Early Signs of Dehydration
Water is the most important nutrient for ensuring optimal bodily functions. It is also the most overlooked. Without exception, every function of the body is tied to an optimum flow of water. A well-hydrated cell is a healthy cell. A healthy cell lives longer. Early signs of dehydration help alert you when those functions are in jeopardy. Maintaining well-hydrated cells is what forms the foundation of a comprehensive anti-aging program.
No one can doubt the fact that serious dehydration can cause death. The question lies in the reference point of what is considered normal and what is not. The Early signs of dehydration are dry mouth and dizziness, which are late signs of a severely dehydrated body. However, these are not sensitive enough from an anti-aging perspective. For optimum health, new reference standards for the threshold
To put it simply, your body needs a minimum of 8 glasses of pure water a day in order to maintain basic functionality. By consuming a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day a person can avoid the early signs of dehydration. An intake of 12 to 15 glasses is recommended for optimum anti-aging health. Drink any less, and you are already in a state of early signs of dehydration, from an anti-aging perspective.
Water is the most plentiful substance in our body. It constitutes over 60 percent of our body weight, 70 percent of the brain, 90 percent of the lungs, and 98 percent of our intestinal, gastric, saliva, and pancreatic juices. While our body contains about 5 quarts of blood, a 150-pound person contains about 40 quarts of water. It is easy to see why dehydration and early signs of dehydration can be so severe.
You can live without food for weeks, but nobody survives without water for more than a few days. A three percent loss in total body-water will cause fatigue and could pose serious malfunctions within the body. A ten percent loss of body water is serious enough to be life threatening. Typical symptoms of fluid loss are headaches, poor concentration, fatigue, forgetfulness, and constipation. Extreme dehydration causes mental disorientation and death.
Water loss occurs 24 hours a day, through daily activities (including sleep), skin evaporation, breathing, urination, and bowel movements. Replenishing our supply is crucial to maintaining our health and recovering from illness.
Water is critical as a carrier of nutrients entering our body through food, and the removal of toxins out of the body. Metabolite byproducts contain toxins that have been built up in our body. Maintaining the correct levels of hydration will flush the toxins out of the body before they have a chance to built up or absorbed into the cells. Well-hydrated cells also act as good lubricants that optimize the smooth movement of the joints along with elasticity and appearance of the skin. Adequate amounts of water are needed for optimum regulation of the chemical pump at the cell wall, efficiency of all protein and enzymatic pathways in the body, and optimum hormonal function. No one single bodily function can be carried out effectively in the presence of a dysfunctional water balance state. Every function inside the body is regulated and is dependant on water.
Eight, 8-ounce servings of pure water daily is the minimum amount needed for basic health maintenance. Fifty percent more is needed for optimum anti-aging health. If you are a healthy adult with normal renal and cardiac functions, your cells are dehydrated if you are not drinking this amount.
Over 50 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated and admit not drinking the minimum recommended amounts of water. In fact, studies have shown that 35 percent of Americans drink three or fewer servings, and 9 percent drink no water at all. The average American consumes only 4.6 servings of water a day.
Furthermore, Americans drink nearly five servings of beverages containing caffeine or alcohol, substances that act as diuretics, causing the body to lose water through increased urination. Such beverages act as an anti-nutrient, as they are non-hydrating in nature. Americans are in effect “drinking themselves to dehydration” by consuming too many water-robbing beverages. Many don’t realize that beverages containing alcohol and caffeine actually rob the body of water by acting as a diuretic. The net result is that most Americans are probably only getting about a third of the valuable hydration benefits they need and have early signs of dehydration without knowing it.
Research has shown that those drinking at least five glasses of water per day were associated with an approximately 50% decreased rate of heart attack and stroke compared with those who drank two glasses of water per day. Drinking other fluids and total fluid intake were not related to decreased risk of heart disease. While the exact mechanism is not known, it is postulated that many of these other fluids are hyper-osmolar. They attract and draw water away from the blood, causing a temporary increase in blood viscosity.
Dehydration as a disease entity can be divided into 2 phases: sub-clinical and clinical.
A. Sub-clinical Phase
The sub-clinical phase of dehydration can be defined as the state of the body when less than 2 liters of pure water (8 glasses of 8 ounces each) are taken in daily for the average adult. Often no symptoms are generated to warn us other than thirst from time to time. The body, while dehydrated, is still able to carry on daily functions through its many compensatory mechanisms. One of the first symptoms of physical damage due to the sub-clinical phase of early signs of dehydration is pain. Pain can be generalized or localized. It can be non-specific. Such pain is often mistaken as some other disease entity. When this state is not treated, the body progresses to the clinical phase of dehydration. There is no traditional laboratory test to define sub-clinical dehydration, since reference standards have yet to be established to address this phase of dehydration. Fortunately, one can always rely on the color of urine as an accurate indicator. The normal color of urine is almost colorless to light yellow. If it becomes dark yellow or RED, early signs of dehydration have set in and the kidneys are working hard to conserve water.
B. Clinical Phase
The clinical phase of early signs of dehydration have been well studied by traditional medicine. The classic signs are dry mouth and dizzy sensations. In the advanced clinical phase of dehydration, disorientation, hypotension, and renal failure are common. If not treated, the patient ultimately collapses and dies.
In the book Your Body’s Many Cries For Water, author F. Batmanghelidj, M.D., asserts that many of the symptoms that we recognize as “diseases” are actually the body’s way of notifying us that it is dehydrated. Such illnesses can include peptic ulcer disease, asthma, arthritis, and high blood pressure. According to Dr. Batmanghelidj, the failure to recognize the importance of water’s role as a cause of disease “is the most basic mistake that has deviated clinical medicine. It has prevented medical practitioners from being able to advise preventative measures or offer simple physiological cures for some major diseases in humans.”
Traditional medicine has taken water for granted and assumed that water (as a solvent) is simply nothing more than a space filler and a means of transportation, and a “packing material” for the solid matter in our body (the solute such as sodium, potassium etc). In fact, it is the solvent – the water content – that ultimately regulates all functions of the body, including the activities of all the solutes that are dissolved within it.
Water constitutes, regulates, flows through, cleanses and helps nourish every single part of your body. But the wrong kind of water — with inorganic minerals, chemicals and other contaminants — can pollute, clog up and turn to stone in every part of your body. In other words, drinking the right amount and kind of water is critical to your health.
As you age, there is a gradual reduction of the thirst sensation. The body becomes increasingly and ultimately chronically dehydrated if preventive steps are not taken to avoid this. At age 20, the ratio of water content inside (intracellular) versus outside a cell (extra-cellular) is 1.1. By age 80, the ratio is only 0.8. Decrease in intracellular water affects the efficiency of cellular function that can only be overcome by the intake of water. The body sends us signals continuously telling us it needs more water. What are these signals and how well do we listen to these signals?
This loss of thirst sensation with age gives us the perception that our body’s water intake is sufficient and replenishment is not needed. Indeed, there is no warning from the body to warn us of the early signs of dehydration other than thirst, just as there is no early warning sign from the body to tell us of vitamin C deficiency. Yet, when symptoms of scurvy surfaces such as bleeding gums, we are already in the advance stage of vitamin C deficiency.
The only commonly recognized outward symptom that the body provides for dehydration is the sensation of thirst and later, dry mouth. Until dry mouth is experienced, there is a false sense of security within us that our cells are well hydrated while in reality suffering from chronic sub-clinical dehydration without our knowledge.
Dry mouth, as a warning sign, is too insensitive an indicator for optimum health and too late a signal that our body can ill afford. A dry mouth is actually one of the last signs of early signs of dehydration before bodily functions are compromised . By the time a person feels the symptom of dry mouth, the body is already in an advanced stage of dehydration from an optimum health perspective. One may not yet feel any gross physiological dysfunction, such as weakness or dizziness from lack of fluids. This is due to the body’s many built in compensatory mechanisms such as constricting of the blood vessels to maintain blood pressure which prevents dizziness. Unfortunately, when such symptoms appear, as high blood pressure, it is often taken as a disease state in and of itself. Since the cause is not known, it is medically given a term called essential hypertension. In essence, we do not know the cause but are more than willing to treat the symptoms. More appropriately, high blood pressure should be considered a symptom, while the actual disease state could very well be sub-clinical dehydration. High blood pressure in such instances could be effectively cured with simply increasing water and salt intake.
The notion that the absence of dry mouth means that that body is well hydrated must therefore be dispelled. The body can suffer from early signs of dehydration even when the mouth is fairly moist. Research has shown that saliva is generated even if the rest of the body is comparatively dehydrated. This is the body’s way to ensure that the food we eat makes its way to the gastro-intestinal tract with an adequate amount of enzymes contained in the saliva for proper digestion.
Among the elderly, the loss of thirst sensation actually means a person can have a dry mouth and not feel thirsty. It is no wonder that most elderly people are chronically dehydrated.
The lesson is simple. Yes, dry mouth is a signal of the body’s need for water. But don’t wait for it to happen, as it is a late sign. Look for early signs instead.
During sub-clinical phase of dehydration, there are often no signs or signals from the body that anything is outwardly or visibly wrong. The thirst sensation is a common signal, but not all people experience thirst to the same degree. Surprisingly, pain can be the first alarm signal of sub-clinical dehydration. The body has an internal “drought management ” system that kicks into action when water is needed. According to research by Dr Batmanghelidj, the body releases histamine during dehydration. When histamine and subordinate “drought managers” come across pain-sensing nerves, they cause pain. Pain is therefore one of the first alarm signals. If the dehydration persists and is not corrected naturally with water, it becomes symptom-producing and develops into a disease condition with time.
According to Dr. Batmanghelidj, the body may use pain to warn us that dehydration is the basic cause of many illnesses, including:
Gastritis, Duodenitis, Heartburn. All these conditions are associated with dyspeptic pain. Dyspepsia is the “thirst pain” signal of our body and signifies a water shortage in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. This can happen to people of any age group. He has clinically treated over 3,000 persons with dyspeptic pain by simply increasing water intake and the clinical picture improved and disappeared. Not recognizing heartburn as early signs of dehydration, and treating it with antacids and drugs, may produce inflammation of the stomach and duodenum, ulceration, gastrointestinal bleeding, and eventually cancers in the gastrointestinal tract.
Rheumatoid Joint Pain. Rheumatoid arthritic joints and their pain can be viewed as subtle indicators of water deficiency in the affected joint cartilage surfaces. Cartilage is bathed in water and adequate hydration is needed for proper function. The use of painkillers does not cure joint pain but simply masks the underlying disease. Hydration may help in such cases.
Back Pain. Low Back pain and Ankylosing arthritis of the spine may be signals of water shortage in the spinal column and disc. Proper hydration of the disc (water filled) may lead to better water cushions that support the weight of the body. Administration of painkillers to relieve symptoms without addressing the root of the problem may eventually lead to osteoarthritis when the cartilage cells in the joints have died and spine deformity produced.
Asthma. During early signs of dehydration, the body releases histamine. Histamine constricts the airway with the purpose of conserving water loss in the form of vapor during the normal respiration process. This histamine-mediated constriction causes difficulty in breathing and resulting asthma. It is recognized that asthmatics have an increase in histamine content in their lungs. Increased water intake should be considered as a preventive measure in such cases. It has been shown in animal models that the amount of histamine production decreases with an increase in water intake.
High Blood Pressure. High blood pressure can be a state of adaptation of the body to generalized chronic long-term dehydration. In a bid to fill blood vessels with volume, the body, through the constriction of the vascular system, forces the water from the vessel into the cell in order to deliver vital nutrients and oxygen. An increased water intake (and salt) should be considered instead of the reverse in such cases.
To maintain a daily balance, our body requires an intake of over two quarts (8 glasses containing 8 ounces each) for basic physiological functions. Depending on the kind of diet, about half to one quart each day is provided in the food we eat. The balance has to be taken in externally. A good rule of thumb is to drink 8 glasses of water a day in addition to your food.
To achieve optimum hydration for anti-aging purposes, it is important to bath the body with ample water. About one quart (32 ounces) of pure filtered water per day for every 50 pounds of body weight is the minimum required for anti-aging purposes. This translates into 3 quarts (12 glasses of 8 ounces each) a day, or 50 percent more than that recommended for routine bodily functions for the average 150-pound person. If you lead an active lifestyle or if you are exposed to a hot environment, the amount of water needed is substantially more. Likewise, your water intake should increase by one 8-ounce glass for each 25 pounds above your ideal body weight.
If you are drinking liquids that act as a diuretic (such as coffee, tea, and certain sodas), you will need more water. A good rule of thumb is to drink one extra glass of water for the equivalent amount of these drinks you consume.
Vegetarians generally have a better hydration status than meat eaters. Meat generally does not contain a high water content, and many vegetables do. For example, a cucumber consists of 96% water and provides 3.2 ounces of water per serving. Similarly, one tomato is filled with 94% water and provides 3.9 ounces of water per serving. Other water-rich foods include, watermelon, broccoli, carrots and grapes. Even a half-cup of cooked rice can give you 1.9 ounces of water.
The key to drinking enough water is to spread the daily intake throughout the day. Do not drink more than 4 glasses within any given hour. You will find that urination frequency develops with increased water intake. This is often true only in the beginning. After a few weeks, the bladder adapts to the increased fluid intake and less frequent urination is needed. Limit your intake during mealtime as too much liquid can dilute the digestive enzymes in the stomach.
If you are already water conscious and drinking at least 12 to 15 glasses of water everyday, keep it up. If you want to increase your pure water intake, do it slowly and gradually over weeks. Remember that salt and water always go together. The body regulates the amount of water in it through accumulating salt. After a few days of drinking eight or ten glasses of pure water, you should be conscious to add some salt to your diet as well. Cramps at night are one of the first symptoms of salt-deficiency. You should also increase your vitamin and mineral intake. For every 10 glasses of water intake, add about half a teaspoon of salt per day to your diet, provided that your kidney and heart are in good working condition.
Pay attention to the amount of urine you pass, and be aware of the quantity. As the amount of urine you pass begins to increase, you can also increase the water intake. As long as kidney functions are good, water is a one of the best natural diuretics available.
More than any other nutrient; our body must have water to function. The majority of Americans do not drink enough water. They are in a chronic sub-clinical dehydrated state without knowing it. The body responds to this water deficiency in a variety of ways which we frequently see as illnesses.
Drinking at least 12 glasses of pure water (8 ounces each) a day is essential for anti-aging purposes. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, and other caffeine containing beverages which act as diuretics and aggravate early signs of dehydration. The best time to drink water is one half hour before eating and two and one half hours after a meal. For extra insurance, drink two glasses upon awaking and one more glass before retiring. Lastly, add to the diet half a teaspoon of salt per day for every 10 glasses of water to maintain proper cellular function.
Dehydration, sub-clinically or otherwise, is a negative fountain of youth you cannot afford. Water is the simplest form of treatment in medicine for this illness. Take advantage of it.
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© Copyright 2002 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dear Dr. Lam,
Thank you for your reply. I appreciate it. Most on-line "gurus" never answer!
For the several months that I have been receiving and reading your newsletter, I have admired you for NOT recommending specific products from specific companies. Dr. Mercola often does, and I cannot imagine that he is NOT receiving financial rewards for his promoting those products, which, if true, confound and corrupt the practical medical value of his advice.