Water is an elixir of life and a basic component of the body. It contributes significantly to the maintenance of all bodily functions and keeps us alive. We tell you how much to actually drink, give you tips for everyday life and clean up common mistakes.
Why drinking is important
The human body consists of 60 percent water. Water is essential for the body and has versatile tasks for the organism. It acts as a cleaning, solvent and transport agent. In addition to regulating body temperature, it transports nutrients to the cells and eliminates metabolic waste products. Water is the only way to excrete toxins through the intestines, kidneys, lungs and skin. As the body alone loses one and a half to two litres of water a day during these processes and without further physical exertion, the loss of fluid must be compensated.
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Water contains a certain number of dissolved electrolytes. These include magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium. Only as long as the water balance is balanced and there is enough fluid and electrolytes in the body can all important processes and body functions run smoothly.
A lack of fluid is life-threatening
If the loss of fluid is not compensated, the body threatens to dry out. This has far-reaching, ultimately even fatal consequences. How long a person survives without fluid depends on various factors. The fact is, however, that you can only survive a few days without water. Otherwise, there is a risk of circulatory collapse and internal poisoning. Metabolic processes can no longer take place properly, the blood becomes thicker and waste products are deposited.
Since the kidneys no longer function properly in the case of a lack of fluid, urinary substances can no longer be excreted. The body’s own toxins then attack the organs, resulting in internal poisoning. In a person who has died of thirst, the actual cause of death is poisoning – caused by a lack of fluid.
A lack of fluid is of course not always directly life-threatening or fatal. To a certain extent, the body can still compensate for the deficit. But even then the human organism can be damaged. For the maintenance of all important body functions alone, the body needs about 1.5 liters daily.
- Performance decreases: Even a loss of fluid of just two percent of body weight can significantly reduce the performance of the entire organism.
- Brain performance and ability to concentrate diminish: The brain performance and the ability to concentrate are also affected by the reduced efficiency. Water is the main component of blood. If you don’t drink enough, the blood thickens and can’t flow properly. The body is supplied less and the brain cannot work as usual. In addition, pulse and body temperature increase because the thicker blood has to be pumped through the body at a significantly higher cost.
- Skin and mucous membranes dry out: Due to the lack of fluid, the skin and mucous membranes also dry out naturally, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter the body.
- Kidney diseases and constipation threaten: Since the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract can only function properly if there is sufficient fluid intake, a lack of fluid can lead to constipation, urinary tract infections and kidney stone diseases.
Forms and causes of fluid deficiency
A lack of fluid, also known as dehydration or dehydration, causes the body to lose more fluid and electrolytes than it absorbs. When the first signs appear in the body depends on weight, age, sex and activity level as well as the ambient temperature.
Forms of dehydration
Depending on the causes and consequences, doctors distinguish between three different forms of dehydration. The ratio of water to electrolytes also plays a decisive role.
- Hypotonic dehydration: When a person sweats heavily and tries to compensate for the lack of fluid with salt-free water, the ratio of water to electrolytes changes negatively. Compared to the amount of water, too few electrolytes are available and hypotonic dehydration occurs.
- Hypertonic dehydration: In this form of dehydration, the ratio is exactly the opposite. The body doesn’t lack electrolytes, but it lacks water. Compared to the water balance, the electrolyte concentration is high. This is the case, for example, with fever or heavy physical exertion.
- Isotonic dehydration: If electrolytes and water are lost in equal measure, for example through little drinking, diarrhoea, vomiting or kidney disease, doctors speak of isotonic dehydration.
If the body loses a lot of fluid and electrolytes and does not manage to compensate for this loss, the probability of dehydration is very high. In addition to insufficient fluid intake, there are other causes which have an unfavourable effect on the fluid deficit.
- Heavy sweating caused by
- physical exertion,
- Laxative abuse
- Dehydrating medicines
- Severe blood loss, e.g. due to accidents or operations
- Diseases with increased urine excretion such as diabetes
Signs of fluid deficiency
The first sign of a lack of fluid is, of course, thirst. On this subject, however, opinions are divided. Many see it as the body’s natural indication to drink something. Others are of the opinion that thirst is already the first warning signal of the body and one should have already drunk something before. The latter is supported by the fact that the sensation of thirst can be disturbed in children, senior citizens or people with a disease. In addition, there are other signs that your body is trying to signal that you have been drinking too little.
Similar to thirst, a dry mouth is usually your body’s first warning signal that it absolutely needs fluid and that you should moisten your mucous membranes immediately. Caution is advised, however, if you are taking special medication or have an illness that also manifests itself in dry mouth.
Dry and impure skin
The skin is the largest organ of the human body and also depends on a sufficient supply of water. When a healthy person drinks little, he also sweats less, which means that the pores of the skin are not thoroughly cleaned. In addition, the skin needs water to remain elastic and firm. In addition to reduced elasticity, this results in a sagging facial area and wrinkles caused by dryness.
You can also tell if you’re dehydrated by the back of your hand. Take the skin between your thumb and index finger and pull it up. If it doesn’t go back immediately after letting go, this is a good indication that you should reach for the water bottle.
Dry and watery eyes can also be caused by a lack of fluid. The body saves water there, which is more urgently needed in other parts of the body, which is noticeable in the tear ducts. An overload of the eyes, air conditioning or dusty air intensify the drying out of the eyes additionally.
The dark shadows under the eyes can have many reasons. The most common reason for dark circles, besides lack of sleep, is actually a lack of fluid. So instead of having coffee, you’d better grab a large glass of water when you’re looking in the mirror. The fluid intake dilutes the blood, which provides the cells with sufficient oxygen again. A lack of oxygen is also often noticeable in the form of rings around the eyes.
Headache and joint pain
Although headaches and joint pains can have many causes, they are also an important warning signal for dehydration. The reason for this lies in the brain, which itself consists of about 70 percent water. Histamine is activated if there is a lack of water. The neurotransmitter initiates certain water regulation mechanisms that redistribute the available amount of water. The regulators moving in the nerve tracts, this process can trigger pain.
Fatigue is often not taken seriously and dismissed as a weakness. However, if you sleep well and are otherwise healthy, fatigue and reduced performance can be an indication of a lack of fluids. Instead of coffee, a large glass of water with a dash of lemon juice helps again.
A lack of fluid can also be easily recognized by the color of the urine. If this is light yellow or almost transparent, everything is fine. A dark yellow or even brownish colour as well as a strong smell of ammonia indicate dehydration.
A lack of fluid can also manifest itself in constipation and heartburn. When the body needs fluid but has no fluid at its disposal, it withdraws it from the colon. The intestinal contents are then thickened and constipation can occur. Since gastric acid also increases with dehydration, you can also get heartburn.
A feeling of hunger is often misinterpreted and is actually a sign of thirst and fluid deficiency. If you feel hungry in between, you should drink a glass of water first. This fills the stomach and ensures a sufficient supply of fluids. This method is also suitable if you want to lose weight.
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Little muscle mass
To build muscle, you have to train naturally. However, if you consume little water, it will be much harder for you than for others, despite your training. Like the rest of your body, your muscles are made up to a large extent of water. Sore muscles and injuries can also be minimized by sufficient fluid intake.
That’s how much you should drink
Now that you know why it is so important to drink enough fluids and what the consequences of dehydration can be, you are probably wondering how much you should drink. The German Nutrition Society recommends drinking at least one and a half to two litres throughout the day. The rest is ingested through solid food. As a rule of thumb, children up to one year of age should drink about 0.8 litres per day, children from 1 to 10 years of age one litre and children between ten and 15 years 1.5 litres. Then, like adults, one and a half to two litres. However, these figures are only a guideline and not a general rule. Because how much fluid you actually need depends on several factors.
If you spend a day on the couch in the cool living room during the summer, you will sweat less than if you lie down in the sun or do sports. Your personal hydration level depends on your activity level. If you sweat a lot and do sports, you will need significantly more than the recommended one and a half to two litres. Then you may well have to drink twice that amount. People who spend the whole day sitting in an (air-conditioned) office and get up only occasionally need less fluid than craftsmen or construction workers.
Calculate your own demand
Doctors at the Mayo Clinic, a renowned non-profit research organization in the USA, have developed a formula that you can use to calculate your water intake.
- Weight (in kg) x Age (in years) : 28.3 = ounces of water per day
Since Americans specify liquids in ounces and not in liters, you must multiply the result by 0.03 again. This means that a 25-year-old woman who weighs 55kg should consume just under 1.5 litres of water.
It is important that you look at your calculated fluid intake only as a guideline and absolute basic need, pay attention to the signals of your body and take into account external conditions and your activity level.
Tips for everyday life
After you have calculated your fluid requirements, the question now arises how you can cover them. A litre and a half to two litres don’t sound like much throughout the day. But there are enough people who find this supposedly small amount very difficult. If their fluid requirements increase due to heat or exercise, they quickly run the risk of dehydration. So that you can cover your basic needs or even increase your water consumption, we have put together a few tips for you that you can easily integrate into your everyday life.
Drink before you’re thirsty
Already after getting up you should drink a large glass of water. After all, your body hasn’t absorbed any fluid for several hours. For an extra energy boost you can spice up the water with a dash of lemon juice. Since many people do not feel sufficiently thirsty, you should not drink when you feel thirsty. Thirst is often the first warning sign that your body is missing more than just a sip of water.
Place your drinks in central locations at the workplace or at home, where they are clearly visible. You’ll be reminded of drinking over and over again. Also make sure that the bottle is large enough. There’s nothing more annoying than having to walk into the kitchen with your little glass. A bottle next to the bed can remind you to drink right after getting up and if you wake up at night and are thirsty, you don’t have to get up first but can take a big sip right away.
Take water with you
If you travel a lot, you should always have a supply of water in your car and take a bottle of water with you for shopping in town – especially in summer. At the latest when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, the tram can’t continue or the air conditioning in the train has failed again, you’ll be happy about your water supply.
Use pretty vessels
Whether glass carafe, drinking bottle or glass – pretty and with a beautiful motif or funny imprint they are guaranteed to increase your motivation to drink and are great to take away. Try it and you will see that you will automatically access more often. Straws can also increase the desire to drink. The drinking bottles also have an additional benefit.
If the taste of water is too boring for you, you can easily pimp your water with berries, cucumber or lemon slices and herbs such as mint, thyme or rosemary and add a little variety to your taste buds. So you can not only help in taste, but also optically. A nice glass of straw filled with water, fruit, herbs and ice cubes is guaranteed to make you want to drink.
Drink before eating
When your stomach growls, you should drink a glass of water. Perhaps you have confused the feeling of hunger with thirst and are now “full”. In addition, a glass of water before each meal is a good ritual and reminds you to drink. If your stomach is full after a meal, you’ll definitely not want a big glass anymore. If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, this method is also suitable for curbing your appetite and filling your stomach a little.
Remember how to drink
Your smartphone is certainly more often in your hand than a water bottle and is always ready to hand. Why shouldn’t you take advantage of that and use it as a drinking coach? Meanwhile there are countless apps that remind you to drink enough. Some apps even use your health data, if you maintain it in your smartphone, and calculate your exact needs according to your activity level. If you are rather playful, maybe a drinking Tamagotchi or an aquarium that you pour or fill virtually by app every time you drink something yourself will help you.
Mistakes around drinking
When it comes to “drinking properly”, of course, everyone has an opinion and well-intentioned advice. Meanwhile there are so many different guideline values to which one should supposedly adhere, that it is not so easy to keep track. We clean up the biggest mistakes.
Daily 3 litres
The false belief that every human being has to drink three litres of liquid a day is widespread. The golden 3-litre rule appears again and again, but is wrong. As already mentioned, the correct fluid intake is very individual and depends on various circumstances. You also consume about a third of the liquid you need through solid foods such as fruit and vegetables.
You can’t drink too much
If you drink too much in a very short time, the ratio of salts to water will be out of balance. The consequences can be cardiac arrhythmia and an impairment of the kidneys. In the worst case it can even come to a deadly water poisoning. In the short term, the body can excrete about one litre per hour. If you drink too much, the kidneys can no longer process the fluid, which can mess up the salt balance and flood your body. An unnecessary amount of water washes out important minerals and nutrients.
As a result, there are physical complaints such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, increased sweating, breathing problems and poor concentration, in particularly serious cases also muscle weakness, heart failure or brain edema. This is because the swelling of the cells promotes the formation of oedema. This is particularly dangerous for the brain as it cannot spread over the top of the skull. Particularly at risk are marathon runners who want to compensate for an extreme loss of fluid. However, it is rare in everyday life for a healthy person to drink too much. If you have concerns and an unusually high sense of thirst, make sure you don’t drink more than one liter of fluid per hour and talk to a doctor.
Relying on the feeling of thirst
Thirst is the first and of course the indicator that you lack fluid. At the same time, however, it is also a symptom of a slight lack of fluid. In addition, some people’s sense of thirst may be disturbed and is therefore not a reliable indicator of when it is time to drink. If you drink too little and your fluid balance is not covered, you should always take a sip in between, even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you drink too much, you should pay attention whether you are really always thirsty or whether it is a habit.
Coffee is not one of the liquid suppliers
You hear again and again that coffee draws fluid from the body. In fact, coffee has a diuretic effect. How strong this is, however, is also very individual and usually small. Coffee is not very suitable as a thirst quencher, but it is also one of the liquid suppliers to a certain extent.
Drinking a lot keeps the skin young
If you drink a lot, make sure your skin doesn’t dry out and stay elastic. However, water cannot stop the natural aging process either. However, the absorption of water stimulates the blood circulation, prevents small wrinkles and dark circles and stimulates the metabolism.
Drinking too much causes incontinence
People who drink a lot usually have to go to the toilet more often. However, it is very unlikely that this will cause incontinence. Those who drink too little, on the other hand, risk an infection of the urinary tract because the bladder and kidneys are not flushed enough.
Do not drink while eating
The body needs water to store the nutrients from food in the body. To store one gram of carbohydrates in the muscle glycogen stores, your body needs three times the amount of water. Even the digestive juices are not diluted to such an extent that they can no longer work properly with an adequate supply of fluids. In addition, water curbs the appetite and thus helps to lose weight.
Tap water is unhealthy
In Germany, there is a drinking water ordinance that places the highest demands on tap water and filter systems. Studies have repeatedly shown that some tap water is of even better quality than bottled mineral water. If you don’t want to drink still tap water, you can make your own sparkling water with an appropriate conditioner. However, tap water can be contaminated by old lead and copper pipes. However, it is not the waterworks, which meticulously control the quality of the water, that are to blame, but the in-house drinking water system. Lime-containing water is harmful for kettles and washing machines, but does not cause diseases such as dementia or arteriosclerosis.
Drinking for athletes
If you do sports, you must of course take this into account when you need fluids and drink more accordingly. The fluid deficit must be compensated to prevent muscle cramps, concentration problems or dehydration. As a rule of thumb, you should drink about half a litre to one litre of fluid per training hour. If you train for more than 45 minutes, you should drink 250 milliliters of fluid every half hour.
But also in sports, the fluid requirement is very individual and depends on factors such as body size and weight, training intensity, humidity, ambient temperature and even sportswear. In order to find out your individual fluid loss, you can weigh yourself before and after training. The difference tells you how much fluid you’ve lost.
If you sweat a lot during exercise, you will not only lose fluid, but also large amounts of magnesium, salt and other electrolytes. For this reason, isotonic and slightly hypotonic drinks, in which the electrolyte content is similar to that of the blood, are suitable during sport. As a rule, mineral water is sufficient to cover both the liquid and electrolyte requirements. It is important that the water contains enough sodium to better bind and absorb the water. About 200 milligrams per litre of liquid are optimal.
Those who train particularly intensively and sweat a lot can also fall back on mineral water with magnesium and calcium in a ratio of 1:2 and fruit spritzers from sodium-containing mineral water in a ratio of 1:1-1:3. Quickly available carbohydrates such as dextrose (glucose) or sugar enter the bloodstream more quickly. Eight grams of carbohydrates should be contained per 100 litres of liquid. You should avoid supposedly healthy sports drinks, as they usually contain much more sugar and unnecessarily many empty calories. Even pure fruit juices and soft drinks are not suitable as thirst quenchers during training.