Dehydration is a condition in which the human body lacks a sufficient volume of water to maintain homeostasis and normal function. It occurs in situations where the intake of water is not adequate to meet bodily water loss through things such as sweating, urination, or diarrhea.
Water is essential to human health and wellness. It makes up approximately 60% of the human body’s weight and is vital for many bodily functions including maintaining normal blood volume and makeup, and removal of waste byproducts from the body. We often equate dehydration with vigorous physical activity and exercise, and hot weather. While it’s true these two factors are common causes of dehydration, there are other less obvious reasons for dehydration and dehydration can occur in individuals who aren’t exposed to high heat or strenuous exercise.
Dehydration can also be caused by increased urination, vomiting, and diarrhea. In these conditions the body often loses water much more rapidly than it can be replaced. Many over the counter and prescription medications are substances known as diuretics. These cause increased urination and thus loss of water. Surprisingly, another major factor contributing to dehydration are actually the favorite beverages frequently consumed by Americans.
While many of us drink soda, black teas, coffee, and alcoholic beverages to help quench thirst and avoid dehydration, it might actually do quite the opposite. These beverages all have a diuretic effect on the human body. The caffeine contained in soda, tea, coffee, and other beverages can actually increase the frequency and volume of urination. The same is true of the alcohol in alcoholic beverages. This leads to loss of water in the body and left uncorrected, eventually dehydration. Since these beverages are favorites with most Americans, it is likely that much of the American population actually walks around predisposed to at least a mild state of dehydration. With that in mind, let’s look at the three main stages of dehydration.
There are three widely accepted stages of dehydration. Each stage examines water loss based on a percentage of body weight. In mild dehydration the patient experiences a 3 to 5 percent loss in body weight. Moderate dehydration is characterized by the loss of 6 to 9% of body weight, while severe dehydration involves a loss of 10% or more of body weight. Now that we know a little about the classification of dehydration let’s examine some common symptoms.
Research has shown that as little as a 2% decline in hydration can cause up to a 10% decline in athletic performance. The effects of dehydration aren’t limited to athletes however. Many Chiropractic patients experience symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration. Some of these include:
– Headaches, dizziness and light-headedness
– Muscle cramping and muscle pain
– Muscle spasms
– Dry mouth
– Dry eyes
– Dry skin
– And more
So how can we prevent dehydration? The obvious solution is to ensure we consume enough water to meet the needs of our body. An average size adult requires about 1 quart, or 32 ounces, of water per day. Physically active adults will require much more: sometimes up 4 to 5 quarts per day. To help prevent dehydration we should increase our intake of water before, during, and after exercise. Some sources say you should drink approximately 4 to 6 ounces of water for every 12 to 15 minutes during exercise. As a general rule, the more you weigh, the higher the air temperature and the more vigorous the exercise, the greater the amount of fluid intake is needed.
Many individuals falsely assume they aren’t dehydrated because they aren’t vigorously exercising or because they aren’t thirsty. Vigorous exercise and profuse sweating obviously speed the process of dehydration and make it much easier to occur but they are not required for dehydration to occur. It is important to note that the sensation of thirst is not a reliable indicator of adequate hydration. Research has shown the sensation of thirst is actually a reaction to the early stage of dehydration. The human body doesn’t even begin to sense thirst until it experiences a 1 to 2 percent loss in body weight!
Another huge problem with dehydration is people falsely believe they are adequately hydrated because they drink plenty of beverages throughout the day. Unfortunately these beverages are often soda, coffee, teas, or alcohol containing beverages. As we’ve mentioned already, these beverages all have a diuretic effect on the body. The increased urination and water loss brought about by drinking these beverages can actually offset or negate the benefits of the fluid they contain. Avoiding caffeinated and alcohol containing beverages while increasing your intake of water are great ways to prevent involuntary dehydration.
You are probably wondering how all this talk about water and dehydration relates to Chiropractic care. The connections are actually endless! Doctors of Chiropractic are concerned with health and wellness in general and not just the biomechanics of the spine. Since water is vital to life it is obviously of great concern to the Chiropractor who truly has the best interests of his or her patients in mind.
Many patients initially consult with a Doctor of Chiropractic because they are experiencing headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, weakness, back pain, or muscle spasms; all of which are also common symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration. Dehydration has also been associated with impaired cognitive function.
Dehydration may also play a role in joint degeneration and degenerative changes within the spine. Intervertebral discs are nature’s shock absorbers that cushion the bones of the spine. Positioned between bones of the spine, intervertebral discs are predominately made up of water. They are a resilient structure composed of a tougher outer fiber ring with a gelatinous type center that allows the discs to be highly compressible, and elastic to absorb forces in the spine while allowing the spine to be flexible. We know from research that degeneration of the intervertebral disc actually begins with dehydration of the intervertebral disc; with age intervertebral discs become less hydrated and lose their elasticity and flexibility. This loss of hydration leads to degeneration of the spine and ultimately pain and symptoms.
As you can see involuntary dehydration can occur even when we aren’t exercising in a hot environment. Further complicating the matter is the fact that we generally don’t even feel thirsty until we are already dehydrated. Simply drinking the wrong type of beverages throughout the day can lead us to the early stage of dehydration which can affect cognitive and physical performance. Water is vital to the cartilage that lubricates and protects our joints and to the intervertebral discs that cushion and protect our spines. Sustained dehydration, even at a mild level, can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and our physical well being. It is no wonder Doctors of Chiropractic are concerned with proper hydration. Take care of yourself and your body; take the time to make sure you are adequately hydrated.