The “dog days of summer” can be extremely hot, and that means the body will need more liquids, especially water, to maintain a hydrated state. But exactly how much water should you drink for optimal health?
The answer depends on a number of factors as well as an understanding of water’s overall importance to the body’s everyday functioning.
Water is vital to every process that occurs internally in the body. In fact, most of the major organs are composed of water:
|Muscles and kidneys
|Brain and heart
But why is water so valuable? It is key to many essential body processes. Water is your body’s comprehensive transit system for nutrients and oxygen. It eliminates waste from the body and helps retain muscle tone and lubricate joints. Water also adjusts and controls body temperature, and it assists in necessary digestive function. It forms saliva and acts as a shock absorber for the nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal cord. The body could not function without water, so it is crucial to maintain a healthy balance at all times.
Benefits of Drinking Water
Drinking water can have several important benefits. For starters, water can help with weight management. Research suggests that individuals who drink inadequate amounts of water have a higher risk for obesity than those who are well-hydrated. Further, the study indicates that following a diet which incorporates more water (through food or drink) may be associated with healthier weight outcomes. Water is also known to:
- Promote heart health – Drinking water helps the heart, as well as other muscles, operate efficiently. Hydration helps the heart pump blood more easily through the blood vessels to the muscles.
- Prevent various types of cancer – Because water dilutes toxic carcinogens in the bowels and helps speed up the passage of stool with those harmful compounds, good hydration is considered a protector against large bowel, or colorectal, cancer. Increased water intake has also been shown to help decrease instances of urinary tract cancers (including prostate and testicular cancers) and breast cancer.
- Aid pregnant and nursing women – Inadequate water consumption during pregnancy can lead to maternal dehydration, which may impact levels of amniotic fluid, and the physiological demands of milk production often lead to increased thirst in lactating women. Adequate water consumption is an essential component of self-care during these delicate life stages.
- Aid in healthy breast-feeding – Breast-feeding mothers often deal with a condition called mastitis in which the breast tissue becomes inflamed or infected and can be painful. Drinking water and staying hydrated is one of the best ways to treat this common ailment.
- Prevent bad breath – Saliva has many functions: maintaining a moist environment for gums and teeth, and even sweeping away bacteria in the mouth. Without enough of it, the mouth gets dry, and the unfortunate result is bad breath. Staying hydrated helps the body produce more saliva and rid the mouth of foul-smelling bacteria.
Signs of Dehydration
How much water should you drink a day? Knowing the answer to that question starts with understanding the signs of dehydration. These conditions may be warning signs that your body needs significantly more water:
- Dry, pasty mouth
- Bad breath
- Extreme thirst
- Little to no urination
- Dark yellow or amber-colored urine
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
- Extreme fatigue
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
Inadequate water intake can lead to several unpleasant symptoms that can escalate into life-threatening circumstances if ignored or untreated. Treat them as the severe complications they can be. Particularly rough bouts of dehydration can result in kidney stones, seizures, uremia, hypertension, permanent brain damage or even death.
Kids and individuals age 60 and older are especially prone to dehydration, as are individuals who train and exercise frequently in warmer conditions.
So How Much Water Should You Drink?
Many people hold to traditional notions that they should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. The honest answer, though, is that there is no magic number when it comes to how much water you should drink, although there are some general recommendations to consider.
Typically, it is suggested that men drink 100 ounces of water a day, while women should drink 74 ounces a day. But even these recommendations are affected by various circumstances in individuals’ lives, including age, weight, geographical location, diet, health and physical activity.
For example, pregnant women should drink 78 ounces (2.3 liters) per day, and women who breast-feed should consider drinking 105 ounces (about 3 liters) per day. The hydration needs of athletes vary based on intensity, duration, degree of sweating and environment, but a good rule is to consume 16 ounces of fluid for every 1 pound of weight lost during exercise. The key to proper hydration is monitoring your activity and continuing to regularly replenish the body without relying on thirst.
Once you are thirsty, your body has already started dehydrating. Do not let the metric measurement units fool you: if you’ve been stumped by how many ounces are in a liter, wonder no more – one liter of water is equal to 33.8 ounces.
If you are looking to make some changes in your lifestyle for better hydration and balanced wellness, the registered dietitians and clinicians at LifeStyle Medical Centers can help discuss your specifically recommended water intake for optimal health. Call us to find out how we can help you improve your health.