Dehydration is common among non-athletes and athletes alike. In the United States, an estimated 75% of Americans are not drinking enough water. Awareness around hydration status and health is increasing, but what many don't realize is that it goes beyond weight loss or maintaining hydration for athletic events. Scientists have discovered that dehydration affects cognition, concentration, ability to think clearly, and your ability to control your mood.
So, if you feel a sudden surge of anger or frustration, you might be dehydrated.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, looked at the effects of mild dehydration on otherwise healthy women. There are many studies that have looked at the effects of severe dehydration, but this was a first look at mild dehydration. Researchers discovered that mild dehydration, particularly in young women, caused headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Female participants struggled concentrating on simple tasks but interestingly, suffered no reduction in cognitive ability.
In a separate study done on men, researchers found that dehydrated young men experienced difficulty in mental tasks, especially in areas of vigilance and memory, as well as experiencing anxiety and tension.
Even mild dehydration, 1.5% loss in normal water volume in the body, which can easily occur over the course of our daily activities can impact how we are feeling, especially in women, who appear to be more susceptible to the negative effects of mild dehydration. Something important to note is that there was no difference in the negative effects between those who became dehydrated from exercising or those who became dehydrated while sitting at a desk. Dehydration doesn't discriminate.
Our thirst sensation doesn’t kick until we are 1-2% dehydrated. By then dehydration is already is already starting to impact how our mind and body performs. Symptoms of dehydration include feeling thirsty or light-headed, and having dark coloured, strong-smelling urine. Many studies have tried to establish a recommended intake of water but it is highly variable depending on the individual and other factors like age, climate, and physical activity. According to the Institute of Medicine men should drink almost 4 liters of water per day and women should aim for about 3 liters. Here's my post about hydration and athletic performance if you want to read more about ideal intake.
In the UK, 20% of all office visits to general practitioners (GPs) are for complaints of tiredness or fatigue. These GPs believe that dehydration is the cause of these symptoms in more than 10% of these patients. And almost 50% of these patients are surprised that their symptoms are likely caused by not drinking enough water and 35% of these patients reported feeling better when they increased their water intake.
It's also important to consider electrolytes when you get dehydrated. Most of us will get thirsty and drink a large amount of water at once, but that doesn't necessarily solve the problem because of the way electrolytes work in your body. When lost fluid is replaced too quickly and without adequate sodium, the amount of sodium in the body can be diluted which results in an even lower sodium level. Low sodium can produce symptoms such confusion, lethargy, nausea, headache, seizure, weakness, and restlessness.
If you are feeling thirsty and like no amount of water will make that thirst go away, you may need to add a bit of salt to you water (avoid commercial electrolyte drinks as they contain a lot of sugar and other junky ingredients).
How can you stay hydrated?
There are plenty of easy ways to make sure that you stay hydrated.
- Carry water with you...always.
- Invest in a high quality, large (30+ ounces) water bottle. Find one that doesn't leak and that will keep your water cold. Stainless steel is my favorite since it doesn't hold on to smells or flavors on the off chance that I put something other than water in it.
- Drink a small to moderate amount throughout the day day, not a lot all at once.
- Remember that if you exercise or are in a hot climate, you may need more water than average.
- Stress can affect your adrenals which can affect your hydration status. Manage your stress!