Chronic Dehydration

Could you be chronically dehydrated? Many people are and never realize it. Our bodies require at least eight glasses of water per day, more during exercise, illness, and hot weather. People often think that even if they don’t actually drink water, they are getting enough by drinking coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice or beer. The truth is that many of these beverages have a diuretic effect, encouraging the body to excrete water through urination, rather than retaining it. The human body when dehydrated does not function at its best and may be at risk for many ailments.

It is vital to note that the two most common signs of dehydration – a dry mouth or feeling thirsty – are not actually the first signs.  Once these symptoms occur you are already dehydrated.

This list of 13 symptoms will inspire you to go get a glass of water, and then another, and another …

1. Fatigue, Energy Loss: Dehydration of the tissues causes enzymatic activity to slow down.

2. Excess Weight and Obesity: people often mistake thirst for hunger, and thus eat foods that are rich in water or more food in general.  Thus it is recommended to drink a glass of water before eating in order to distinguish between true hunger and thirst.

3. Premature Aging: The body of a newborn child is composed of 80 percent liquid, but this percentage declines to no more than 70 percent in an adult and continues to decline with age.

4. High and Low Blood Pressure: The body’s blood volume is not enough to completely fill the entire set of arteries, veins, and capillaries.

5. Cystitis, Urinary Infections: If toxins contained in urine are insufficiently diluted, they attack the urinary mucous membranes.

6. Cholesterol: When dehydration causes too much liquid to be removed from inside the cells, the body tries to stop this loss by producing more cholesterol.

7. Respiratory Troubles: The mucous membranes of the respiratory region are slightly moist to protect the respiratory tract from substances that might be present in inhaled air.

8. Rheumatism: Dehydration abnormally increases the concentration of toxins in the blood and cellular fluids, and the pains increase in proportion to the concentration of the toxins.

9. Eczema: Your body needs enough moisture to sweat 20 to 24 ounces of water, the amount necessary to dilute toxins so they do not irritate the skin.

10. Constipation: When chewed food enters the colon, it contains too much liquid to allow stools to form properly, and the wall of the colon reduces it. In chronic dehydration, the colon takes too much water to give to other parts of the body.

11. Digestive Disorders: In chronic dehydration, the secretion of digestive juices are less.

12. Gastritis, Stomach Ulcers: To protect its mucous membranes from being destroyed by the acidic digestive fluid it produces, the stomach secretes a layer of mucus.

13. Acid-Alkaline Imbalance: Dehydration activates an enzymatic slowdown producing acidification.

The body is composed of nearly 75% water, and water is required for many of its essential functions. Water is utilized as a solvent. It also provides a means to transport nutrients, hormones and other elements. It is used to produce hydroelectric energy, especially in the brain. It is essential for maintaining cell structure. Water is also necessary to maintain a lower serum viscosity that enables proteins and enzymes to function more efficiently. Chronic dehydration can lead to a loss or decease in these functions and may ultimately result in disease or can exacerbate an existing condition.

All life began in water; even the developing fetus is surrounded by water. When the body is deprived of water, a water rationing system takes effect. Histamine, a neurotransmitter becomes active and redistributes water throughout the body. The order of circulatory priority is the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and glands, then comes the muscles, bones and skin (skin is last to get hydration). During periods of dehydration, histamine insures that these vital organs have enough water to function properly. If enough water is not supplied, it must be taken from within the body. Chronic dehydration can cause histamine to become excessively active. This may result in symptoms that may be mistaken for other disorders such as allergies, asthma, dyspepsia, colitis, constipation, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic pains in various parts of the body such as migraine headaches.

Another possible complication of dehydration is joint pain. The cartilage in your body, including your joints, is composed mainly of water. As cartilage surfaces glide over one another, some exposed cells become worn and peel away. New cartilage is normally produced to replace the damaged cells. Due to the lack of blood vessels in cartilage, water is needed to transport the nutrients required for maintenance and repair. Dehydration may increase the abrasive damage and delay its repair, resulting in joint pain.

Asthma and allergies can be another indication that the body has increased production of histamine. During chronic dehydration, the body will attempt to conserve water by preventing unnecessary water loss. A large amount of water is normally lost from the lungs as water vapor through expired air. Histamine, which also controls bronchial muscle contractions, may attempt to restrict water loss through expiration by constricting the bronchial muscles.

Depression may be another complication of chronic dehydration. The amino acid tryptophan is required by the brain to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which subsequently is needed to make melatonin. An adequate amount of water is required for tryptophan to be transported into the brain. Dehydration may limit the amount of tryptophan available to the brain and to complicate matters, the histamine levels may actually stimulate tryptophan’s breakdown in the liver.

Most of the body’s water is found within the cells, and the next largest amount is in the fluid surrounding the cells. If water is not replaced frequently, this surrounding fluid may continue to accumulate waste material and other contaminates. The pumps in your cell membranes may not work as efficiently because allowing dirty water into the cell can cause cellular damage or cell death. You wouldn’t bathe in the same bath water without first cleaning the tub and adding fresh water. Why would you allow your cells to be surrounded by waste material?

In conclusion, water is vital to good health and there is no substitute for water. However, years of chronic dehydration can not be reversed overnight by simply drinking a couple of glasses of water. Rather water intake should be gradually increased. How do you know if you’re drinking enough water? Your urine should be clear or lightly coloured. Darker coloured urine may be an indication that your kidneys are working hard to concentrate the urine.

Drinking tap water is better than not drinking any water, but a good quality water filter is preferable. Filtering your drinking water is both efficient and economical. Filtered water will only cost pennies per gallon and there are no heavy cases of bottles to carry and store. A good quality filter will remove chemicals, contaminants as well as bacteria and parasites. It is imperative that you replace the filter at the right time.

Sports science has progressed a long way and we now know that the regular ingestion of fluids is essential for sporting performance.  Hypohydration (total body water below normal) impairs the body’s ability to regulate heat resulting in increased body temperature and an elevated heart rate.  Perceived exertion is increased causing the athlete to feel more fatigued than usual at a given work rate.  Mental function is reduced which can have negative implications for motor control, decision making and concentration.  Gastric emptying is slowed, resulting in stomach discomfort.  All these effects lead to impairment in exercise performance.  Most types of exercise are adversely affected by hypohydration, especially when they are undertaken in hot conditions, and negative effects have been detected when fluid deficits are as low as 2% (i.e. a deficit of 1.2 litres for a 60 kg athlete).
The good news is that by drinking regularly during exercise, athletes can prevent declines in concentration and skill level, improve perceived exertion, prevent excessive elevations in heart rate and body temperature and improve performance – good justification for every athlete and coach to make fluid replacement a key priority during training and competition.

How much should athletes drink during exercise?

Fluid requirements vary remarkably between athletes and between exercise situations.  Fluid losses are affected by:
• Genetics – some people innately sweat more than others
• Body size – larger athletes tend to sweat more than smaller athletes
• Fitness – fitter people sweat earlier in exercise and in larger volumes
• Environment – sweat losses are higher in hot, humid conditions
• Exercise intensity – sweat losses increase as exercise intensity increases
It is impossible to prescribe a general fluid replacement plan that will meet the needs of all athletes.  Fortunately, athletes can easily estimate their own fluid requirements by weighing themselves before and after exercise sessions.  Each kilogram (kg) of weight lost is equivalent to approximately one litre (L) of fluid.  Adding on the weight of any fluid or food consumed during the exercise session will provide an estimate of total fluid loss for the session.  For example, an athlete who finishes an exercise session 1 kg lighter and has consumed 1 litre of fluid during the session has a total fluid loss of 2 litres.  The Sweat fact sheet in the ‘Hydration’ section discusses sweat losses in athletes and this process in more detail.
Once an athlete’s individual sweat losses are known, a plan can be prepared to help the athlete achieve better fluid replacement in subsequent exercise sessions.  Fluid replacement plans will differ according to the athlete and the opportunities for drinking during the sport.  However, where possible it is better to begin drinking early in exercise and adopt a pattern of drinking small volumes regularly rather than trying to tolerate large volumes in one hit.  Most athletes can tolerate 200-300 ml every 15-20 minutes but tolerance will vary according to the exercise intensity

The sensation of fluid in the mouth sends nerve signals to the brain that switch off the drive to drink.  When fluids are consumed in really small quantities, the desire to drink is often switched off before the athlete has consumed sufficient fluid to match sweat losses.

By Michael Berry – Personal Trainer


Institute of sport

Albert Grazia, M.S., N.D.

Batmanghelidj, M.D

Christopher Vasey, N.D.

Annie B. Bond J

3 comments… add one

  • Suzanne O'Brien April 2, 2012, 10:44 am

    Thanks Michael for your email and the info. Am definitely prompted to drink more water. Barry & I have walked the same route Sun and just returned today. It’s 2 hrs from home. Barry has been doing stretches in pool afterwards and using dencorub. We enjoyed Saturday and will try and to fit in another session with you this week.
    Kind Regards, Suzanne

  • Emma June 25, 2017, 6:27 pm

    Great article. Very thorough. I definitely need to be mindful of hydration in my everyday life! Thank you!

  • Mick June 26, 2017, 9:06 pm

    great article

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