A Guide to Dehydration: How Thirsty are You?

It doesn’t matter where you live, dehydration is no joke. Sure, the boiling summer sun can exacerbate thirst, but dehydration can afflict anyone, regardless of the outside climate. Indeed, drinking enough water is vital for your health. Proper hydration has been shown to help your stamina, better your focus, and even brighten your mood, per conclusions from researchers published in Nutrition Reviews. But this isn’t an article about proper hydration. What happens when you don’t get enough water, and does your body process dehydration differently as you get older? The answers may surprise you.

How to Know You’re Suffering from Dehydration (Note: You Probably Aren’t).

As Aaron Carroll writes in the aptly titled article, “No, You Do Not Have to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day,”  the body has a system of alerts that will tell you that you need to drink well before your thirst becomes a serious problem. (First and foremost among them: thirst.) But even if you don’t drink very much water, your body gets hydration from a number of sources. The most surprising of these sources? Food! Nutrition Reviews points out that as much as 22 percent of your daily water actually comes from eating.

Dehydration fruit image

All of this is not to say dehydration could never affect you. If you suspect you or a loved one may be seriously dehydrated, here are some good signs to watch out for, according to  the United Kingdom’s National Health Service:

  • Lethargic Feelings
  • Feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Rapid pulse
  • Tenuous grip on consciousness

Dehydration and Aging

If you are dehydrated, your body will more than likely tell you. But as research has shown, the body’s regulatory systems change as you age. Most people know that the human body is about two-thirds water. Our cells depend on water for structure and our circulatory systems depend on proper hydration. But did you know that the body actually becomes less liquid as you age? According to Nutrition Reviews, infants are about 75 percent water, while older adults are comprised of just 55 percent water. With such a dramatic change over time, your body must find different ways to adapt to varying water levels.

It does this in interesting ways, ways that have consequences for your response to dehydration. Research has shown that older adults, even when parched, are less likely to properly hydrate. Indeed, thirst becomes a less powerful impulse as you age. Moreover, older adults are less likely to have kidneys functioning in tip-top shape, and the kidneys give off the first signal that your body is dehydrated.

So carry a (non-disposable) water bottle around, and take a sip every now and then. You almost certainly have nothing to worry about, but why risk it?

Last updated: 03.20.2017

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.

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