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Mar 1, 2012

Stay Hydrated to Stay Healthy


By now, you’ve heard the message numerous times that you should “drink lots of water and stay well-hydrated” to maintain optimal health.  But is there any truth to this?  Absolutely!  In the average person, water makes up somewhere between 60-75% of the total body weight.  Each and every cell, tissue, and organ in the body requires water to operate correctly.  Water is essential for temperature regulation, removal of toxic waste products, transportation of oxygen and nutrients to cells, cushioning of joints, and keeping skin moist and supple.  Consistent replenishment of water in the body is important since we naturally lose significant amounts every day through urination, perspiration, and respiration.  Of course, water can be more rapidly lost when it’s hot outside, or when we exercise, have a fever, or experience vomiting or diarrhea.    

According to two recent studies from the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory, a person’s mood, energy level, and mental performance can be dramatically changed by even mild dehydration.  
  
In the studies, one trial looked at a group of twenty-five women with the average age being 23 years, while the second trial involved a group of twenty-six men with the average age being 20 years.  All participants were healthy and active, and underwent three distinct evaluations separated by a period of 28 days.  At each evaluation, participants engaged in treadmill-walking and experienced a) exercise-induced dehydration without a diuretic, b) exercise-induced dehydration plus a diuretic, or c) maintained hydration.  All participants were properly hydrated the evening prior to evaluation.  The researchers measured each individual’s cognitive skills, including things like concentration, reaction time, learning, memory, and reasoning.  These values were compared with those recorded when participants were not in a dehydrated state.  

For the group of women studied, no significant worsening of cognitive abilities were observed, but there were reports of fatigue, headaches, and difficulty concentrating after becoming mildly dehydrated.  The full study can be found in the Journal of Nutrition (February 2012).   

In the group of men that were studied, even mild dehydration was found to cause reduced performance in areas of vigilance and working memory.  These men also reported feeling fatigue, tension, and anxiety as a result of dehydration.  Interestingly, researchers pointed out that symptoms of dehydration were "substantially greater in females than in males, both at rest and during exercise."  This particular study is published in the British Journal of Nutrition (November 2011).  

Whether you are sedentary or physically active, the importance of staying hydrated cannot be overemphasized.  Lawrence E. Armstrong, lead researcher, hydration expert, and professor of physiology at the University of Connecticut, notes how “Our thirst sensation doesn't really appear until we are 1 or 2 percent dehydrated. By then dehydration is already setting in and starting to impact how our mind and body perform. Dehydration affects all people, and staying properly hydrated is just as important for those who work all day at a computer as it is for marathon runners, who can lose up to 8 percent of their body weight as water when they compete."

Harris Lieberman, a research psychologist at the Military Nutrition Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute in Natick, noted that "Even mild dehydration that can occur during the course of our ordinary daily activities can degrade how we are feeling, especially for women, who appear to be more susceptible to the adverse effects of low levels of dehydration than men.”  He added that the mood changes resulting from dehydration in both men and women can affect day-to-day activities as well as negatively impact the motivation required to exercise.  

Now that you are reminded just how important staying hydrated can be, are you feeling a bit thirsty?  On average, most people need to drink at least half their body weight in ounces daily, more in cases of physical activity or on hot summer days.  As an example, a person that weighs 150 pounds generally needs a minimum of 75 ounces every day.  

Keep in mind that while proper quantity of water intake is essential, so is quality.  Be sure you’re putting only the highest quality water into your body by drinking water that has been properly filtered.  Tap water from the faucet is not usually a great source of water due to the presence of undesirable contaminants like chlorine, fluoride, heavy metals, etc.  And be very cautious about buying bottled water these days since many companies are simply selling tap water in fancy-looking bottles.  Plus, with over 60 million plastic bottles being produced and disposed of in landfills throughout the United States on a daily basis, bottled water is not the most sustainable practice.  

One of my favorite options for a high quality chemical-free drinking water is that which is filtered by reverse osmosis (RO).  Many people choose to invest in a whole house RO system, but you can also stick with a simple RO filter that attaches to your kitchen faucet.  Some people, who are not bothered by a more tedious option, will buy a few 3 or 5-gallon reusable containers that can be filled up at the purified water station at the local grocery store. 

Ensuring your body is getting plenty of the best water possible is worth the effort.  Keep your body healthy by keeping it hydrated!

Dr. Shana McQueen

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