“Stay hydrated” — how many times have we heard this piece of advice? Quite a few, right? But it really is worth reiterating… again and again.
You see, when you’re dehydrated — your body pays the price. Dehydration can cause a whole host of unpleasant side effects and health consequences. You may be familiar with some of these side effects — like thirst — but you may not be familiar with others — like dehydration headaches.
To prevent these unpleasant side effects, it’s essential to understand the causes and symptoms of dehydration. It’s also essential to begin taking steps to prevent dehydration before it starts.
And yes, it’s all a bit more involved than you might expect.
So for a refreshing take on this oh-so-common piece of advice — keep reading.
Common Causes of Dehydration
Adequate hydration is essential to maintaining good health. Among many other functions, water regulates body temperature, supports joint health, protects your spinal cord, and helps your body rid itself of waste.1
Clearly, water is a mainstay of life, and your body depends on a constant supply in order to maintain good health. But your body is constantly gaining and losing water throughout any given day. Fluid intake increases the amount of water in your body, while perspiration, urination, and bowel movements decrease the amount of water in your body.
Now, you become dehydrated when you lose more water than you take in. Here are some common factors that can result in dehydration:
Not drinking enough fluid: Sometimes, dehydration is simply caused by inadequate intake of fluids.
Sweating: Hot weather, fevers, and exercise can all cause perspiration. Perspiration is mainly made up of water and electrolytes. So when you sweat, you’re essentially losing water and electrolytes through your skin.2
Diarrhea: You might think that diarrhea means you have too much water in your body, but that’s not the case. Diarrhea actually contributes to dehydration, because it cuts down on the amount of water your gastrointestinal tract can absorb.3
Frequent urination: Certain medical conditions and medications may cause increased urination, which can decrease the amount of water in your body.4
Signs You May Be Dehydrated
So how to determine whether or not you’re dehydrated? The answer is not as simple as it might seem. Some symptoms of dehydration are obvious. But others? Not so much. Here are a few things to look out for:
You’ve probably heard it said that by the time you experience thirst, you’re already dehydrated. And it’s true. By the time you’re thirsty, your body will already have lost 1 to 2 percent of its water content. Another important thing to keep in mind? If you’re elderly, you’re much less likely to actually feel thirsty.5 For that reason, it’s important not to rely on thirst alone as an indicator of dehydration.
Whether it’s a dull pain, a throbbing pain, or a full-blown migraine, there’s nothing like a headache to put a major dent in your day. And scientific studies are proving that water deprivation plays quite a role when it comes to headache pain. One study found that approximately one-third of migraine sufferers identify dehydration as a migraine trigger.6 Another study found that dehydration may trigger not only migraines but tension headaches, too.7
If you’re dehydrated, you’re likely to feel quite tired.8
Cravings for salty food
It sounds counterintuitive but it’s true: people crave salty foods when they’re dehydrated… because eating salt encourages them to drink more water
Being dehydrated can affect your brain function. You may find that you have a harder time paying attention and remembering things. You might also have slower reaction times.9
You may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or “out of it.”10
Lack of skin elasticity
A lack of water can make your skin less elastic. Try pinching the skin on the top of your hand. If it doesn’t snap back as quickly as it usually does, you may be dehydrated.11
The yellow color of urine is caused by a pigment called “urochrome.” If there’s a lot of water in your urine, the urochrome will be less concentrated, and your urine will appear light yellow, or clear. But when there’s less water in your body, the amount of urochrome is more concentrated, resulting in darker, and even orange-colored urine.12
Preventing Dehydration — And All That Comes With It
What steps can you take to prevent dehydration? Well, the first one is quite simple: hydrate. Yes, it might seem too good to be true, but a little water can, in fact, go a long way. Let’s take one of the most common side effects of dehydration — headaches — as an example.
A scientific study found that people experiencing headaches experienced a certain amount of relief within 30 minutes to 3 hours just by drinking more water.13
Another study has shown that patients who increased their daily water intake by one full liter experienced fewer, less intense headaches over time.14
So, just how much water should you be drinking each day? Well, if you’re an adult working a sedentary job, approximately 1.5 liters.15
But keep in mind, certain factors will increase your water requirements. For example, if you:
- Have a medical condition that causes increased urination
… you’ll need to drink more water.
Here are a few easy ways to drink more water:
- Carry a reusable water bottle and sip from it throughout your day.
- Increase hydration on hot days.
- Drink water frequently during exercise.
Don’t Just Drink Fluids … Eat Them, Too
Water isn’t your body’s sole source of hydration. In fact, approximately 20 percent of your body’s fluid intake comes from the food you eat.16 So, by eating foods high in water content, you can actually help your body rehydrate.
Lectin-free foods that are high in water content include celery, carrots, radishes, leafy greens, romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Don’t Forget To Replace Your Electrolytes
But food isn’t just good for replenishing water. It’s also good for replenishing electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals, like calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These minerals perform a variety of functions, like supporting the health of your cells, regulating your body’s pH, and balancing the amount of water in your body. But dehydration can deprive you of electrolytes, so you need to replenish them.17
Electrolyte-rich lectin-free foods include spinach, avocados, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, green bananas, coconut yogurt, macadamia nuts, and pecans.
Let’s Raise a Glass To Hydration
Dehydration side effects like headaches, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties don’t have to be a part of your life. And making simple changes can help make that a reality. You can begin by identifying factors that may make you more prone to dehydration. The next step? Arm yourself with a reusable water bottle and begin incorporating more water and electrolyte-rich foods into your diet. The antidote to dehydration and all its unpleasant side effects is truly within your grasp.
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