For most of us, if we remember to drink our 8 glasses of water a day we’ll keep ourselves hydrated and healthy.
But did you realise you only need to lose just 1.5% of your body’s water content to put yourself at risk of becoming dehydrated?
And although it’s a no-brainer to drink more water when you’re exercising or it’s extremely hot, there are some other surprising reasons why you might need to drink more than the standard eight glasses of water a day.
If you’re a woman of childbearing age, menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding can all contribute to dehydration.
During your period, fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone influence your level of hydration, and if you also have excessively heavy periods the amount of blood you are losing will also affect your fluid levels. The good news is if you are also prone to headaches and tiredness during your time of month then increasing your fluid consumption may also help alleviate these symptoms.
When you’re pregnant your body goes into overdrive to protect your growing baby, retaining water in an attempt to offset dehydration. Your overall blood volume and cardiac output increase, which increases your fluid requirements. And if you are suffering from morning sickness you will be losing a lot of fluid as well.
Breastfeeding mothers also need to drink a lot of extra water because of their breast milk production and if your milk supply is dropping or you’re having trouble producing enough sometimes the solution is as simple as drinking more water.
Of all the illnesses that might necessitate additional consumption of water to prevent dehydration, this is the most dangerous. In fact, being unable to quench your thirst and excessive urination are “red flags” signalling the possible onset of type 2 diabetes.
If you have diabetes—especially if you don’t yet realise you have it—you are at increased risk of dehydration. Diabetes raises your sugar levels in your blood too high, so your body tries to get rid of this excess glucose via increased urine output, rapidly removing fluid from your body and causing dehydration.
Whether you just have a nasty bug or you suffer from long-term illnesses such as Chron’s disease, coeliac disease or irritable bowel syndrome, both nausea and chronic diarrhoea will very quickly deplete your fluid levels if you are not careful.
And although it’s hard to keep water down when vomiting, sucking on ice cubes or ice chips can help you get some fluid into your system until you’re well enough to start drinking water again.
When you’re prescribed a new medicine, always check the list of side effects. Many medications act as diuretics, making you urinate more, and thereby increasing your risk for dehydration.
Drugs such as blood pressure medications are a common cause of dehydration if you don’t increase your fluid intake.
Even when you’re not sick, on medications or suffering from a disease, did you realise the effects of stress and ageing can also contribute to dehydration?
When you’re stressed, your body reacts by your adrenal glands pumping out stress hormones. After an extended period of stress your adrenals become unable to produce the hormone aldosterone, which helps regulate your body’s levels of fluid and electrolytes. So when your body’s production of aldosterone drops, dehydration is triggered.
And as you age, your muscle mass reduces, which means your body’s ability to conserve water as well as its sensation for thirst declines. So it’s easier to become dehydrated and more difficult to recognise when your fluid levels are dropping.
It may seem counterintuitive, but drinking fluids other than water can actually dehydrate you as well.
Alcohol not only causes dehydrating hangovers (think vomiting and diarrhoea) … it also inhibits an antidiuretic hormone, so it sends fluid to your bladder that would normally have gone back into your body. This is why you need to wee more when you’ve had a few drinks.
And many drinks that contain caffeine, such as sports drinks, teas and coffee, may also have the same diuretic effect, which can lead to dehydration.
Don’t forget that when you travel to higher altitudes, there’s less oxygen in the air. Your body adjusts to this by speeding up your breathing (which causes you to exhale more and lose fluids via water vapour) and by increasing your urine output.
When you are breathing more rapidly and urinating more you will lose fluids out of both ends of your body so you will need to drink more to prevent dehydration…especially if you are also sweating from pounding down the slopes on your skis or your snowboard.
And although it’s tempting to take advantage of the free booze on international flights, the combination of high altitudes and plane air conditioning creates a “perfect storm” for dehydration. Which is why tap water is the sensible choice if you want to arrive at your destination feeling great and you want to minimise the effects of jet lag.
The easiest, safest, tastiest and most affordable way to increase your hydration levels is to install a home water filter system that turns your kitchen tap into a 24/7 water filter. And because it tastes so good, you’ll want to drink more.
But if you find it hard to remember to drink enough water, there are some great ideas here to motivate and inspire you. But if you think you might be at risk of dehydration, it’s always wise to talk to your GP.
And finally, if in doubt, just start drinking more water, because it’s actually quite difficult to “over hydrate”. You’ll not only feel and look better…your body and wallet will also thank you.
Read more on the health benefits of filtered water