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28 February 2012
You probably don’t think about drinking water until you are thirsty. The problem with that is that by the time you are thirsty it is too late; you are already dehydrated. That might not seem such a problem until you consider a new study which has shown that even mild dehydration can cause changes in mood, your energy levels, and how you think.
Water is essential for the functioning of your body. Your liver is 96 per cent water; your brain is 95 per cent water; your lungs are nearly 90 per cent water, and your blood is 82 per cent water. You started your life being 99 per cent water, as a foetus. When you were born, you were 90 per cent water, and by the time you reached adulthood you were down to 70 per cent. If you die of old age, you will probably be about 50 per cent water.
Water regulates your metabolism and facilitates millions of complex bio-chemical processes throughout your body every day. Water is required for the transport of nutrients to cells and for the transport of waste away from body tissues. Blood is largely water and your body’s internal transport system is entirely dependent on water. Body temperature is also controlled by water.
If you want to have your mind blown a little there is also a cosmic synergy to the water content of your body. Approximately 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, 97 per cent of which is seawater. Your body is also about 70 per cent water and both seawater and your body contains 84 elements in the same proportion, and there is four per cent salt in both your blood and in the oceans. You literally do have an ‘inner sea’.
Dehydration comes in varying degrees. You don’t have to be desiccating under a Saharan sun waiting for a stray camel train to be lacking in water. Hidden dehydration occurs when there is not an adequate amount of water reaching your cells. Some researchers have estimated that 75 per cent of us are chronically dehydrated and that more than one in three has a thirst mechanism that is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger.
Against this background of the absolute importance of water for body functioning, researchers tested men and women to see what effects mild dehydration might have.
Each subject took part in three evaluations that were separated by 28 days. All of them walked on a treadmill to induce mild dehydration, having been fully hydrated the night before. In the mildly dehydrated state the subjects were put through tests to measure vigilance, concentration, reaction time, learning, memory, reasoning, and mood. Their results were compared to results achieved when not dehydrated.
The results showed that both men and women experienced fatigue and difficulty concentrating as a result of being dehydrated. Men also experienced increased tension and anxiety and women had even greater increases in mood disturbance. The researchers observed that these changes are enough to reduce motivation and so might decrease work performance or reduce the likelihood of doing productive exercise.
In essence, you want to keep yourself moist.
There are a variety of estimates as to how much water you need but a good estimate is that for every one kg of body weight, drink 33 mls of water per day. For example, if you are 70 kgs you should drink at least 2.3 litres of water each day.
This latest study reminds us that you should not wait until you are dehydrated enough that you feel thirsty. Base your drinking patterns on a pre-emptive strike philosophy and don’t let yourself start to desiccate. Of course, it’s also handy knowledge for the next time you have a little emotional meltdown in the office, you can just smile afterwards and suggest that you need a drink of water.