Keep your cool by avoiding dehydration

As temperatures begin to rise, so does your chance of becoming dehydrated.  Dehydration is when water loss exceeds water intake.  If the percentage of water loss escalates too much, you can be in serious danger of major health effects and even death. 

Water is that critical and is your most important ally in avoiding dehydration.  Understanding and knowing how to protect yourself against this avoidable consequence can help you enjoy warmer weather to its fullest.

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Your body’s water composition

Age and gender are two factors determining our percent water composition.  At birth, newborn babies have the highest percentage as their bodies are made up of 75-78 percent water, making it the single largest substance in the human body. 

By age one that will have dropped to 65 percent. 

An adult’s body water content can range from 55 to 60 percent with men having a higher content than women.  Men have more muscle tissue which holds more water while women have more fat tissue which does not hold as much water.

Why is water so important

Water does so much more than just quench our thirst.  It also does the following:

·      Carries nutrients, hormones and oxygen to all cells of the body

·      Forms saliva and aids in the digestion of food

·      Carries waste products from the cells for removal by the kidneys

·      Is necessary for essential reactions within the body that would not happen without water

·      Helps to lubricate our joints so we can move with ease

·      Regulates body temperature by absorbing heat generated by your metabolism and eliminating excess heat through sweating

·      Is important for proper functioning of our brain, muscles and kidneys. 

The brain is composed of 85 percent water.  Loss of water can lead to dizziness, fatigue, headache, confusion, and disorientation.  Our muscles contain 70 percent water.  Dehydration is detrimental to the muscles since water regulates electrolytes which help muscles to function during exercise.  The kidneys depend on water to help dissolve and remove waste products such as urea and lactic acid.  Too little water and the kidneys will have to work much harder to remove those waste products and toxins.

How much water do we need?

This is not an easy question to answer as our water needs vary from person to person.  Factors determining our water needs include:

·      Foods you eat

·      Activity level

·      Environmental temperature

·      Humidity

·      Altitude

·      Medications taken

·      Age

On average the Dietary Reference Intakes recommends 13 cups of fluid for men and 9 cups of fluid for women each day.  We can obtain 80 percent of the body’s daily water needs by consuming water and other beverages and 20 percent comes from food, particularly fruits and vegetables. 

The color of your urine can be a good indicator of your hydration.  A well-hydrated person’s urine is clear and pale yellow.  A person who is dehydrated will produce dark-colored urine and the amount is decreased.

Who is at risk of dehydration

All of us can be at risk of dehydration if we are not paying attention to our fluid intake.  Sometimes we become dehydrated because we get busy and forget to drink or maybe we don’t have access to water.  Other reasons can be the following:

·      Elderly – their body’s ability to conserve water is reduced and their thirst sense is decreased.

·      Infants and children – they don’t tolerate heat well and they have more skin surface relative to their body size therefore they lose water through evaporation from the skin.

·      Anyone with a chronic illness such as uncontrolled diabetes or kidney disease.

·      Athletes or anyone working outdoors in hot, humid weather.

·      Anyone experiencing diarrhea, vomiting or has a fever.

Signs of dehydration

It doesn’t take much of a percent loss of water to begin showing symptoms of dehydration.  With as little as only 1-2 percent water loss, you will begin having symptoms which worsen as you become more dehydrated.  Signs can include:

·      Thirst

·      Fatigue or light-headedness

·      Dry, sticky mouth

·      Flushed skin

·      Heat intolerance

·      Headache

·      Constipation

·      Dark-colored urine and reduced urine output

·      Difficulty concentrating and irritability

Dehydration can lead to serious complications that may include:

·      Heat stroke

·      Seizures

·      Kidney failure

·      Brain swelling

·      Low blood volume

·      Coma and death

How to keep well-hydrated

To prevent dehydration you need to make smart beverage choices each day.  Water is by far the best choice but water is also present in other beverages such as milk, 100 percent fruit juice, soups, tea, coffee and broth.  High water content foods such as fruits and veggies can also help meet our water needs. 

Avoid beverages such as soft drinks and sports drinks – they contain too much sugar that could result in excess weight gain.  Alcoholic beverages are not recommended for keeping yourself hydrated as they act as a diuretic causing you to lose water.  Energy drinks are also not recommended as they contain too much caffeine and can bring about insomnia, headaches and abnormal heart rhythm, particularly in children. 

In the coming months, make water your best friend.  It’ll keep you hydrated, it’ll keep you cool and it’s an inexpensive way to avoid a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.