In this post, we reveal the signs and symptoms of dehydration, the five best drinks for hydration, three dehydrating drinks to avoid, how to think about hydration and much more. Let's dive right in!
Proper hydration is essential for optimum health. Water, after all, is the most important component and resource of the body. Every organ and every cell requires water to function properly. In fact, you are 60% water.
In the 1940’s, researchers from the University of Illinois actually studied the water composition of individual organs and determined that the brain and the heart are 73% water, the lungs are 83% water, and the muscles are 79% water. Even the bones contain 31% water.
Water is absolutely essential to every metabolic process. A well-hydrated body means:
- Cells grow, reproduce and mature at a healthy rate
- Joints are amply lubricated for easy movement
- Wastes and toxins are flushed out
- Body temperature is properly regulated
- Oxygen is delivered to various organs
On the other hand, when there is not enough water in the body you have what’s called “dehydration”.
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration is a state of water deficiency where the body lacks the water needed to perform biological functions properly. The condition can be brought about by an excessive loss of water.
The fact is, we are losing water all the time. Even when we’re just sitting, with no discernible activity, we are still losing water. We dissipate water through the following bodily processes.
The amount of urine excreted varies according to the amount of fluid intake, but, on average, the human body produces around 1-2 liters of urine every day. If fluid intake is excessive, the kidney restores balance by producing more urine. If, on the other hand, fluid is deficient, the kidney conserves water by producing less (but more concentrated) urine. You may notice, when you are dehydrated, that your urination becomes infrequent and your urine color turns dark yellow.
The kidneys filter waste and remove it from the body. In a dehydrated environment, they are forced to work harder. So, people who are chronically dehydrated can cause serious damage to their kidneys which can later lead to health complications.
There are around 2-4 million sweat glands in the body whose function is to maintain your core temperature. When you feel hot, your body counteracts by producing sweat. This cools you down. Unfortunately, the process is water-intensive.
Water lost through perspiration depends on many factors, but the most important ones are the temperature of the environment and the nature of the activity a person engages in. Someone sitting in a cool environment will sweat a lot less than a person running under the sun.
One hour of exercise is said to produce around 0.8 to 1.4 liters of sweat, which is roughly equivalent to 1-3 lbs of weight. That is why you are advised to drink water before, during and after working out to replace the lost water from the system.
The body loses around half a liter of water per day through the simple act of respiration.
Hold your hand in front of your nose/mouth and breathe into it. If you wait long enough, you’ll notice that your palm gets a little moist. Every time you breathe out, you are losing a little bit of water from your body.
Our body’s metabolic processes require water to proceed properly. Digestion is really just one of these processes. Water helps the digestive system do its job from start to finish—from the saliva that aids in masticating food, to facilitating the movement of food along the gut.
And, when it’s time to excrete the waste, water helps soften stool, making it easier to pass.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
The other causes of water loss are part and parcel of the normal functioning of the body. But, sometimes, a person gets sick (eg. food poisoning or bacterial infection) which causes frequent vomiting and bowel movements. They can very rapidly lose water and essential electrolytes this way, and just a day of throwing up and going to the bathroom can impact one’s weight. So much water is being lost that the person becomes weak and lethargic. Rehydration drinks should be consumed by the person as soon as possible.
Whether through the normal functioning of the body or through an unfortunate ingestion of some bad shrimp, the threat of dehydration always exists because, as has been said, we are losing water all the time. And, when you are losing more water than you’re taking in, dehydration results.
Signs & Symptoms of Dehydration
When your body senses a significant water deficit, conservation mechanisms kick in. Only those processes that absolutely need water are rationed a supply of it. Kidneys prevent the escape of more fluid by stopping the production of urine, tear ducts don’t well up, skin becomes dry, the mouth becomes parched and you lose your ability to sweat. This is your body shutting down and telling you to rehydrate.
Other symptoms include:
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition has found that even mild dehydration can negatively affect mood and cognitive performance like reaction time, learning, working memory and logical reasoning.
Although we don’t link them closely, irritability and decreased concentration may be related to the water levels in our body.
Dehydration actually creates stress. There is in fact a vicious cycle that exists between dehydration and stress.
Dehydration increases cortisol levels. Cortisol, as you may remember, is a hormone that the body releases when it is experiencing stress. In short, the body is responding to the lack of fluids the same way it responds to mental or emotional turmoil. And, because stress is associated with things like increased heart rate and heavy breathing, all of which are dehydrating activities, the deficiency is all the more exacerbated. It becomes a vicious cycle where dehydration causes stress and stress, in turn, leads to further dehydration.
So, with the health benefits of being properly hydrated and the possible negative consequences of dehydration, we now discuss the best way to hydrate and the best drinks for hydration. Let’s begin with the proper way to think about hydration.
How To Think About Hydration
In order to hydrate properly, we need to consider three factors.
First, we need to consider how long the liquid stays inside the body. There are liquids that the body can retain for longer periods of time. These liquids are slow to exit and the body can put them to good use.
On the other hand, there are drinks that contain large percentages of water and are hydrating, but turn out to be diuretics as well. Diuretics are substances that increase the flow of urine. So even if you’re drinking lots of some fluids, you might be getting rid of a lot more through peeing. In short, there’s now a net decrease in the amount of fluid in the body. You might be drinking yourself to dehydration!
The second factor we need to consider is the nutrient composition of the drink. What are the concomitant substances present in that glass? All drinks contain some water and are hydrating in their own right. But, besides water, what other substances are you taking into your body?
If you’re hydrating for optimum health, the act would be self-defeating if you’re also ingesting substances that are detrimental to health. An example of this are the added artificial sugars in most commercial drinks. Not only is high sugar in the blood inimical to hydration (because your body will try to flush sugar out through urination), excess sugar consumption is said to lead to a host of conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Just because you’re hydrating doesn’t mean you need to take the bad with the good. There are always healthy options available.
And finally, the third factor we need to consider are your personal requirements. People differ in age, weight, body mass, body shape and daily activities. Every individual’s hydration needs are different. An athlete who just finished an intense workout would have slightly different hydration requirements relative to your regular thirsty person.
The best hydration drink for you would therefore depend on your personal requirements. There’s a misconception that the best way to hydrate is to go for drinks loaded with the full spectrum of electrolytes. This is not always the case. Electrolytes like sodium, magnesium or potassium have optimal levels that your body tries to maintain. Any excess salt is unhealthy so the body gets rid of it by flushing it out of your system.
Depending on your diet and activities, you may not actually need the robust infusion of salts. So instead of going for the most expensive drink, consider your needs. This way, you save money and don’t end up spending on creating expensive urine!
What should you drink when you are dehydrated, and what are the best things to drink to maintain health hydration? Here are the best hydration drinks you shouldn’t miss out on:
The 5 Best Drinks To Combat Dehydration
The most important fluid for health, bar none, is water. The importance of drinking water cannot be overstated!
Why is drinking water important? As already mentioned, the body is composed mostly of water. Around 60% of the adult human body is water.
A person can survive without food for a couple of weeks. Mahatma Gandhi did that for 3 weeks and survived. An average person doing a water fast will not last that long. A person can survive for only 3 days without water. It’s that vital to the human body.
Because we are losing water non-stop—all that fluid needs to be replenished consistently.
How much water you drink on any given day will depend on age, gender, weight and most importantly, the activities involved. People with active lifestyles sweat a lot and will therefore need plenty of water to replenish the fluids lost through sweat.
A good rule of thumb is the “8x8 model” where you drink eight 8-ounce glasses every day. This sums to about 64 ounces of water a day. But the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is recommending a little bit more—101 ounces for men and 74 ounces for women. This rounds out to about 13 and 9 cups of water respectively.
Don’t just drink water when you’re thirsty, as this is not a fool-proof method to stay hydrated. As you get older, you might become less sensitive to thirst signals. So, drink water even if you don’t feel parched. Go for the recommended daily intake of 101 ounces for men and 74 ounces for women.
Interestingly, not all water is created equal from a hydration perspective. Some water can actually hydrate you better than other water. One thing you should keep in mind is the alkalinity of the water you are drinking and whether there are any natural electrolytes in the water. For example, water stored in a copper water bottle becomes naturally alkaline and also results in the low and gradual absorption of electrolytes into your water. This makes copper-infused water some of the best water for hydration.
For those wondering: yes, milk is good for hydration.
It might even be better than water because, in addition to containing essential nutrients like calcium, proteins and B vitamins, milk is retained in the body better than water.
By the way, we’re referring here to full fat or semi-skimmed milk. Flavored-infused milk (eg. vanilla, chocolate, strawberry) contains unwanted sugars that can cancel the benefits of hydration.
There are generally two types of teas from the perspective of hydration—those that contain caffeine and those that do not. Black tea, green tea and oolong tea all come from the camellia sinensis plant which contains caffeine. (Their differences are due to how they are processed.)
Herbal infusions like chamomile, peppermint and rosehip, which comes from the leaves, flowers or stems from various plants generally do not contain caffeine.
Caffeine is considered a diuretic, which means it can cause increased production of urine. Because of this, many think that tea, one of the most popular beverages in the world, is actually dehydrating. But evidence suggests that caffeine-containing tea, if consumed moderately, (namely around 6 cups a day), does not have a dehydrating effect on the body. That study even found that black tea has similar hydrating effects as water, meaning that, from a hydration perspective, tea is still a pretty good option compared to water.
4. Natural fruit juices
Freshly-squeezed juices from high water content fruits can also help keep the body hydrated. Juices from pineapple, orange, cucumber, tomato, cantaloupe, peach, watermelon, and coconut are some of the best drinks for hydration.
The best thing to do is to juice these fruits yourself to ensure quality and freshness. But, if this is not possible, make sure you read the label of the juice drink you see on the store shelf. Only go for beverages that are “100% fruit juice”. As much as possible, avoid beverages which add sugars and “nature identical flavors” to the mix.
Fruit juices contain natural sugars and are already sweet. No extra flavor is necessary.
Taking in sugary drinks may be thirst-quenching at first, but they can actually lead to dehydration when the body responds to the high sugar level by flushing it out of the system.
For people on the other side of the spectrum that can’t take the natural sweetness of fruit concentrate, water it down by mixing in a little bit of water.
5. Electrolyte drinks
Electrolytes are minerals that facilitate various functions in the body. For example, they help blood clot, muscles to contract, and even maintain the pH levels of the body. Examples of electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
When you are dehydrated you don’t just lose water, you also lose electrolytes. And you can’t remedy this by just drinking water because water only has trace amounts of these substances. Commercial products like Gatorade, Powerade and Pedialyte are especially formulated to replenish the body’s electrolytes after a heavy workout or in cases of diarrhea.
These drinks help reload your body with its needed electrolyte nutrients. But the drawback is, of course, the high levels of sugar in the formulations.
Three Dehydrating Drinks To Avoid
The most overused section of the club is not the dance floor. It’s the bathroom, where you see lines of people waiting their turn.
Drinks that contain alcohol, like beer, wine and tequila, are highly dehydrating. Alcohol is an effective diuretic. Ethanol goes into the body and suppresses the mechanism responsible for the kidneys returning water to the bloodstream. Water instead exits the body through urine.
By drinking alcohol, you are essentially drinking yourself to dehydration.
Notice the proverbial head-splitting hangover after a night of heavy drinking? This is your body telling you it is dehydrated. The best hangover cures are those that rapidly replenish the water and electrolytes lost in the course of a single night.
Contrary to popular belief, soda does have some hydrating effects, and you can include it as one of your many sources of water. But what makes soda bad is that it contains two things that don’t bode well for the liquid staying in the body: sugar and caffeine.
As we’ve said earlier, the body responds to high sugar levels by flushing it out of the system—making you urinate more, losing water in the process. Caffeine, for its part, is a known diuretic, which also means more peeing trips to the bathroom. So, even though, consumed moderately, soda can be just as hydrating as water, you don’t retain the benefits because you’re going to be expelling the gains soon.
Water, on the other hand, is retained in the body longer . Plus, it has zero calories.
Coffee is on the list because it contains caffeine, and caffeine is a diuretic.
But, like tea, coffee is a curious case because, as it turns out, coffee is not as dehydrating as previously thought. So, you’ll need a more nuanced approach to coffee.
A study funded by the European Hydration Institute created a “Beverage Hydration Index” (BHI) which provided a reference on the degree of hydration afforded by different types of drinks. Researchers found that coffee is only a mild diuretic and does not really cause dehydration when consumed in reasonable amounts.
So, there you go! You’re now well informed about the best drinks for hydration as well as the drinks that you should avoid. More importantly, you now know how to approach the topic of hydration and can decide for yourself the best way to hydrate, as well as the best hydrating drinks that can meet your needs.
To your health!
About the Authors: This article was collaboratively written by our team of researchers and writers with the benefit of all available scientific studies and other relevant literature. Our team of researchers and writers include experienced health researchers including a qualified medical professional. Please note that information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.