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Human health - The importance of water

Human health - The importance of water
  • Water is a vital element for many metabolic processes and can only run if it is constantly available
  • Our blood needs water to bring nutrients, minerals and oxygen to the trillions of cells in our body
  • Water helps to rid our bodies of toxic substances
  • Our body temperature needs to be maintained around 37°C/98.6°F and can be correctly regulated with water

Water is critical for our existence

In children, the body water percentage is highest, ranging between 60% and 75%. Adult men have a water proportion of 60%-65%, and women hold slightly less in the 50%-55% region as they have a higher number of adipose tissue in their bodies, which stores energy and works to keep the body insulated.

Depending on our physical activities and surrounding temperatures, we have to sweat and this results in a constant loss of water and minerals. Scientists have used the concept of optimal hydration to define the physical state in which our body disposes of the ideal amount of water for optimal performance. While scientists cannot agree on a specific measure for optimal hydration or that amount of water that should be consumed under specific circumstances, they agree that many of us don´t drink enough. Optimal performance relies on frequent and sufficient drinking of water. While this is obvious for professional athletes, we often forget that it applies to all of us. That´s why people who are constantly staying hydrated have better cognitive abilities on average. Our potential to concentrate, memorize and recall information, to learn and coordinate strongly depends on how well we are hydrated.

What happens when you don't drink enough water?

The simple answer is dehydration; however, the bigger picture isn’t so simple. The effects of dehydration depend on how long the situation persists, how much water is missing and if there is a lack of minerals. Three different types of dehydration have been defined. While isotonic dehydration is an equal loss of water and electrolytes, hypertonic dehydration is primarily a loss of water. Hypotonic dehydration, on the other hand, is defined as an over-proportional loss of electrolytes and sodium.

We usually start feeling thirsty with a 0.5% drop of water in the body and if we fail to regulate this, our physical condition will continue to deteriorate. The water concentration in our blood, tissues, and organs will decline and while we lose 3 liters per day by urinating, breathing and sweating, dehydration will culminate in the loss of an additional liter.

Reduced water availability in our body directly results in higher blood viscosity. The effect is a reduced distribution of oxygen and nutrients which will inevitably make us weaker and therefore, the concentration of toxins and products of decomposition will increase with a lack of water. The body will start saving water by reducing the activity of our kidneys. We will begin to feel less awake and our capability to perform whatever activity will decrease continuously. Unfortunately, many people are disconnected from their bodies, so they overlook or ignore these first mild signals of dehydration. Instead of just rehydrating to the needed level, we try to kick start our energy by consuming coffee or sugary snacks.

Once a water deficit of 3% has been reached, other symptoms of dehydration will appear, such as reduced saliva secretion and dry mouth. If you avoid hydration yourself at this stage, additional symptoms will follow. These include headaches, increased body temperature and circulatory problems leading to a foggy mind or even collapse. Luckily, even people that constantly fail to stay hydrated rarely reach this stage. In the case of the elderly, this might happen and is a well-known issue in retirement homes. Some struggle with various health issues which makes it difficult to read their bodies´ signals. Others simply depend on care personnel to provide them with enough water.

Start hydrating today

Scientists estimate the total hydration need of average adults with 2.6 liters per day. On average, 900ml of this amount will be consumed by meals and around 300ml will be made available inside our body with our metabolic water. This refers to water created in living organisms by oxidizing energy-containing substances. To ensure proper hydration, it is recommended to consume approximately 1.5 liters of water per day. To reach optimal hydration, those 1.5 liters should be split into 6-8 smaller portions spread over the whole day.

For a lot of people, simply knowing what happens when you don’t drink enough water is half the battle. Those who have problems with thirst-awareness often find it useful to employ, some personal rituals to help drink enough water. A good way for office workers might be a well-placed bottle of water on the desk or a funny cup, which reminds you of taking a tea-break. Starting and ending each day with a glass of water is another way to increase the personal water intake.

Other creative ways include post-it notes, calendar alarms or even email reminders.

There are also a number of apps available for the sole purpose to remind of drinking enough water. Water Warner for Windows, Water Drink Reminder Pro for Android or Daily Water Free for iOS are some popular examples.