Hydration: Your Complete Guide to Improved Health
“Pure water is the world’s first and foremost medicine”
This quote sums up the importance of water and hydration for the human body.
The word hydration originates from the basic composition of water – the combination of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules.
How are water and hydration related?
We are well aware that the chemical name of water is H2O. The V-shaped water molecule contains 2 Hydrogen atoms and one Oxygen atom, both carrying different charges.
Hydrogen molecules carry a positive charge and oxygen molecules carry a negative charge. Charge continuously flows between the oxygen and hydrogen atoms that bind together with hydrogen bonds.
This bond causes the water molecules to huddle with each other, creating a structure responsible for creating the unique free-flow nature of water. It allows water to be an excellent solvent for many substances such as salt and sugar.
As a result, water forms an excellent medium to hydrate the body and carry various nutrients.
Within the human body, water acts as a solvent for many nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and toxins as well. This unique property allows water to act as a carrier of all good things and bad within the body.
Consequently, water, something we often don’t give a lot of priority to, becomes extremely essential to carry on all basic functions.
Why is it important to stay hydrated?
Why is hydration important?
Water is extremely important for survival. It helps the body stay hydrated and carry on with various critical functions. Lack of enough water often leads to dehydration with consequences such as fatigue,increased heartbeat and many others.
So what is hydration? And why does it matter?
Water is the giver of life and hydration is the process by which our body absorbs water. Water in our body performs many critical functions. Let us look at some of the benefits of hydration.
Hydration helps in:
- Regulating and maintaining body temperature
- Carrying nutrients within the body to different parts
- Transporting waste from various parts of the body to the excretory organs
- Provides lubrication to the joints and the various organs in the body
With so many factors involved it is extremely important to stay well hydrated to ensure that your body has enough support to carry on with all its vital functions.
So that brings us to the next logical question. How much water should you drink in a day?
How much water is necessary to ensure enough hydration?
This question doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. As a general rule though, most experts go by the standard rule of drinking about 8 glasses of water in a day.
The amount of water you should consume depends on various factors such as:
Men require more water when compared to women. This is because when the male body is composed of about 60% of water, in women it is 50%. Additionally, men have more water requirement because of higher energy expenditure and lesser body fat when compared to women.
As far as age is concerned, kids, elderly people, and pregnant and lactating women have more water requirement and must ensure to constantly stay hydrated.
Kids and the elderly have lowered thirst perception due to physiological factors. This means that they do not feel thirsty in proportion with their body requirement.
When caring for young kids and older adults, this point must be considered by parents and caretakers.
3. Body Metabolism
It goes without saying that higher metabolism leads to more water requirement since the body is absorbing and utilizing water at higher rates.
In general, women tend to have lower metabolism than men as a consequence of having less muscle mass and body mass. This is one of the key reasons men require more water when compared to women.
An interesting tidbit. Drinking more water induces a process known as thermogenesis. The heat produced during drinking and assimilation of water can trigger weight loss. So, drinking more water leads you to lose weight. Another reason to stay hydrated constantly!!
4. Weather Consitions
Do you live in scorching hot climates or in areas where humidity levels are more? In both cases, you will need to stay hydrated constantly.
In hot weather, you will lose more water through invisible evaporation through the skin. Humid climates means that you are sweating a lot more than average.
Your body is in a constant maintenance mode, trying to regulate your body temperature through methods such as evaporation and sweating.
As a result, you are losing a lot more fluids in hot and humid weather, which means you need to supplement your body with a lot more water and electrolytes too.
5. Level of Physical Activity and Exercise
Physical activity and exercise, both lead to sweat loss which means you need to keep yourself hydrated to compensate for the perspiration and sweat loss. Runners, athletes and professional players need extra hydration in the form of electrolyte supplements since they lose minerals also in addition to water.
6. Factors Influencing Water Loss
The water you drink can be lost in three different ways:
1.Through excretion: A sedentary person loses about one to two liters of water through urine and about 200 ml through feces.
2.Through skin: You can lose water through skin in two ways – through sweating and invisible perspiration.
While the amount of sweat varies with the weather conditions as we discussed above, a normal individual can lose about 450 ml of water per day through invisible or insensible perspiration.
3.Through respiratory tract: When you breathe in and breathe out, you lose water along with the exchange of gases. This water loss can amount to nearly 250 – 350 ml per day.
At the end of the day, an average human being can lose up to 2 to 3 liters of water per day through various water output modes.
4. Underlying medical conditions: Certain health conditions can cause you to lose hydration on a regular basis through a combination of physiological conditions.
If you have medical conditions such as diabetes, you must stay hydrated and ensure proper electrolyte supply through sugar-free electrolyte drinks along with hydration through the water.
While hydration is so important for daily activities, it gets overlooked ever so often. Let us now examine the reasons for this.
Why is hydration overlooked?
Lack of awareness is one of the most significant reasons why people don’t attach so much importance to drinking water regularly.
For most of us, we drink water only when we are thirsty. What we do not realize is that by the time we are thirsty the process of dehydration has already started. In fact, thirst is the first sign of dehydration.
Apart from lack of awareness, not having a proper thirst perception is another reason for lack of hydration. As we mentioned earlier, kids and older people do not understand thirst, or may neglect the feeling due to a combination of external factors.
The elderly people, especially, face frequent dehydration situations, which may require immediate medical attention when not addressed on time. The fact that they may have other underlying conditions also adds up to the existing dehydration situation.
So how does lack of proper hydration manifest itself? Let us now take a look at some of the ways in which dehydration can be recognized.
What happens when you don’t hydrate?
When you don’t drink enough water, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms or conditions:
- Excess thirst
- Infrequent urination
- Dark-colored and strong-smelling urine
- Dry mouth
- Dry and chapped lips
- Dry eyes
When you start facing these symptoms, the first important step is to initiate the hydration process.
How to get hydrated fast and stay hydrated?
If you are looking at how to hydrate your body quickly, the simplest and easiest means of staying hydrated is through water. But water doesn’t contain calories, sugars, nutrients, minerals or salts. It may quench your thirst but it wont hydrate you with all the necessary elements.
Apart from water, there are many other ways to get hydrated fast.
What drinks hydrate you the best?
Let us take a look at some of the drinks that help hydrate your body:
Water for Hydration
Water truly is the easiest source of hydration for the body and one of the quickest ways to hydrate. Water is freely available, calorie-free and is also devoid of salt and sugar, and is the best natural hydration drink.
Most experts suggest that an average person should consume at least 6 to 8 glasses of water in a day. This holds well for people who do not spend hours on workouts and lose basic fluids and salts in the course of the day.
Since more than half of the body is composed of water and we tend to lose it through sweat, perspiration, evaporation, and excretion, drinking water becomes the best way to stay hydrated. Apart from water, there are multiple other options to get hydrated fast. One of the fast-growing categories of such drinks is known as electrolyte drinks.
If you tend to sweat a lot or actively participate in athletic events and workout sessions, you will lose huge amounts of salts and minerals. These salts and minerals must be replaced to ensure that your body doesn’t go out of gear.
Drinks loaded with minerals and electrolytes are an excellent way of regaining the nutrients lost through sweat.
Electrolyte drinks and sports drinks are specially formulated to compensate for excess mineral loss from the body. These drinks are a great way to replenish lost body fluids and nutrients, especially after major sporting events.
In fact, electrolyte drinks and electrolyte waters are the fastest way to hydrate yourself!!
Oral Rehydration Solutions
These are specially formulated to combat electrolyte and nutrient loss that happens as a result of sickness, diarrhea, vomitings, etc.
Tips for staying hydrated:
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.
- Take the help of electrolyte drinks and sports drinks when needed.
- Consume natural electrolyte foods and drinks
With these steps, you keep yourself sufficiently hydrated and supply your body with all the minerals and nutrients it needs to carry on day-to-day activities with ease.
How long does it take to hydrate?
The time taken for your body to rehydrate and get back to normal depends on how severely you are dehydrated.
According to an article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, in cases of mild dehydration, your body can rehydrate itself within 40 minutes and by drinking about 600 ml of water.
For example, if you have returned from shopping in hot weather and have been sweating a lot, you can rehydrate by drinking water or an electrolyte or sports drinks.
Severe cases of dehydration may require hospital admission and medical care where the consulting medical practitioner will decide upon the rehydration therapy process. It normally can take up to a day to get back to normal in such cases.
How to stay hydrated without water (Is it even possible!!)
So far we’ve been mostly harping about water as the best way to hydrate. But are there other ways to hydrate? Is it possible to ensure hydration without drinking water?? Yes there are!!
Let us take a look at some of the hydrating food sources:
- Bell peppers
While ensuring that you stay hydrated, these nutritional foods will also keep the level of minerals and vitamins in check, and will prepare your body for all of your upcoming physical and mental activities.
Best Hydration Drinks:
Apart from fruits and vegetables, various drinks also can provide an excellent source of hydration.
Electrolyte and Sports Drinks:
We have already spoken about electrolyte drinks. These are formulated to help combat dehydration and nutrient loss in situations where you sweat a lot.
For example, athletic events, marathon runs, sporting events, workout sessions that go beyond an hour, etc. electrolyte drinks and sports drinks are the best hydration drinks.
These drinks can also be handy when you live in extremely hot climates and in mild illnesses. There are some energy drinks made of purely natural ingredients that help fulfill the electrolyte and nutritional requirements of the body in a safe and effective way. Natural ingredients ensure that you can enjoy the complete goodness of the drinks.
This electrolyte drink is a natural hydration source. Many doctors recommend electrolyte water as a natural substitute for ORS solutions. Coconut water is low in sodium and high in minerals such as potassium and magnesium.
You can even find bottled coconut water and coconut powders in areas where finding natural coconut water is difficult.
Fruit juices and smoothies:
Fruits are naturally rich in nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Their juices are also an excellent source of hydration and nutrition as well.
Various fruit juices act as sources of electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, etc. For example, watermelon juice is rich in potassium and magnesium.
Low-fat milk and skim milk:
Milk is one of the best wholesome foods, especially for babies and toddlers. It is a rich source of proteins, calcium, vitamins, minerals, and various other nutrients. It is easily digested as well. For this reason, milk is an excellent natural source of hydration.
With this, we have covered most of the foods and drinks that can hydrate you.
There is something we have left out though!! Ice. Many believe that ice can hydrate you. But can it? We decide to weigh myths and facts!!
Does eating ice hydrate you?
The simple answer is yes and no. Some people like chewing on ice. Often, eating ice is associated with a form of eating disorder called PICA.
Eating ice doesn’t provide any nutritional benefits. When you eat ice, you are consuming less water, which may be counterproductive.
Let me explain with an example. A standard ice cube contains just a few spoons of water. Sucking an ice cube may feel refreshing but your body doesn’t get the amount of water it needs.
Eating ice cubes can lead to further problems such as choking and dental issues. In colder climates, your body will need more energy to process the ice.
With so many factors in play, it is easy to infer that ice isn’t hydrating. It may provide instant relief in hot climates but the ball stops there.
You may suck on ice in certain situations such as post-surgery recovery where drinking water may prove difficult, but situations are only an exception.
Can you overhydrate?
Of course, you can overhydrate!! Too much of anything can be too bad and the same goes for water.
A 2001 study conducted on army trainees shows that drinking too much water results in a condition known as hyponatremia.
When you drink too much water with not enough electrolytes in it, the proportion of minerals such as sodium reduces in the body. The condition hyponatremia can cause symptoms such as mood changes, nausea, and seizures.
Drinking too much water also results in a condition called water toxicity.
These and similar research studies prove that moderation is the key even when it comes to drinking water.
Your water intake should depend on conditions such as your age, gender, physical activity levels, metabolism, health, and environmental conditions.
Hydration is extremely important for your daily activities. The water and fluids you consume will have a major bearing on your health, functioning, mental processing, and your overall well-being.
Drinking the right fluids in the right quantity and at the right time will ensure that your body functions well and performs all the expected activities
Optimal hydration is the key to homeostasis and your overall well-being.
So drink water, stay hydrated and stay healthy!!