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Avoiding Dehydration and Its Negative Effect on the Body
The effects of dehydration on the human body can be devastating. Water is essential to health maintenance and electrolytes play an equally important role. Additionally, alcohol and caffeine can drastically affect hydration levels in the body. However, people can take measures to ensure proper hydration of the body.
Essentials and Function of Water
Water helps move nutrients through and waste out of the body. It protects cells as they move through blood and lubricates other organs such as the eyes and mouth. Water also helps humans maintain body temperature. Water acts as a heat conductor and regulator in blood and dilutes minerals, glucose and other materials in the body which helps maintain healthy acidity levels.
Water makes up approximately 60% an adult’s body weight. Most of the water consumed is evaporated when blood vessels dilate and blood flows close to the skin. Water is also lost through the process of sweating, urinating and bowel movements. Since the body does not store water, drinking an appropriate amount of water is essential. This balance is achieved and controlled by the sensation of thirst which causes one to drink water and other fluids and eat foods with high water content. Daily recommended intake for an adult female is 2.7 liters and 3.7 liters for adult males. Ninety-five percent of human water intake is reabsorbed in the body before eliminated through evaporation, urination or defecation.
Dehydration: The cause
Causes for dehydration include diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and occasionally drugs; but heat related dehydration is due to overexposure to the sun and/or extreme temperatures. Each day we lose fluid through excretion, breathing, sweating and tears. We generally replace these fluids by drinking liquids and eating foods that contain water.
When experiencing dehydration symptoms can include:
- Your skin has the appearance of an old leather bag. How fast does your skin bounce back when you gently pull on it? Do the fine lines on your face or hands appear to be deep crevices? This is an indication that you are dehydrated (and probably have been for several hours).
- You’re exhausted, fatigue (despite getting ample rest). Since your body is all water, even the easiest activities need effort when you are dehydrated. Water helps your body work, so if you think dehydration is the cause of your tiredness, drink plenty of water — particularly if you intend to participate in strenuous exercise soon.
- You’ve got a thirst. This may seem obvious, but by the time you feel thirsty, you’ve already been dehydrated for some time. Drink plenty of water during the day to prevent feeling parched.
- You have a headache. There are other causes of headaches, but if you’re not prone to them and you start to feel a grinding feeling, it may be because you’re dehydrated.
- Your urine has become darker than normal. This occurs as all of the toxins being pumped out of the body become concentrated. Drinking more water will help your body by reducing the amount of work it has to do to keep you safe.
- You can’t seem to get out of your head. If you find yourself rereading the same sentence or forgetting why you went into the other room, it may be due to a lack of water in your brain. Although it might be tempting to reach for a caffeine source, try water first. Caffeine can give you a short-term boost, but as a diuretic, it will not help you rehydrate.
- Less-frequent urination
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramping
- Dry mouth and mucous membranes
Children may also experience:
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- No wet diapers for more than 3 hours
- Sunken abdomen, eyes or cheeks
- High fever
- Skin that does not flatten when pinched and released
If caught early enough, dehydration may be treated at home under a doctor’s guidance. For mild cases, fluids such as sports drinks are appropriate for restoring body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. More serious cases of dehydration should be treated as medical emergencies and hospitalization may be required.
- Drink plenty of fluids during exposure to the sun and heat
- Intake more fluids then your body loses
- When possible, perform outdoor activities during the cooler part of the day
- Consume sports drinks to help maintain electrolyte balance
- For infants and young children, solutions like Pedialyte will help maintain electrolyte balance during heat exposure
The Negative Effects of Dehydration
Dehydration can occur quickly. Dehydration occurs during extended exertion (such as rigorous exercise) or long periods without drinking water or other fluids. Fortunately, the body exhibits warnings that hydration is necessary. These warning signs include dizziness, headache, and nausea. Dry eyes and mouth, fatigue and loss of appetite are also common effects of dehydration.
When sever illness occurs, water depletion can be detrimentally low. The effects of diarrhea can be fatal; diarrhea-related deaths account for over 2 million deaths every year in children under the age of five. In these cases, effects of severe dehydration include loss of comprehension, confusion, disorientation, and impaired physical function as well as loss of essential electrolytes.
The Importance of Electrolytes
Charged ions provide the electrical current necessary for the human body to live and move. When dissolved in water, these ions are called electrolytes. Major electrolytes include sodium, potassium and chloride, which created nerve impulses and regulate the balance of fluids and acids in the body.
Together, potassium and sodium (positively charged ions) create nerve impulses which dictate thought, movement and responses. Sodium exists outside the cell and concentrated potassium exists inside the cell. When nerve cells are stimulated, sodium passes into the cell and a negative electrical charge is created. The electrical travels to a muscle cell which causes the muscle to contract. To maintain healthy intracellular charges, muscle contraction and fluid balance, a diet high in potassium is highly recommended. Fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, whole milk and meat can help achieve a potassium-rich diet.
Sodium and chloride react together in blood cells which trigger a sodium concentration. This concentration causes sensations of thirst in the body and causes us to drink. Within 24 hours, the sodium and excess water is secreted and the body is returned to its normal state. A diet high in sodium and chloride can lead to hypertension and decreased kidney and heart function.
High levels of sodium chloride are gained from table salt and processed foods. The use of natural herbs, such as rosemary and dill should be used to season foods. Garlic and onion are effective salt substitutes for cooking.
Alcohol and Caffeine
As a normal process, the kidneys are triggered to reabsorb water into the body. Excessive alcohol intake inhibits the kidneys ability to reabsorb water, thereby increasing water loss. Over-consumption of alcohol decreases the production of the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which causes the “hangover” sensation. Caffeine products such as soda, punch and sweets should be avoided.
Many steps can be taken to avoid dehydration. First, water should be consumed before, during and after exercising. When the weather is hot, two additional glasses of water should be consumed and water should be kept readily at hand in the car and on long trips. Additional servings of fruits with high water content should also be considered as an appropriate method for hydration.