The incomparable pleasure of drinking water when feeling genuinely thirsty is one of the best feelings there is. Quenching our thirst goes beyond keeping ourselves hydrated, it is actually a vital step for disease prevention and health promotion.
Thirst is a biological mechanism, an evolutionary system, that allows us to replenish fluids in our bodies to keep well… living. Our water composition changes as we age, from 75%- 80% water when we are born to 55% in our elderly years. Dehydration, although rare in this part of the world due to shortage of water or lack of safe drinking water, can still exist as we drink liquids more for hedonic reasons, than to actually hydrate our bodies, think of teas, coffees, sodas and alcohol.
Being properly hydrated and having optimal fluid levels in our bodies means that our body can perform an array of processes vital for our health and development. When there is fluid homeostasis in our bodies, nutrients can be absorbed in a better way, digestion and elimination performances are enhanced, energy is boosted, cognitive and decision making processes are improved, and there is an overall fluidity in the way our body performs its tasks.
Feeling thirsty is a state that occurs more likely when dehydration has already settled in, and the sensation of feeling thirsty works better when you are at rest. So if you are under stress and feeling that you are actually “running” from one place to another, chances are that you will not feel thirsty until your body sends stronger signals and dehydration has already taken place.
Our body’s physiological mechanisms to determine the levels of water and the regulation of fluids in it is nothing short of a precise science. These mechanisms are sensitive to the deficits or excess of fluids in the body even if the variations are in the few hundred milliliters.
Water deficits or excess directly affect the way our cells behave, and the body responds via the kidneys’ process to create a more concentrated urine or on the contrary, to make us go to the bathroom more often.
Dehydration happens when your body does not have enough fluids it needs, and can be triggered by intracellular or extracellular dehydration. Intracellular dehydration, content of water within the cell, causes the cell’s shrinkage, which can be resolved with the intake of water. Extracellular dehydration, the water content outside the cell, can cause a decrease in blood volume and pressure; the consumption of both water and salt can restore this fluid balance.
Hydration and dehydration are terms that are highly individualized, as there are different factors that can affect a person’s hydration states such as age, body size, gender, physical activity and environmental conditions. That being said, there are general recommendations for water intake for women (30 y/o +) and men (30y/o +): between 2.7 liters and 3.7 liters respectively.
It is important to pay attention to your own body’s cues when it comes to dehydration and thirst. Signs to look for are the color of the urine, light yellow is a positive affirmation that the body is hydrated and there is not extra work put on the body and kidneys to retain water and minerals. The opposite is true when urine is dark yellow or light brown; thirst levels, headaches, muscle spasms, lack of energy, alertness or lack of concentration, especially in the very young or elderly, and constipation are all markers of our hydration levels.
What to drink?
Water is always going to be a great option, but you also have to consider your lifestyle, physical activity and environmental factors. Excess sweat due to physical activity or heat stress will cause intracellular and extracellular dehydration, therefore keeping sodium in mind is going to be key if this is the case.
Also, you do not need to exercise profusely in hot weather to feel dehydrated. Stress can also cause this. Cortisol levels go up when it senses that the body is under stress due to dehydration. The same occurs if you drink too much water and are constantly going to the bathroom, as you may be flushing electrolytes away while only replenishing water levels.
If this occurs, it is time to look into drinks that are replenishing not only water, but also electrolytes. These essential minerals, that conduct electricity and are part of a delicate and important metabolic process, play a role in regulating nerve and muscle function, hydrating the body, balancing blood pressure, and helping rebuild damaged tissues among others.
A lack of electrolytes due to dehydration can affect your muscles and nervous impulses, energy and even your heart rhythm. The most common electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium and bicarbonate and the importance of these fluids is not only immediate, but also long term.
Good Sources of electrolytes are spinach, watermelon, strawberries, avocados, bananas, olives, pickles, nuts and seeds. You can also opt for an electrolyte supplement. There are a few on the market. Visit a Nature’s Fare vitamin specialist to select the best for your own particular needs.
Summer Morning Juice
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 cup watermelon, cubed
- 2 large celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 10-15 mint leaves
- ½ cucumber, roughly chopped
- 1 inch ginger, peeled
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Pinch of Himalayan pink salt
Place all the ingredients in a high speed blender and blend for approximately 20 seconds. Serve immediately. Store leftovers in the fridge for an amazing afternoon pick me up.
Laura Spencer is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ vitamin specialists and a passionate foodie. She believes we can be as happy, healthier, and fulfilled as we allow ourselves to be. As a certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant, she works with people to help them achieve a healthy lifestyle by focusing on modifying behaviours and eating habits that are not working. bonfirenutrition.ca | @bonfirenutrition