Dehydration explained: what is it and how can it be prevented?
What is dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when we lose more fluids than we’ve consumed, and it’s easier than we think to do so. In fact, research has found that many of us aren’t staying optimally hydrated, and one study found that in the U.S, more than half of all children aren’t consuming enough water.
Fluids are frequently lost through sweating and urination, so it’s important to maintain adequate water intake in your day-to-day routine. And that’s just for the average person; if you’re exercising, working in a labour-intensive role, out in the sun or you’ve become unwell with sickness or a fever, you’ll need to consume even more water to avoid dehydration. Plus, when it comes to sweating, it’s not just the beaming hot sun and balmy temperatures that can bring this on. The winter months are deceiving and it’s equally as easy to become dehydrated in cool temperatures.
What are the effects of dehydration?
Dehydration can be mild or extreme. Most of the time it can be treated at home, however, in extreme cases when too much water is lost from the body, individuals might need to be hospitalised or seek emergency care.
The most common symptoms to look out for include:
Dry skin and lips
Fever and chills
It’s important to look out for these signs and symptoms to stay on top of your hydration needs — even noticing small signs like feeling thirsty can make a big difference later on. Dr. Laura Goldberg from the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health states that if you already feel thirsty, you will already be dehydrated. It can be as easy as that to detect.
What causes dehydration?
The most common causes of dehydration include excessive sweating, diarrhoea, sickness or fever. In Australia, the hot climate is one of the most common reasons why people become dehydrated. Our bodies naturally cool themselves by activating our sweat glands to release moisture which evaporates from our skin and releases heat. Sweat consists of water and salt, and if sweating occurs in excess it can lead to dehydration as a result of significant water loss.
Sweating can sometimes go unnoticed, particularly if you’re enjoying a beach day and you’re in and out of the water or you’re actually swimming for exercise. Swimmers might not realise they’re sweating, but in reality they could lose just as much water as they do when running or taking part in other forms of physical activity. Likewise, office workers in hot climates might forget about the time they’ve spent in the heat once they’ve arrived in an air-conditioned office, suddenly feeling cold and forgetting about any possible risk of dehydration.
Excessive sweating also occurs during exercise, but not just the type you schedule around work to keep fit. Many individuals who work in labour-intensive roles are at high risk of becoming dehydrated. It’s not just the physical activity they’re doing over the course of the hot day, but the safety equipment and uniforms that can cause excessive sweating through heat.
How can we stay hydrated?
While there are approximate guidelines around how much water we should be drinking, there’s really not one answer for all of us. The amount of water we need to consume depends on each individual — body composition, environment and physical activity are key factors that can impact hydration levels. However, it’s useful to be aware of the general guidelines. Many studies suggest that women should be drinking on average eight glasses of water a day, while men should be drinking 10. Water intake doesn’t just come from H20 — eating fruits and vegetables are additionally essential when it comes to staying hydrated.
When it comes to exercising, it’s recommended that you hydrate before your workout, topping up your fluid levels before any additional water is lost. During the exercise, it’s also important to keep hydrated. Taking a bottle of water with you or using a hydration supplement such as a Mydrade sachet is highly recommended. The same goes for hot and cold weather; it’s advised to regularly drink water, consume hydrating foods and avoid dehydrating food and drinks such as alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
Unlike many hydration supplements, Mydrade doesn’t have any added sugar or caffeine, making it a reliable go-to drink when you’re at risk of dehydration or you’re beginning to feel parched.
Use a hydration calculator
Another way you can keep on top of your hydration is by using a hydration calculator. There are several types of calculators: electronic calculators online or manual equations you can do yourself. The former takes into account everything from your gender, age, weight, physical activity, environmental factors and of course, your daily drinking habits. Once you’ve inputted the details, the calculator will estimate how much water you will lose in a day, and therefore how much you need to consume.
The manual equations are typically based on your weight and physical activity. The heavier you are, the more water you’ll need to consume; likewise, the more exercise you do, the higher you’re fluid intake should be.
First, the equation takes into account your body weight. For a 55-kilogram female, the equation would be:
55/30 = 1.8 litres of water per day
We then need to consider the amount of water lost through physical activity. It’s recommended that you add 0.35 litres of water for every 30 minutes of exercise. Therefore, if the same 55-kilogram female works out for 45 minutes per day she will need to consume 0.53 litres of additional water per day:
45/30 x 0.35 = 0.53 litres of water per day
When you combine this with her weight and daily loss of water, this equates to a total of
1.8 + 0.53 litres = 2.33 litres of water per day
Dehydration can easily occur, but by implementing various day-to-day habits it can easily be avoided. These include: drinking plenty of water, eating fruit and vegetables, monitoring fluid intake and if needed, taking a hydration supplement such as Mydrade.