Good hydration is essential for our bodies to run properly.
The average person can last for up to eight to twelve weeks without food - but only three to five days without fluids.
But we are not hitting our targets; the RDA for water is 2.5L for males and 2L for females, but the average person consumes just 1.7 litres daily.
So Why Is Water So Important?
Water is essential for a number of bodily functions, including homeostatic functions like moderating electrolyte balance and body temperature.
It is also crucial for effective digestion, in that it works with the fibre from your diet to keep your bowels moving, helping to remove waste.
Of course, water makes up over 60% of the human body, so it also constitutes a large part of our bodily fluids; it is essential for creating saliva, which helps to digest our food as we chew it, and it also makes up a large amount of your blood plasma, which keeps your heart healthy and enables your body to disperse oxygen more effectively.
A layer of Synovial Fluid surrounds all your joints and muscles to protect them from wear and tear; the majority of this is also water.
What Are The Side Effects Of Not Drinking Enough?
If you don’t drink enough from time to time, you may experience some constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness and headaches.
But if you don’t drink enough water over an extended period of time, you may experience more severe health issues, including:
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- Kidney stones
- Intestinal failure
Water is also essential for good cognition, and dehydration may have an effect your mood and concentration levels. Two studies by the University of Connecticut found that even mild dehydration could affect mood, and cause fatigue and headaches.
There is good evidence that hydration is also essential for mental health; one 2018 Iranian study published in the World Journal of Psychiatry found that among a sample of 3,327 adults, drinking five glasses of water a day was found to decrease risk of depression, while drinking just two glasses of water increased the risk of depression by as much as 73% for men and 54% for women.
Why Are So Many People Not Drinking Enough?
Research has shown that as many two thirds of us aren’t drinking enough water. In a study in 2019, one third of people said that they didn’t drink even one glass of water a day.
Twenty percent said that it had been over a week since they last drank any water. And four percent said it had been over a month since they last drank water.
So if it’s so important for our health and wellbeing, why are so many of us not drinking enough?
• Taste - In a study by Robinsons, over half of British people reported that they didn’t like the taste of water, with many describing it as ‘boring’.
• Lack of awareness - While day-to-day dehydration can usually be diagnosed by headaches, constipation, fatigue and muscle weakness, chronic dehydration over an extended period of time can lead to the body attempting to subsist on a smaller amount of water.
This means that if you’ve been dehydrated for a long time, you might not actually feel thirsty. So better to be safe than sorry and make drinking fluids a habit!
• Busy, busy, busy! - In a workplace study by Waterlogic, 72% of respondents said that it was important to stay hydrated at work, and 96% reported increased productivity when they were drinking sufficiently, while only 28% actually drank when they felt thirsty.
This may be to do with a combination of stress, distraction, and feeling as though drinking water wasn’t readily available in the workplace; as many as 60% of respondents said that they would drink more if a water cooler was made available.
• Water distrust - A study in the US in 2019 found that many students attended schools with taps that were not tested for lead.
This Kenney study referenced another study in 2014, which found that Black and Hispanic adults were less likely to consume enough water on the grounds that they were concerned their local supply was not safe to drink.
Obviously this issue is more complex, as not everyone affected will be able to afford bottled water or a water filter. As such, this may mean that certain communities are disproportionately affected by long-term dehydration.
Who Is At Risk?
For some, it is easy to tell when they are dehydrated. Others may have more difficulty.
Older adults, especially, may have difficulties with hydration for a range of reasons.
Firstly for reasons directly associated with health; age-related deterioration of kidney function may mean that fluids are adequately regulated.
Diabetes may also contribute to excessive loss of water, and those who experience swallowing difficulties are likely to not drink enough. Additionally, those with cognitive impairments such as dementia, may not be as aware of their thirst.
Secondly, environment may be a factor; older people in care homes may be at higher risk of neglect due to pressures on healthcare services, meaning that they may simply not have access to the water that they need.
Hot environments also lead to an increased need for water, so care homes that are heated to high levels may make their residents require more water.
Drinks may also be left out of the patient’s reach, meaning that they are unable to access water.
Similarly, infants and children are particularly at risk, as they are the most likely to experience severe vomiting and diarrhoea, may not be able to tell their carers when they are thirsty, and have a higher surface area to volume ratio, meaning that they lose more water for their size than the average adult.
Like some older adults with poor mobility, they may also be unable to get a drink for themselves.
How I Do I Tell If I Am Dehydrated?
There are a few main symptoms of dehydration to watch out for:
• Thirst - We only begin to feel thirsty when we are already dehydrated, so if you feel thirsty, DRINK!
But even if you don’t feel thirsty, drinking should be part of your daily routine, especially if you have difficulty recognising your thirst.
• Urine colour - One of the simplest, and least subjective, ways of recognising dehydration, is by monitoring your urine colour. If you are drinking enough, your urine should be clear or very pale yellow.
If you are dehydrated, it will be a darker yellow. If your urine is brown, you are extremely dehydrated, and possibly suffering from other health conditions such as liver cirrhosis, so in this instance, you should seek medical attention.
• Headaches - Dehydration headaches feel different to different people, but many describe dehydration headaches as a pulsing pain in the temples.
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of headache, so the next time that your head is throbbing, reach for a glass of water instead of a paracetamol!
How Do I Increase Levels Of Water In My Diet?
If you struggle to stay hydrated, there are a couple of things you can do to ensure you are consuming (and retaining) enough water;
• Keep a water bottle on your desk at work - In the Waterlogic survey, 60% of respondents said that they would drink more if water was more readily available.
By using a water bottle instead of a glass, you don’t have to get up from your desk as often to get a drink - so you won’t put off drinking when you’re thirsty.
• Drink flavoured water and tea - If you don’t like the taste of plain water, a good way of getting your water in is through herbal teas.
You get all the flavour of fruit, without the additives in a squash. Alternatively, you can infuse cold water by slicing your favourite fruits and leaving them in your water bottle overnight.
• Eat high water-content foods - If you don’t enjoy drinking water, a good way of getting your fluid consumption up-to-scratch is to eat foods that are naturally high in water.
Most fruits and vegetables contain a good quantity of water; especially melon, cucumber, tomato, spinach, broccoli, oranges, brussels sprouts, apples and berries, especially blueberries.
• Build a drinking routine - The more you build drinking fluids into your routine, the more you will become used to drinking more.
In Japan, there is a current trend of drinking two glasses of water as soon as you wake up to get you started for the day. You can also include water with every meal.
Or, you might prefer to set reminders on your phone, or download a water tracking app on your phone.
• Dilute sugary drinks like juice - If you drink a lot of sugary drinks, try diluting them with water. This is useful if you don’t like the flavour of water, and as an added bonus, it reduces the likelihood of tooth decay!
• Combat caffeine and alcohol - Use a 1-1 rule when drinking caffeinated drinks or alcohol, by having a glass of water with each alcoholic or caffeinated drink. This helps to prevent these substances from dehydrating you.
Even if you’re not a fan of drinking water, the fact is that it is crucial for survival. There are lots of ways to include more water in your diet, so why not experiment with a new routine and see what works for you?
You will notice the difference to your health, skin, focus and concentration and your mental wellbeing!