable minerals. If you are an athlete or regularly do intense workouts, you may need to bolster your electrolytes while exercising by staying hydrated.
Aside from water, drinking fluids rich in electrolytes that increase hydration value and keep mineral levels balanced can be beneficial.
Steer clear of sugar-laden sports drinks and try natural coconut water or tart cherry juice instead.
What causes dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when your body is losing more fluids than are being replaced. Our bodies are roughly two-thirds water and basic bodily functions including breathing, sweating and going to the toilet all lead to water loss.
If you don’t keep your fluid levels up, it can severely impact both your physical and mental health.
By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, and it’s a loud signal to drink some fluids. In the short-term, your body can shift water stores to areas where it is most needed, but this is a very temporary solution.
You’ll also find that you urinate less when you are dehydrated as your body tries to hold on to vital fluids.
Of course, dehydration leads to a loss of valuable electrolytes, particularly sodium and potassium, which impairs body functions and compounds any symptoms.
These go from mild to severe, with serious symptoms needing emergency medical attention.
Mild symptoms include:
- Reduced urine
- Dark coloured urine (when you are properly hydrated, your urine is a pale yellow – too much hydration makes it clear)
- Thirst (however some people, including the elderly, don’t always express thirst)
More moderate symptoms include all of the above, plus:
- Muscle weakness
- Dry mouth
If left untreated, more severe symptoms develop, including:
- Unusual lethargy and confusion
- Severe dizziness
- A weak or rapid pulse
- Not passing urine for eight hours
- Low-level consciousness
- Sunken eyes
- Low blood pressure
If a baby is dehydrated, they could:
- Be drowsy
- Have fewer wet nappies
- Have less to no tears when they cry
- Have a sunken soft spot on their head
- Have sunken cheeks or eyes
- Be irritable
- Have a dry tongue and mouth
Dehydration causes and solutions
Those most at risk from dehydration are athletes, older adults or the elderly, people with chronic health conditions including diabetes, babies and infants.
- Life circumstances such as not having access to water or being busy and distracted.
- Drinking alcohol causes thirst and dehydration as it is a diuretic which increases the passing of urine.
- Illness such as gastroenteritis, causing persistent vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Sweating from working out, heavy manual work, hot weather or fever.
- Diabetes causes increased urination and fluid loss.
- Frequent urination caused by undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes, and medication such as for blood pressure and alcohol consumption.
How to treat dehydration
More severe symptoms need urgent medical attention, but if you have mild to moderate symptoms, you need to hydrate – pronto.
It’s essential to do it the right way for optimum hydration and also not to over-hydrate, as this can also cause problems. Here are some helpful tips.
It’s a good idea to replenish your electrolytes which will be depleted. This will also enable you to hydrate more effectively and improve your symptoms.
Here are some excellent electrolyte sources.
Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance
Electrolyte balance can be affected by several factors, including the amount of water in your body. Chronic symptoms can manifest when there has been an imbalance for a prolonged period, and the issue has become more severe with your body no longer able to handle the irregularities.
Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance are listed below, some of them mirror those of dehydration:
- Extreme thirst
- Muscle weakness, twitching, cramps or spasms
- Blood pressure changes
- Irregular heartbeat
How to effectively maintain balanced electrolyte levels
Don’t underestimate the power of electrolytes. These astonishing essential minerals do so much for you, from balancing your fluid levels and blood pressure to maintaining gut and heart health and improving nerve and muscle function.
Electrolytes include sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium. Other factors can lead to their imbalance, but dehydration will cause a depletion in these vital minerals. If you regularly suffer from or are at increased risk of dehydration, you could find that you have consistently low-level electrolyte depletion.
In this case, it would be hugely beneficial to focus on drinking enough water daily and replenishing all those lovely minerals via rich electrolyte sources such as vegetables and fruit. You can also drink coconut water and tart cherry juice.
When it comes to drinking the right amount for adequate hydration, you may find this blog helpful. Aside from discussing how much the average person should be drinking (it varies from person to person, but aiming for at least two litres per day is a good start), it’s full of tips on how to hydrate most effectively and how to ensure you don’t forget to drink enough water! It also has suggestions if you’re not a fan of water.
This article is 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.
Dehydration leads to a loss of valuable electrolytes, particularly sodium and potassium, which impairs body functions and compounds any symptoms.