When someone is educating us on better nutrition, it’s usually along the lines of more fruits and veggies, a balance of lean protein and healthy carbs, less sugar, and what to look for in a good multivitamin. But what about water?
We have a host of beverages at our disposal, from juice and sports drinks to coffee and soft drinks. In theory, with the ease of access that all of us have in getting a drink, no one should go thirsty.
Yet, chronic dehydration is a major problem because what we should be drinking — but are largely ignoring due to the assortment of flavored drinks — is pure water.
The human adult body consists of 60 percent water. Babies are born with their bodies being 78 percent water! And children are about 65 percent water. It may be difficult to imagine where all the water goes in the body, but it’s there as an essential part of our cells. Most of the water in our bodies can be found in our lungs, muscles, kidneys, brain, and heart but also in our bones! So it’s easy to see that how even mild dehydration may affect our bodies.
How much water we need to drink each day depends on our age:
- 1 year old = 1 cup of water (8 oz)
- 2 years old = 2 cups of water
- 3 years old = 3 cups of water
- 4 years old = 4 cups of water
- 5 years old = 5 cups of water
- 6 years old = 6 cups of water
- 7 years old = 7 cups of water
- 8+ years old = at least 8 cups of water.
Keep in mind that these recommended amounts are over and beyond any cups of juice, milk, or other beverages your child or yourself is consuming in a given day.
So what happens when our bodies don’t get enough water? Well, if you become severely dehydrated — which is very dangerous for young children and older adults — this can be life-threatening.
But even mild dehydration can take a toll on your body. The effects are felt in every body system, especially the:
- Brain’s function
- Hormone production
- Body temperature regulation
- Blood volume
- Joint lubrication
- Moist mucus membranes
- Flushing of body waste via urine.
For most people, including children, the key to getting enough water is to not allow milk, juice, and other beverages replace their daily water intake requirements.
I’ve often heard it said from my dietician that if you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already mildly dehydrated. So it’s better to just drink water regularly through the day, rather than wait to drink when you’re thirsty.
However, for me, it’s not that simple. I have Sjogren’s Syndrome, a systemic autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the moisture-producing glands in my body. I live in a constant state of dehydration and understand full well the effects that lack of water have on the body as my digestive system is wrecked every day by the toll of trying to digest without enough of the moisture to do so. My digestive troubles have nothing on the classic dry eye and mouth symptoms most often associated with this condition.
Others who need to be extra careful about trying to get more water in their daily diets are those who take certain medications. Antihistamines and decongestants are just a couple among the host of medications that have a drying effect on the body. Check with your pharmacist on side effects of the medications you and your children take.
Also, and this applies especially to young children, there is a definite concern for dehydration that comes along with infections — particularly severe vomiting and diarrhea, but also urinary tract infections.
Finally, if you exercise or are active in hot weather, this is another time to be careful about balancing your water intake. Sweat carries moisture out, so you’ll need to bring it back in.