Weird things that happen when you’re not hydrated

Strange symptoms begin to take hold when you’re feeling dehydrated. Here’s what to look out for and how much you need to stay hydrated.

Our bodies depend on water to survive.

We all know it, and yet many of us still struggle to drink enough to stay hydrated.

If you’re someone who waits until your body is in distress – feeling headaches, dizzy or lethargic – before you reach for a glass, then it’s time you take this crash course in hydration.

Why do we need to drink water?

Our bodies are made up of 50 to 75 per cent water and every cell, tissue and organ relies on it to work properly.

“Water is essential to good health,” dietitian and Lifeshape Health Clinic manager Nicola Moore says.

“It is a key component of blood, which carries nutrients and oxygen to all the cells of the body.

“It aids digestion, helps the body absorb nutrients, lubricates the brain and joints, gets rid of waste products and regulates body temperature.”

Since our body loses one to three litres of water per day through urine and faeces, sweat and breathing, we need to drink water to make up that deficit.

How much water do we need per day?

It is a simple question with no one-size-fits-all answer, according to GO Healthy resident naturopath and nutritionist Jess Blair.

“How much water you need depends on your activity level, your weight, height and even your gender,” Jess says.

Climate also plays a part, as does diet since many foods are high in water content.

If you’re looking for a daily target though, the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand recommend a daily fluid intake of 2.6 litres for men (about 10 cups) and 2.1 litres for women (about eight cups).

What happens when we’re not getting enough water?

Dark yellow pee

The less water you drink, the darker (and smellier) your urine will become.

The yellow pigment is caused by urochrome, a waste product that comes from the breakdown of hemoglobin to enable oxygen to travel around the body.

According to Jess, you want to aim for a pale yellow.

Shrunken brain

About three-quarters of your brain is water and studies show when it is dehydrated it shrinks.

This causes it to pull away from the skull creating a headache.

Smelly breath

Saliva’s job is to clean the mouth and stop bacteria from growing.

When you’re not drinking enough water, you don’t produce as much.

Less saliva means more bacteria and its by-product, horrid breath, while water is important for teeth and gum health too.

No more tears

In the same way the body produces less saliva when dehydrated, it also limits tear production, giving you dry, irritated eyes.

Tricky toileting

Faeces are 75 per cent water and 25 per cent solids, so when you’re dehydrated the large intestine targets this moisture-rich source to absorb the water it needs.

Unfortunately that leaves the food waste solid when it reaches your colon, making it difficult and sometimes painful to pass.

Sweet cravings

It’s the liver’s job to release glycogens to give you energy, but if you’ve been skimping on water it can’t get the job done.

Your body instead starts to crave sugar for a quick energy hit, when really it’s just thirsty.

5 tips for staying hydrated

  1. Zing it up: Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to give plain water a flavour kick.
  2. H20 on the go: Keep a bottle of water in your car or bag so it’s always handy.
  3. Sip ‘n’ snack: Drink water with every meal and snack.
  4. Eat your water: Opt for foods with high water content such as celery, spinach, watermelon and strawberries.
  5. Get Appy: Set your target intake in one of the many hydration reminder apps and let your smartphone remind you to drink up.

Written by Emma Schafer.