Your Guide To Hydration
We are born in water. Water is one of the most fundamental, and often overlooked, components of our health. Composed of two of the most important elements with regards our body’s functioning (hydrogen and oxygen), we think it deserves a more thorough look (especially considering the attention dehydration has been given over the last few years). Water comprises about 70% of our body and is used in tens of thousands of reactions, all vital to our health.
Epidemic of Dehydration?
We lose approximately 2.5 litres a day naturally (urinating, sweating, bowel movements etc… all the good stuff), and if you exercise at high intensities this could be even higher. This loss necessitates a steady supply of good quality water, to ensure proper functioning of our body’s most fundamental systems. Our thirst signals do not activate until our body has already lost about 1% of its bodyweight in water, which many experts say is already too late.
The feeling of thirst that we get is, in reality, triggered via a complex process in which the balance between water and salt/electrolytes is closely monitored (this is why people running marathons can get hyponatremia, a serious health problem in which they over hydrate – as the bodies salt levels are depleted and the runners consume more and more water, a serious imbalance occurs in the cells’ water-electrolyte levels). This is also why electrolytes can be so important for people who do endurance training.
(The Usual) Causes of Dehydration
Actually, we are surrounded by compounds that rob our cells of much needed hydration. This doesn’t mean that they are all bad or are terrible in small amounts, but it does mean that attention needs to be paid to minimizing them and ensuring the body is sufficiently hydrated with good quality water. Common causes of dehydration include caffeine, alcohol, adrenal fatigue, your electrolyte balance, not drinking enough liquid while eating a diet high in natural diuretics or low in carbohydrates (as carb’s hold water), and more trips than usual to the toilet brought about by diabetes/prescription medication/dietary factors.
So, are we all dehydrated like we’re now led to believe?
There are, in fact, quite a number of common ways to run a water deficit, and the key to re-hydrating is in ensuring that you’re not just pouring water back in, but are also consuming a balance of necessary minerals through the diet.
Signs of Dehydration
The first and most obvious sign that more water is needed is (of course) thirst, though this is not chronic dehydration by any means, and more importantly, is easily fixed. As we age our bodies do not register thirst as acutely, so extra hydration may be needed. Urine colour is a good indication of hydration, though it can be influenced by foods (dark greens – spirulina, dark reds – beetroot, dark yellows – spices like turmeric). It should be easy enough to distinguish between diet and hydration related colour changes, and you’re looking for a very pale yellow urine (not fully clear).
There are many other signs of dehydration, though most of these are difficult to distinguish from other everyday ailments: lethargy, snappiness, irregular bowel movements, or a lack of focus.
Dehydration: A Real Epidemic??
With dehydration now being established as an “health industry” crisis staple, it’s always necessary to take a look at the prevalent themes and separate the “purple monkey dishwasher” effect from the actual facts. Firstly, how real are the widespread causes of dehydration? The usual suspects (listed above) are caffeine, alcohol, and electrolyte balance.
Caffeine (which we wrote an entire article about here) is a rather interesting molecule which effects a number of bodily processes. The majority of these effects are acute (short term), not chronic (prolonged), meaning that they take effect during the initial stages of caffeine accumulation in the body (if you have previously had a very limited caffeine intake), and once your body has adjusted (usually within a few days of regular consumption) the effects are practically negligible. So, while caffeine does have a diuretic effect (making you pee more), this is short-lived. This means that caffeine does NOT CAUSE DEHYDRATION.
Next on the list is alcohol. This isn’t going to be a huge surprise, but alcohol’s effect is also ACUTE… unless you’re drunk ALL THE TIME (and even then there’s a lot of water in beer). Now, in the interest of full disclosure, alcohol clearance time in the body is approximately 1 unit per hour (there’s usually 2-3 units in a drink), which means if you consume 8 drinks every day you’ll never pee clean… but at that point dehydration is probably the least of your worries. It’s probably not a bad idea to have a glass of water (or a water based drink) for every drink of alcohol you have, though alcohol consumption WILL PROBABLY NOT CAUSE CHRONIC DEHYDRATION.
Lastly, we’re looking at electrolyte balance, which is actually a complex issue insofar as most health issues arising from an electrolyte imbalance would be more serious than dehydration, though it’s still possible. Sodium and Chloride are the 2 primary electrolytes involved in osmotic pressure (the balance between intracellular and extracellular pressure) which regulates fluid balance. Considering that sodium-chloride, aka table salt, is in an awful lot of food, the chances of anyone being deficient is pretty low and therefore chronic dehydration through electrolyte imbalance is pretty unlikely (acutely it would of course happen if you were engaged in prolonged exercise… aka being a sweaty Betty). Given that, for the most part, loss of electrolytes is either through excessive laxative/diuretic use or illness that causes lots of… excretions/vomiting (which will obviously cause acute dehydration), this may be why electrolyte deficiency is championed as causing dehydration though that’s not really accurate. THAT SAID, electrolytes as a whole (there are many important ones) are integral in a huge number of bodily processes and it is quite possible to be deficient (zinc, magnesium, and potassium spring to mind).
So, our 3 primary causes of dehydration don’t quite ring true, but that doesn’t mean consuming enough water or enough healthy electrolytes!
Every day you should consume between 2-2.5 litres (women) or 2.5-3 litres (men), depending on lifestyle factors. This means that your average day should involve you consuming about 8-10 drinks. It would be remiss at this point not to mention that, for your digestions sake, those 8-10 drinks are best had outside of meal time (as your stomach needs to maintain a specific acidity level to digest food). This means 1 drink half an hour before breakfast, 3 between breakfast and lunch, 3 between lunch and dinner, and 1 between dinner and 8-9 o’clock. You can juggle this around however you like, but this is the basic outline.
The rules are:
• Try to drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol
• Take a decent electrolyte formula and plenty of liquids if you’re engaged in heavy exercise, taking a laxative/diuretic, or have the flu.
• (Possibly) The first (pre-breakfast) glass could be salted water. This is known as Sole (So-lay, coming from the word for sun), and is apparently an excellent way to get your digestion started! It can be done by mixing a half teaspoon of natural salt with a glass of water; or, more traditionally, by filling a glass jar one quarter full with natural salt and filling it with filtered water. Stir with a plastic spoon and cover with a non-metallic lid or muslin (no metal should come into contact with your Sole). In the morning add one teaspoon (not metal) of Sole to a glass of filtered water. Do this half an hour before eating.
*For the record, having tried Sole, it’s not the most pleasant way to start your day (or your digestion) but it does seem like a good idea.
http://empoweredsustenance.com/himalayan-salt-benefits/ (this gives a more thorough explanation of how to make Sole)
And for those who would really like a in depth look at water (and salt), here’s an incredibly interesting talk…