Water and Hydration
Brittany Timmons, DNP, FNP-BC
We all need water to survive.
In fact, 60 percent of our bodies are made up of water. Water helps cleanse the body of toxins and control body temperature, maintain healthy brain, muscle, kidney and heart function, and it has been shown to curb appetite.
Most healthy people should drink at least 64 ounces of water daily. However, we are all different, and our bodies have diverse requirements. A good rule of thumb simply is to drink water when you are thirsty. Water loss leads to an increase in our body’s sodium level, which causes increased thirst and release of antidiuretic hormone.
Thirst is an intricate natural response and is essential for survival. It provides the motivation to drink, and that enhances water reabsorption and helps restore normal water balance.
Electrolytes also play a role in thirst and hydration. Electrolytes are chemical compounds in our body that dissolve into positive and negative charges. These chemicals help regulate water in and out of our cells and control nerve and muscle impulses. Electrolytes include calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphate, bicarbonate and magnesium. We get these important chemicals from fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
The proper balance between water and electrolytes is vital to our health and well-being. Having too little or too much of certain electrolytes can affect our overall health. Some symptoms of electrolyte imbalances include irregular heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, confusion and headaches, plus muscle weakness and cramping.
Temperature can affect this balance, so it is important to increase your water intake during hot weather to avoid dehydration. In general, warmer conditions increase sweating, the evaporation of water from the skin to dispel heat.
Sweat rate is determined by the level of activity and acclimation of the individual to current environmental conditions. We lose 500 milliliters of water in urine, 500 milliliters through our skin (more when we sweat), 400 milliliters from respiration and 200 milliliters in stool excretion every day.
Can you see why it is so important to drink water and how it is so easy to get dehydrated?
You can also get water from foods such as lettuce, watermelon, celery, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. A quick and easy way to tell if you are well hydrated is to look at your urine. Urine should be light yellow or clear if you are hydrated. If your urine is gold or brown, you could be dehydrated.
The million-dollar question: Should you replenish electrolytes with sports drinks?
Unless you are a professional athlete, an avid marathon runner or participating in a strenuous exercise program, you probably are getting sufficient electrolytes through your diet. It is not wrong to drink sports drinks, but the average person does not lose enough electrolytes through everyday activity to need to routinely replenish them.
Consuming them too often can lead to an excess of electrolytes. Also, many sports drinks are full of sugar – so no need to guzzle those pretty neon drinks without checking nutrition labels and noting what you are consuming.
As you can see, it is important to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance, especially during hot weather. However, it is possible to take in too much water if you have certain health conditions.
Always check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to increase your water intake.