Disclaimer: I am an engineer. I have nothing to do with medicine and I don’t give any medical advice. Thank you.
Drinking water has been an issue for me most of my life. Where I live, it’s practically summer most of the year, and with this hot weather I could honestly spend an entire week and all the water I would consume would not pass the 350 ml mark.
You can imagine how much water I would drink in winter.
And as a result, I suffered from a lot of the things mentioned below on this list due to many years of dehydration. Some of them I still suffer through now.
I used to dislike water because I was rarely ever thirsty. So drinking water was like a chore to me, I hated its tastelessness and I just couldn’t stomach anything more than one sip.
But what I have learned is that the more you drink the more thirsty you get and, apparently, vice versa.
Only recently that I have started to really push myself into drinking more water because I started to really feel the trouble I’m putting my body in; and while the amount I drink now is still not the ideal one, it’s certainly increasing. And I do feel the difference.
If you, too, have trouble drinking enough water, hopefully this would work as a reminder that you should start changing this habit as fast as you can.
- Why is it important to drink water?
- What happens to your body when you don’t drink enough water?
- How much water should you drink every day?
- Water in cultures and religion
Why is it important to drink water?
Our bodies are made up of more than 60 percent water.
The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones contain 31% water.
I don’t know if you would need more convincing after reading these numbers, but the fact is that our entire body with all its organs largely depend on water to function. And any drop in the amount of water intake can tremendously affect these organs.
What happens to your body when you don’t drink enough water?
- Loss of cognitive functions
- Low blood pressure and increased risk of stroke
- Headaches and migraines
- Anxiety and depression
- Constipation and heartburn
- Formation of kidney stones
- Joint pain and muscle cramps
- Bad breath
- Premature wrinkles
- Heat intolerance
1. Loss of cognitive functions
The brain is composed of 73% water and it requires this amount for energy and to function properly. If you are not drinking enough water, this can affect cognitive function and concentration, causing issues with thinking, coordination, reaction times, attention, and confusion.
According to this study that was conducted on 413 people, it is found that mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance, particularly for tasks involving attention, executive function, and motor coordination when the body loses more than 2% water.
2. Low blood pressure and increased risk of stroke
This one was a little puzzling because as I was researching I found articles from well-known medical websites claiming that dehydration causes high blood pressure.
I knew, based on my own personal experience, that dehydration causes low blood pressure, however, I am not an expert. So I still had to research a little more and find out which of the two claims is correct.
Your blood is 60% water, when this amount of water is available, it helps the blood flow smoothly through the veins. When you’re not drinking enough water to match that required percentage of water in your blood, it leads to it being thicker.
When blood is thicker, it means it will take longer to flow through your veins. This also decreases the blood volume in the body. A decrease in blood volume can cause blood pressure to drop.
According to this study, it is actually advised that people who are about to donate blood, drink an amount of 16 ounces (470 ml) of water before giving blood, as it works on temporarily raising blood pressure that can otherwise drop and cause fainting after the donation.
Apparently, there was even one study made that stated that dehydration may actually help those with high blood pressure. However, of course this is not something that anyone would advice with doing. But it just proves the point.
Studies have shown that dehydration can result in strokes, particularity in elderly people, and that is because, as mentioned earlier, dehydration causes blood to be thicker and more concentrated, causing it to flow less easily to the brain through the narrowed or blocked blood vessels in the patient.
And it was found that 60% of people are actually dehydrated at the time of stroke and that recovery is boosted by being well-hydrated.
3. Headaches and migraines
There are several types and reasons for headaches. And one of the most common reasons is dehydration.
A dehydration headache can feel like a mild headache or an intense migraine. Pain from a dehydration headache can occur at the front, back, side, or all over the head.
I couldn’t find an actual study on what happens exactly that causes the headache, however, from what I have read so far, it is believed that when there is not enough water/fluids in the body, the blood vessels in the head may narrow in an attempt to regulate body fluid levels.
And when this happens it makes it harder for oxygen and blood to get to the brain, which results in a headache.
There was a study made on 34 people to understand the relation between water deprivation and headaches. It concluded the following:
“the 34 subjects were divided into 2 groups according to the time taken to relieve the headache by drinking water: total relief within 30 minutes by drinking 200 to 1500 mL (mean, 500) occurred in 22 subjects, and within 1 to 3 hours by drinking 500 to 1000 mL (mean, 750) in 11 subjects; 1 subject required sleep in addition to fluid intake.”
Another study made on people who suffer from migraines shows that 34 out of the 95 participants have reported that dehydration was the main trigger for their migraines.
4. Anxiety and depression
When you’re not drinking enough water, it leads to your blood being thicker.
The thicker your blood is, the harder your heart has to work to move it through your veins. This can lead to increased pulse rates and can potentially lead to palpitations.
It can also cause muscles to tense up and it affects your brain functions.
All these factors lead to physical stress/uneasiness which in turn leads to symptoms of anxiety. A study conducted on 52 people showed that increased water intake affected calmness and generally enhanced their mood.
This is not to say that dehydration is what causes anxiety for most people, however, if you already have anxiety, being dehydrated can certainly make it worse.
On another note, drinking water can actually help reduce the risk of depression according to this study.
It was conducted to show the effect of dehydration and it’s relation to depression and anxiety symptoms. And it was found that drinking more water helped reduce depression symptoms.
5. Constipation and heartburn
When you are not drinking enough water, the colon pulls water from stool to maintain hydration, which slows down the bowl movement and that leads to constipation.
It is also usually advised for people who are suffering with constipation to drink more fluids.
Because less water means less saliva, and saliva is what helps the stomach clear acids, then you will be left with too much acid in the stomach leading to that heartburn.
Note that, while you should drink plenty of water to help with digestion, drinking too much water at one time increases the volume of stomach contents and can worsen heartburn symptoms.
So, it is better to drink smaller amounts throughout the day rather than large amounts less often.
6. Formation of kidney stones
Kidney stones form when certain chemicals become concentrated enough in the urine to form crystals. Some stones stay in the kidney, and do not cause any problems. And, sometimes, the kidney stone can travel down the ureter, the tube between the kidney and the bladder.
If the stone reaches the bladder, it can be passed out of the body in urine. If the stone becomes lodged in the ureter, it blocks the urine flow from that kidney and causes pain.
Drinking enough water dilutes the substances in urine that lead to stones. However, if you’re not drinking enough water, it leads to low urine volume.
When urine volume is low, it is concentrated. Concentrated urine means there is less fluid to keep salts dissolved, making the risks of forming larger kidney stones much higher.
Read more about the other ways you can prevent kidney stones formation.
7. Joint pain and muscle cramps
Apparently, these two symptoms are not commonly connected to dehydration and are not usually expected to be caused by loss of water but when you read about it, you understand how water directly affects them.
Joints form the connections between bones and they provide support to help you move.
Cartilage, which is found in joints and the disks of the spine, has a thick liquid that works as a cushion or lubricant and helps with shock absorption to the cartilage in the joints. This thick liquid consists of about 60-85 percent water.
On the long term, not drinking enough water will cause this liquid to decrease and become less effective which will reduce the joints’ shock-absorbing ability, leading to stiffness and joint pain with the least amount of movement.
As for muscle cramps, this usually occurs when you’re working out and especially in hot temperature, when your body is subjected to heat.
The hotter you get, the more likely you are to get muscle cramps. As the muscles work harder and harder, they can seize up from the heat itself.
“Even mild levels of dehydration (3-5% of body weight) can hurt athletic performance. If you have not had enough fluids, your body will not be able to effectively cool itself through sweat and evaporation.”
Read more about heat muscle injury and how to avoid it here.
8. Bad breath
There are several causes for a bad breath, and one of them is dehydration. If you’re not drinking enough water, this leads to less production of saliva in your mouth.
When there is not enough saliva in your mouth, it becomes dry. And because bacteria that live in the mouth tend to multiply as the mouth dries out, this provides a perfect environment for the reproduction of a bacteria called anaerobic which is the infection that causes bad odour.
This is why most people experience bad breath in the morning, because of the lack of saliva production when they’re asleep.
You can read this article on the many different causes of bad breath and how to treat it.
Drinking water can also reduce tooth decay.
8. Premature wrinkles
When you don’t drink enough water, it weakens your skin’s defense and creates skin sensitivity, irritation, and premature aging/wrinkles.
The skin is made largely of Natural Moisturizing Factor. Water naturally binds to this NMF and it is this water binding that is what creates skin hydration.
Healthy skin contains around 60% water. When there is not enough water in your body for this percentage to reach the skin, you will start experiencing symptoms such as dryness, flakiness, roughness, irritation, and cracking of skin.
When your skin is dehydrated and is affected by the above symptoms, it leads to your skin sensitivity, which will cause you to be affected by any outside factors much easier than with hydrated and healthy skin.
10. Heat intolerance
Heat intolerance or hypersensitivity to heat is when you are constantly uncomfortable in hot weather.
This is caused when your body is unable to balance the temperature of your inside with the outside. The part in the brain responsible for this balance is called hypothalamus.
When you get too hot, your hypothalamus sends a signal through your nerves to your skin, telling it to increase sweat production. When sweat evaporates off of your skin, it cools your body down, and eases the feeling of discomfort from hot weather.
When you are not drinking enough water and your body is dehydrated, it doesn’t have enough amount of fluids to turn into sweat to cool your body temperature down and therefore you experience a constant feeling of discomfort.
Read more about heat intolerance symptoms, causes and treatment.
How much water should you drink every day?
Now that we have discussed all the terrible things that are caused by being dehydrated and not drinking enough water, it’s time to know, how much water is enough water?
While there is a known rule of the 8-ounce, 8 glasses (8×8) of water per day, apparently, this is not entirely an ideal amount for everyone.
The ideal amount of water to drink varies depending on multiple factors including age, gender, and environment (temperature, altitude, etc.).
And also putting into consideration that physical exercise can greatly increase daily water needs for individuals.
According to this paper, daily water intake of 3.7 L for adult men and 2.7 L for adult women is said to meet the needs of the vast majority of people.
While in a more recent study by European Food Safety Authority, it is advised that 2.5L for adult men and 2L for adult women is the ideal amount.
And in another publication by the UK government, they advise with 6-8 glasses of fluids per day, which is about 1.2L per day.
So, it appears that there is no one definitive answer to this question, however, you can go with the average advised.
And also trust what your body tells you, because if you are not getting your required intake of water, it will most certainly let you know. So just watch out for the symptoms.
It is also important to note that, as we age, our natural thirst mechanism becomes less sensitive and we become more prone to dehydration than younger people. So, for elderly people, it is important that they pay more attention that they are getting their body’s needs for water by turning it into a habit and monitoring their intake and not just depend on being thirsty for a sign.
Being hydrated, however, does not solely depend on drinking water. It is important that the most part of it is water, however, you can still get your daily requirement of fluids from other sources such as fruits and vegetables and sugar-free drinks.
Find a list off all the different foods you can eat for hydration here.
Water in cultures and religions
This might not be very relevant to the health and science aspect here, but when I was preparing for this post I remembered a verse in Qur’an that says:
“Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing?”(verse 21:30)
And it occurred to me to see if water was also mentioned in other religions. I thought it would be an interesting aspect to look at some water facts beside the health benefits.
But to spare you more reading, as this is already lengthy and full of information, I will just link to this article here which briefly explains how water is perceived in the many different religions, such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Animism (which I only now just learned about…) and many more.
Till next week, happy days!
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