Water is a vital component to health. When the body falls short of water for normal activities like digestion and elimination of wastes, a survival mechanism switches on to draw upon water reserves held within the body tissues. The body always extracts water from lower priority areas like the colon and transfers it to areas of higher importance like the brain, heart and so on.
It is important to understand that when water reserves have been exhausted from a low priority area the body then draws from the next lowest priority areas such as the joints, skin and so on. Over time if the body is forced to draw upon its own reserves as its water needs are not being met by the diet, then this results in a range of seemingly unconnected symptoms to manifest. Symptoms of dehydration can include aches and pains such as headaches and joint pain, constipation, digestive imbalances like acid reflux, skin issues, asthma and even depression as the brain falls short of water.
Many seemingly unrelated sysmtoms are often hidden symptoms of dehydration!
Dehydration's Hidden Symptoms
Chronic dehydration remains hidden as a cause of health problems because its symptoms are usually blamed on something else. For example, dehydration triggers the release of histamine. Histamine's function is to regulate the thirst mechanism and conserve and ration available water in the body according to a priority of function. Elevated histamine often leads to allergies.
Allergies are a symptom of chronic dehydration. When you are dehydrated and histamine levels are elevated, your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. This suppresses the production of white blood cells and you become more vulnerable to all kinds of allergens.
The dust, mold or pollen in the air triggers symtoms like sneezing, but it is chronic dehydration that raisee histamine levels and suppresses the immune system in the first place. Taking anti histamines can help one feel better, but this only covers up the symptoms. Underneath, the problem of dehydration continues to take its toll.
The First Signs of Dehydration
Less energy is usually the first sign of dehydration because the cells of the body are the first to lose water. Water is a primary driving force of energy production inside the cells, so even the slightest water loss causes a big drop in energy. For every one percent drop of water inside your cells, energy production is cut by 10 percent.
Digestive problems are another early symptom. All the substances that break down food in the digestive tract are water based. Acid reflux is thought to be caused by the production of too much stomach acid. However, too little stomach acid due to chronic dehydration is often the real cause. When the stomach doesn't have enough acid for digestion, food stays in your stomach too long and gets pushed back up, along with some acid.
As discussed in "Water: For Health For Healing For Life," a book by dehydration pioneer and researcher, Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, heartburn and indigestion after eating are dehydration symptoms that eventually lead to peptic ulcers. According to Batmanghelidj, "This pain is your body's way of telling you that it is extremely thirsty. Sometimes the pain is not severe, but simply felt as a discomfort in the upper abdomen. Sometimes the pain is intense and is around the appendix and might seem like appendicitis and other times it might be felt on the left side, over the large intestine.
Constipation is also symptom of dehydration. The intestinal tract uses a lot of water to liquefy and break down your food so the nutritional elements can be extracted. The body reabsorbs much of that water, depending on its need. The more the body is dehydrated, the more it slows down the passage of waste through the lower intestine so it can extract more water. This causes constipation, which can become chronic and lead to haemorrhoids, diverticulitis, polyp formation and even colon cancer.
As chronic dehydration persists and deepens, survivals mode of the body are activated to manage and preserve water for the most vital functions. Batmanghelidj notes:
There are five distinct conditions that denote states of dehydration and operative rationing processes...
Asthma, Allergies, Hypertension, Constipation and Type II diabetes.
These conditions, each in their own way, help the body conserve water and/or protect vital areas of the body from the ravaging effects of dehydration.
The Body's Many Signals of Thirst
Dry mouth is not the only sign of dehydration. It is not even a reliable thirst signal because your need for saliva to digest food will override the dry mouth thirst signal. As we become more dehydrated and grow older, the dry mouth signal is gradually blunted and can disappear entirely. You must learn to recognize the other indicators of thirst and dehydration.
The body has many ways to tell you that it is thirsty. Hunger feelings are often a thirst signal, since food is a natural source of water for the body and their control centres are next to each other in the brain. Your very first feeling of hunger should be satisfied with one or two glasses of water. You will notice an hour or two later your body's actual request for food energy will occur. Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates can also signal dehydration. The brain has a very high demand for water, which it only can get from blood flow. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar which increases blood flow to the brain.
Dehydration is a frequent cause of mental difficulties, including depression. The brain is the top priority for water in the body and extremely sensitive to any water shortage. It is only two percent of the body's weight, yet requires 15 percent of the blood flow. However, it has no direct way to tell the body it needs water. So it will manifest feelings of anxiety, irritableness, anger, short attention span, impatience and even depression. If there are no plausible reasons for such feelings, it may be your brain trying to tell you it is thirsty.
Early pregnancy morning sickness is a signal of dehydration of the mother and foetus. It is caused by the water regulatory action of histamine, explains Batmanghelidj. Pregnancy creates a very high demand for water. As the foetus grows into a full term baby, over 1 trillion cell divisions take place. Each new cell must be filled with water. Pregnant women should drink water and eliminate all sources of dehydration, especially the consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
What Colour is Your Urine?
Urine colour accurately indicates short term hydration levels. Dehydration causes your kidneys to recycle urine so it becomes more concentrated and darker in colour. The darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are (not counting urine coloured by certain vitamins, foods, medications, etc). Extreme dehydration is orange in colour. The darker your urine, the more acid is in your body and the more damage is occurring at a cellular level. If you are well hydrated, your urine will be clear or a very pale yellow.
Are You Drinking Enough Water?
- If the diet contains dehydrating processed foods then more water will be required to compensate for the dehydration effects of these foods. Processed foods are often high in preservatives, damaged fats, sugar and salt which all have a dehydrating influence.
- Caffeine containing drinks like tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks like Red bull all have a dehydrating influence on the body. More water will have to be consumed to compensate for this dehydrating effect.
- The more physically active an individual is then more water will be required to compensate for water lost through sweat.
- Stress whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or environmental will also increase the need for water.
For a 60kg adult around 8 glasses of water (2 litres) is a good guideline for daily water consumption. It is important to spread this amount throughout the day and not to drink large amounts of water in one go as this can place a burden on the kidneys and may result in a loss of minerals.
Ideally water should be drunk plain and at room temperature. Like all body enzymes, the digestion enzymes which aid in the breakdown of food work best at a specific temperature. Therefore consuming large amounts of icy cold water can shock the body and may even weaken the digestion process.
To assist digestion, aim to consume a glass of water around 30 minutes before each meal. This helps to ensure that adequate water is in place to assist digestion. Try not to drink excessive amounts of water with meals as this will dilute the digestive juices.