The unexpected effects of dehydration
Most of us know that our bodies are 60 percent water, but do you know what the body uses it all for?
Water impacts nearly all of our internal systems, from allowing our cells to grow and helping our brains create hormones and neurotransmitters to regulating body temperature and assisting with digestion.
Without water in your system, you will begin to experience dehydration. The signs of dehydration include redness in the face or skin, feeling tired and having a dry mouth. But a lack of water can also have some unexpected effects on our bodies.
With so many of our internal systems incorporating water, and our body counting on it to regulate temperature and reduce inflammation, it’s no surprise that water is essential to some of these functions.
Here are some of the unexpected effects of dehydration:
Impaired cognition: Recent studies have shown that even a mild case of dehydration can cause you to have difficulty concentrating, trouble with memory and clouded thinking.
For example, during one recent study, researchers limited subjects to six ounces of water for the day. Those participants made numerous errors while playing a card game. However, they played the same game just a short time later after drinking water and had 12 percent fewer errors.
Water helps our brain create neurotransmitters, which act as the messengers. These chemicals transmit instructions from our brain to our muscles and get our synapses firing. With a lull in that communication, our brains can feel a bit foggy.
Declined heart health: Dehydration causes a decrease in our body’s blood volume, or the amount of blood in our bodies, a condition called hypovolemia. Hypovolemia can be one of the most life-threatening side effects of dehydration because, if it gets extreme, the heart has trouble circulating blood through the muscles and blood vessels, meaning it isn’t delivering enough oxygen to our systems. This strain can lead to rapid or irregular heartbeat which is potentially dangerous for patients.
Patients with a history of heart problems should be especially aware of their water intake to help keep their heart strong; too much or too little can both be problems for your system.
Increased risk of concussion: Experts have long suspected that dehydration increases our risk of concussions. Water is important to maintain our stock of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which acts as a cushion for the brain against the skull.
Preliminary research shows that dehydration may deplete CSF enough to increase the intensity of impact. But this theory is difficult to study or confirm, as there are many variables and doctors don’t want to induce concussions on their participants.
Everyone is susceptible to dehydration during hot summer months as the body sweats out much of its water supply, but it may affect children and the elderly faster or with more severity. Be especially careful in these late summer, early fall days when it’s still hot and humid and school sporting events are back on the schedules.
Age, gender and climate have a huge effect on the amount of water our bodies require to survive, but somewhere between two and three liters of water per day is ideal to remain healthy.
A trick taught to our military as well as many outdoor enthusiasts is that your urine should be clear or light enough yellow that you can read through it. If it’s darker than that, drink up!
Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]