by Sharon Moran - Butterfly Expressions, llc

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the loss of body fluids exceeds the amount taken in.  When you are dehydrated, more water is moving out of your cells and subsequently out of your body than you are taking in through drinking.

Your body depends on water for survival.  Water makes up over half of your body weight.  Every single cell in your body requires water to function correctly.  Your brain is over 70% water.  All the electrical impulses being shot through your body every second require water.

There are many ways our bodies lose water.  We lose water every time we breathe in the form of water vapor when we exhale.  We also lose water in our sweat, urine and stool.  The average adult loses 10 cups of fluid a day through basic body functions.  This water needs to be replaced in order for the body to function at its best.

When we lose too much water too fast, and it is not replaced quickly, we can become dehydrated.  Severe dehydration can lead to death.  The impact of chronic, mild dehydration on the body can be staggering. 
-   1/3 of Americans have a weak enough thirst sensation that it is often mistaken for hunger.
-   Research suggests that 8 – 10 glasses of water a day eases back and joint pain for 80% of the sufferers.
-   Mild dehydration slows down the metabolism.
-   For every 1% loss of water, there is a loss of 10% in exercise performance.
-   Drinking 5 glasses of water daily lessens the risk of colon cancer as much as 45%.
-   Drinking at least 5 glasses of water a day slashes the risk of breast cancer by 79%.
-   Drinking 5 glasses of water daily makes you 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer.
-   A 2% drop in body water causes fuzzy memory, trouble with basic math, and problems focusing. Despite this, children and adults seldom drink water at school or work.
-   Dehydration is one of the most common reasons for hospitalization among people over 65.

There are many conditions that may cause rapid and continued fluid loss in the body and lead to dehydration.   

-   Fever, heat exposure and too much exercise (sweating)
-   Vomiting, diarrhea and increased urine output
-   Certain diseases such as diabetes and kidney disorders
-   Injuries to the skin such as burns or infections, where water is lost through the damaged skin  

There are many signs and symptoms of dehydration.  These symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe. 
-   Weakness
-   Dizziness
-   Headaches
-   Heart palpitations
-   Confusion
-   Seizures
-   Constipation
-   Abdominal pains
-   Sluggishness
-   Fainting
-   Decreased urine output
-   Dry mouth, swollen tongue
-   Dry skin  

Often times, especially in the elderly, the symptoms of dehydration are misdiagnosed.  Medications are given for these individual symptoms without addressing the hydration issue at all.  A large percentage of medications given in this country could be eliminated just by staying hydrated!  

Unfortunately, thirst isn’t always a reliable gauge of the body’s need for water.  A better indicator is the color of the urine.  Clear or very light colored urine means you are well hydrated.  A dark yellow or amber color usually means you are dehydrated.

So, how much water should you drink?  We have always been told to drink 6 – 8 glasses of water (based on an eight ounce glass) a day.  However, water requirements for an individual will change daily, depending upon the amount of physical activity, the weather conditions and the overall state of health of the individual.  Monitoring the color of the urine is the most accurate way to manage hydration.

In our society, people have adapted to drinking soft drinks, concentrated fruit juices, and sport beverages as a means of satisfying our thirst.  What many people do not realize is that many of these drinks, in fact, dehydrate our bodies instead of hydrating them.  The caffeine, high fructose corn syrup/sugar and empty calories contained in these beverages can actually be detrimental to the health of the body.  There is just no substitute for a glass of water!  It is recommended to drink small amounts throughout the day rather than a whole bunch all at one time.

Tips for staying hydrated:
-   Keep a bottle of water with you during the day, at school or at work.
-   Try adding a slice of lime or lemon.
-   Drink plenty of water during exercise.
-   When you first feel hungry, drink a glass of water instead of eating.
-   Drink on a schedule if you have trouble remembering to drink.
-   Fill a pitcher in the morning and drink throughout the day until it is gone.

It is better to drink small amounts throughout the day rather than a whole bunch all at one time.