Did you know the human body can go weeks without food, but only 1 week without water? It’s one of the most important substances in our bodies, and yet we often fall woefully short of consuming enough water each day to keep us correctly hydrated.
So what happens when the percentage of water in our bodies is reduced?
1% reduction- We begin to feel thirsty
5% reduction- Muscle strength and endurance declines, we begin to feel hot and tired.
10% reduction- Delirium and blurred vision start to set in.
20% reduction- Risk of death.
What does water do?
- Transports: Human blood is around 83% water, and blood helps to transport oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients and waste products from cell to cell. The transportation of waste products in our urine (which is again predominantly water) is very important- if we become dehydrated, levels of toxins build up in our body and can make us very unwell.
- Protects: Tears and saliva are water-based, and they help to keep our mouth moist and clear dirt from our eyes. A substance called synovial fluid is located in the capsules surrounding our joints, and this helps to keep the joints lubricated and moving smoothly.
- Digests: Water is used to digest food in our stomachs, as a component of stomach acid.
- Balances: Water helps to maintain the electrolyte balance in our bodies (electrolytes are charged salts, specifically ions, which make up part of our body fluids, such as blood, plasma, and interstitial fluid- the fluid between cells). Electrolytes are important as they help transmit nerve impulses in our bodies, sending signals to our brain and also have a role in muscular activity as well. Keeping the right balance of electrolytes (and therefore water) is important in order to keep those nerve impulses transmitting properly.
- Regulates: As the outside temperature increases, our body produces sweat to help cool us down as the water evaporates on the skin. We lose around 2.5 litres of water a day through sweating, breathing, and urinating, and it’s crucial that we replace this in order to keep our bodies functioning correctly.
What are the signs of dehydration?
We already know that by the time we feel thirsty, we are already at about 1% dehydration. Dehydration can produce many symptoms other than thirst:
Dark coloured urine (often the most reliable method of assessing dehydration- it should be a light straw colour. If it is dark or strong-smelling, you’re dehydrated)
- Confusion and irritability
- Feeling hungry- the body often misinterprets signals it receives and you may feel hungry when in fact you are dehydrated
- Poor concentration
- Dry mouth
- Dry skin
Who is at risk of dehydration?
Anyone and everyone can become dehydrated, but the young and old are often most vulnerable. Dehydration in the elderly can be a major issue, because as we get older, our thirst response decreases, meaning we don’t feel as thirsty as we did when we were younger.
How much water should we drink a day?
The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women drink around 1.6 litres of fluid a day, and men should drink around 2.0 litres a day. That’s either 8 or 10 200ml glasses, and of course body size, outside temperature and activity levels will also affect this.
All drinks count as fluid, including hot drinks such as tea and coffee (although these do have a mild diuretic effect), but nothing is as good as water. Fizzy drinks often have high sugar levels and can actual cause your feelings of thirst to be worsened.
It is particularly important for those playing sports in hot temperatures to keep drinking fluids, as it is known that our physical performance decreases significantly as we become dehydrated- the graph below demonstrates that at 5% dehydration, our maximal performance will have reduced from 100%, to under 70%!
Easy ways to drink more water:
- Water can be boring, so why not flavour it with some cut up pieces of fruit? Let it rest in the fridge for a few hours to allow the flavours of the fruit to come out.
- Use your phone: There are apps available to encourage you to monitor your fluid intake, or you could keep it simple and just set alarms throughout the day to remind you to drink.
- Make it convenient: Carrying a water bottle around with you or having it on your desk at work will remind you to drink it, and make sure that it is readily available throughout the day. Also important is taking a bottle of water to the gym with you so you can rehydrate throughout your exercise.
- Trying to lose weight? Try water- drinking a 200ml glass of water before your meal not only hydrates you, but can also help with weight loss by making you feel fuller, so you do not overeat.
- Replace at least one drink a day with water. Rather than that second cup of coffee, have a glass of water instead. Drinking water while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil is another easy way to up your water intake.
Why do chiropractors worry about water?
From a chiropractic perspective, proper dehydration is also vitally important in the health of your back and spine. The disks in-between each of our vertebrae are primarily made up of water, and their role is to act as shock absorbers and facilitate the movements of our spine.
Our disks hydrate overnight, and dehydrate throughout the day as a result of gravity squeezing the water out of the disk. This daily dehydration and nightly rehydration of the disks is the reason why most of us are generally about ¼ to ½ inch shorter when we go to bed than when we wake up in the morning! Regular movement during the day is also important to keep disks hydrated – as the spine moves forward and back, the disks will absorb what water is available.
When there is not enough water available to fully hydrate the jelly-like centre of the disk, the whole disk becomes compromised.When this happens, they are unable to support the transmission of weight and force through our body, and this can result in pain, swelling, and even ruptures or tears in the outer part of the disk.
So, one of the simplest and easiest ways to start addressing your back pain is simply by moving and hydrating!