Even healthy eaters often underestimate the importance of their water intake and wind up suffering from chronic, low-grade dehydration. Here are just a few reasons good hydration is essential to good health, followed by six tips for staying hydrated:
Energy: Suboptimal hydration slows the activity of enzymes, including those responsible for producing energy, leading to feelings of fatigue. Even a slight reduction in hydration can lower metabolism and reduce your ability to exercise efficiently.
Digestion: Our bodies produce an average of 7 liters of digestive juices daily. When we don’t drink enough liquid, our secretions are more limited and the digestive process is inhibited. (Note that drinking too much water all at once, particularly with food, can also dilute digestive juices, reducing their efficacy and leading to indigestion.)
Regularity: As partially digested food passes through the colon, the colon absorbs excess liquid and transfers it to the bloodstream so that a stool of normal consistency is formed. When the body is low on water, it extracts too much liquid from the stool, which then becomes hard, dry and difficult to eliminate. Slowed elimination contributes to bodywide toxicity and inflammation.
Blood Pressure: When we are chronically dehydrated, our blood becomes thicker and more viscous. Additionally, in response to reduced overall blood volume, the blood vessels contract. To compensate for the increased vein-wall tension and increased blood viscosity, the body must work harder to push blood through the veins, resulting in elevated blood pressure.
Stomach Health: Under normal circumstances, the stomach secretes a layer of mucus (which is composed of 98 percent water) to prevent its mucus membranes from being destroyed by the highly acidic digestive fluid it produces. Chronic dehydration, though, impedes mucus production and may irritate and produce ulcers in the stomach lining.
Respiration: The moist mucus membranes in the respiratory region are protective; however, in a state of chronic dehydration, they dry out and become vulnerable to attack from substances that might exist in inhaled air, such as dust and pollen.
Hydration: Dehydration causes enzymatic slowdown, interrupting important biochemical transformations, with acidifying results at the cellular level. The acidification of the body’s internal cellular environment can be further worsened when excretory organs responsible for eliminating acids (e.g., the skin and kidneys) don’t have enough liquid to do their jobs properly. An overly acidic biochemical environment can give rise to a host of inflammatory health conditions.
Weight Management: Feelings of thirst can be confused with hunger, both because eating can soothe thirst and also because dehydration-induced fatigue is often misinterpreted as a lack of fuel (e.g., sugar). Both dynamics can lead to false sensations of hunger, triggering overeating and weight gain. Inadequate hydration can also promote the storage of inflammatory toxins, which can also promote weight gain.
Skin Health: Dehydrated skin loses elasticity and has a dry, flaky appearance and texture. But dehydration can also lead to skin irritation and rashes, including conditions like eczema. We need to sweat about 24 ounces a day to properly dilute and transport the toxins being eliminated through our skin. When we are chronically dehydrated, the sweat becomes more concentrated and toxins aren’t removed from our systems as readily, which can lead to skin irritation and inflammation.
Cholesterol: Cholesterol is an essential element in cell membrane construction. When we are in a state of chronic dehydration and too much liquid is removed from within the cell walls, the body tries to stop the loss by producing more cholesterol to shore up the cell membrane. Although the cholesterol protects the cell membrane from being so permeable, the overproduction introduces too much cholesterol into the bloodstream.
Kidney and Urinary Health: When we don’t drink enough liquid, our kidneys struggle to flush water-soluble toxins from our system. When we don’t adequately dilute the toxins in our urine, the toxins irritate the urinary mucus membranes and create a germ- and infection-friendly environment.
Joint Health: Dehydrated cartilage and ligaments are more brittle and prone to damage. Joints can also become painfully inflamed when irritants, usually toxins produced by the body and concentrated in our blood and cellular fluids, attack them, setting the stage for arthritis.
Aging: The normal aging process involves a gradual loss of cell volume and an imbalance of the extracellular and intracellular fluids. This loss of cellular water can be accelerated when we don’t ingest enough liquids, or when our cell membranes aren’t capable of maintaining a proper fluid balance.
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