It seems like a new fad diet emerges every day. Weight Watchers, South Beach, Keto, Carnivore, Mediterranean, Paleo, and the Raw Foods diet all claim the ability to deliver good health, weight loss, and that body you’ve always dreamed of.

Each diet promotes and vilifies different foods. “Eat this, but don’t touch these.” The vilified foods of one diet are the promoted foods of the other. With so many conflicting ideas out there it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t.

But one thing that’s consistent across the board no matter what diet you’re looking into is the importance of water. The exact numbers aren’t always the same, but the idea that you should drink plenty of water every day is a universal idea.

Some diets say you need at least 64oz a day, some say you need to drink your body weight in ounces in water every day, others say you only need half of your body weight. You’ll also obviously need to drink more water if you’re physically active and sweat a lot throughout the day.

So what’s the reasoning behind this? Why is water an essential part of any diet?

The short answer is to avoid dehydration. But there’s more to it than that.

Let’s take a closer look at dehydration, why it should be avoided at all costs, and the role water plays in it.

What is dehydration?

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Dehydration happens when your body doesn’t get all the water it needs. This occurs when your body loses more water than it takes in. If you aren’t replacing your lost fluids, you will become dehydrated.

When you’re deficient in water, you become dehydrated, and your body loses its ability to function correctly. Dehydration can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on how much fluid is missing from your body.

Anyone can become dehydrated, but young children and the elderly are at the greatest risk of dehydration, and it’s side effects.

Symptoms of dehydration

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So how do you know if you’re dehydrated? What are the symptoms? The symptoms vary based on the severity of the dehydration. And young children can have slightly different symptoms as well.

Mild or moderate dehydration symptoms:

  • Thirst
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps

Symptoms of severe dehydration:

  • No urination
  • Extremely dark yellow urine
  • Extreme dry skin
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sunken eyes
  • Sleepiness, lack of energy, confusion or irritability
  • Fainting

While all of those symptoms can be found in anyone suffering from dehydration, there are a few symptoms unique to young children. They are:

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • No tears when crying
  • Dry diapers for 3 or more hours
  • Sunken eyes, cheeks, or a soft spot on the top of the skull

If you have any symptoms of severe dehydration listed above, you need to stop reading this and see a doctor. Severe dehydration is considered a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately.

How dehydration alters mood

One of the most overlooked symptoms of dehydration is the impact it has on your mood. In a new study of 25 healthy women, along with increased fatigue, and headaches, mild dehydration dampened moods. The women weren’t athletes or couch potatoes, but somewhere in between.

The women were given tests measuring their concentration, memory, and mood when they were dehydrated and when they were not. Overall, women’s mental ability was not affected by mild dehydration, but they did have an increase in the perception of task difficulty and lower concentration.

Causes of dehydration

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Now that we know if we’re dehydrated or not, let’s figure out what causes us to get dehydrated in the first place.

The first, most obvious causes of dehydration is not drinking enough water, losing too much water, or a combination of both. Most people simply don’t drink enough water, no matter what the reason.

Other causes of dehydration include:

Diarrhea – Diarrhea is one of the most common causes of dehydration and dehydration-related deaths. This is a major problem in developing countries whose citizens don’t have regular access to clean drinking water. Diarrhea prevents the large intestine from extracting water from food, leading to dehydration.

Vomiting – Most people suffering from the flu and related sicknesses are also suffering from dehydration without realizing it. Vomiting leads to a loss of fluids and makes it harder for you to replace them by drinking water because your body can’t keep it down.

Sweat – Dogs pant to cool themselves, humans sweat. When we sweat, our bodies release a significant amount of fluid in order to cool us off. Hot and Humid weather, vigorous physical activity, or even a fever that induces sweating can further increase fluid loss due to sweating.

Diabetes – High blood sugar levels related to diabetes cause increased urination and fluid loss.

Burns – Even though this is unlikely to happen to most of us (thankfully), severe burns can also cause dehydration. When you sustain severe burns, blood vessels can become damaged, causing fluid to leak into the surrounding tissues.

When to see a doctor

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There are several instances when you should seek medical attention for your dehydration. Most of the time we can correct our dehydration by drinking more water, but if you start noticing these symptoms, you need to see a doctor:

  • Increased or constant vomiting for more than a day
  • Fever over 101 F but less than 103 F
  • Constant diarrhea for more than 2 days
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Decreased urine production
  • Weakness

If you notice the following symptoms in yourself or a loved one, you need to go directly to the emergency room:

  • Fever higher than 103 F
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Severe headaches
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Fainting
  • No urine in the last 12 hours

Severe dehydration is nothing to joke about and needs to be treated immediately. In extreme situations, your doctor will give you an IV to start replacing your lost fluids. They also treat the symptoms you were suffering from when you arrived.

Best ways to avoid dehydration

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The best way to cure dehydration is to avoid it altogether. When you become dehydrated, your body loses its ability to function properly, so we should do everything in our power to prevent dehydration from occurring.

The first and easiest step to prevent dehydration is to drink water. Drink water before you feel thirsty. If you wait to drink until you’re thirsty, it’s often too late. If you’re wondering how much water you should be drinking, the best thing to do is ask your doctor.

There are several factors that will influence how much water you need to drink on a daily basis, and your doctor will be best prepared to give you a figure to shoot for.

Other ways to avoid becoming dehydrated are:

  1. Eat foods with high amounts of water like fruits and vegetables. If you don’t like drinking bottle after bottle of water, watermelon, cucumbers, and pineapples are great sources of water.
  2. Avoid or limit drinks with caffeine like coffee, teas, and soft drinks. Common ingredients in these drinks, like sugars, will actually dehydrate you instead of replenishing you. If you’re thirsty, the last thing you want to do is grab a sugary drink. You need a bottle of water.
  3. Avoid or limit drinks with alcohol. Alcohol actually increases your urine output, accelerating your chances of becoming dehydrated.

Dehydration during pregnancy

We mentioned earlier that young children and the elderly are at a higher risk of dehydration. Pregnant women also need to be very aware of their water levels and the symptoms of dehydration.

Pregnant women need even more fluids than your average person because water plays a critical role in the development of their unborn baby. Water helps form the placenta, which is what the baby depends on to receive the nutrients it needs. Water is also used to form the amniotic sac later on in the pregnancy.

So if you or your wife is pregnant, it is especially important to drink enough water during the pregnancy. Again, if you aren’t sure how much to drink, check with your doctor. It’s always a good rule of thumb to drink more than you think you need.

Drink your water

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Dehydration is nothing to laugh at. It seems like something that is easily avoidable and curable but left untreated, it can cause severe issues, including death. Look out for the warning signs, and drink water as the first sign of feeling thirsty. Don’t wait that long, drink before you’re thirsty. When you first start feeling thirsty, you’ve already begun the descent to dehydration.

Drink as much water as possible. Teas, coffees, sodas, and alcohol don’t treat dehydration, they actually accelerate it. There’s nothing better than an old-fashioned glass of water.

And please, see a doctor if necessary. Dehydration can cause permanent damage and death. Drink your water. Don’t jeopardize your life because you should’ve drunk a little more water.