Benefits of Water: Why Chronic Dehydration is Slowly Killing You

“It is chronic water shortage in the body that causes most of the diseases of the human body”

– F. Batmanghelidj in “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water

You’d think that the importance of water for health is obvious – water builds more than 70% of your body, and it’s involved in all physiological processes.

Chronic dehydration will mess up all bodily functions, so the obvious choice is to drink the recommended amount of water every day. Right?

Unfortunately, the following statistic doesn’t agree: The average U.S. citizen drinks 58 gallons of water per year, which translates to 20 fl. oz. (0.6 liters) per day.

The adequate daily intake is estimated at:

  • 74 fl. oz. (2.2 liters) per day for women
  • 101 fl. oz. (3 liters) per day for men

No wonder most people today struggle with chronic health problems when the majority of people drink 70% less water than they should. Batmanghelidj was obviously right saying that chronic dehydration is the leading cause of most disease…

Water Intake Graph

Data Source: The Atlantic

At least the average person is now drinking more water than soda, which wasn’t always the case.

As you probably know, water builds approximately 70-75% of the human body. Water is present in every tissue, so dehydration affects all systems in the body and decreases their performance.

Most people rarely experience acute dehydration, which occurs when you have an illness that causes diarrhea or fever, causing the body to lose water. However, chronic dehydration is more common as we tend to forget drinking water throughout the  day.

We are so used to chronic dehydration that we rarely associate it with the following symptoms:

The following sections explain how water prevents those problems and refer you to more information related to the problems you want to address.

Important: Although drinking water quantity is important, don’t forget that water quality also affects your health. The last section on this page gives you a short introduction to water contaminants and water filtration strategies you can use to purify your water. (Skip to section)


Water and Physical Performance

Water has several roles that affect your physical performance. Adequate hydration maintains a high level of physical performance because water:

  • increases breathing potential and helps the lungs perform better.
  • increases tolerance to elevated core temperature.
  • improves the sweating rate to dissipate more heat.
  • decreases the rate of glycogen use so that your muscles can perform more high-intensity work.

Losing as little as 3% of water relative to your body weight affects those systems and reduces both aerobic and high-intensity performance capacity. Significant dehydration (5-8% or more) decreases endurance by more than 50% and makes high-intensity work nearly impossible.

Dehydration Effects on Performance

Data Source: Sport Nutrition (2nd ed.) An Introduction to Energy Production and Performance

The reductions in physical performance you see in the graph apply only to mild climates. Hot and humid climates reduce physical performance even in well-hydrated athletes, so environmental conditions combined with dehydration decrease physical performance.

The effects of dehydration on physical performance are immediate, but it may take several days to recover from one instance of dehydration. That’s why you want to reach your recommended daily water intake every single day.

Further Reading

If you are physically active, follow the steps in the article “Hydration and Electrolyte Replenishment During Exercise” to calculate your baseline water intake and the required water intake during exercise.

If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you can also refer to that article and calculate your daily water requirement without adjusting for physical activity.


Water Protects the Joints

Although water builds only 22% of the bones, it helps joints function better by:

  • lubricating the joints to prevent damage during movement
  • preventing sedimentation that will damage joint health and range of motion

However, increasing water intake is beneficial even for people who already have certain medical conditions:

  • Arthritis: In addition to lubricating the joints, increasing water intake can also reduce inflammation that causes severe chronic pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients (Source).
  • Gout: If the body can’t flush the excessive uric acid, it will crystallize in the joints and increase the risk for a gout attack. It is estimated that only 5 glasses of water per day can decrease the risk of gout attacks by 40% (Source).
  • Other: You can never go wrong with drinking enough water to meet the recommended daily requirements. Your body will be grateful.

Water Speeds Up Weight Loss

If you want to lose weight, your first step should be increasing water intake because chronic dehydration:

  • increases insulin levels, so the body will store more fat.
  • affects liver functions, so the liver can’t process fat as fast as it should.
  • affects kidney functions, so they can’t purify your blood as fast as they should.

When you start drinking enough water:

  • your metabolism will speed up.
  • insulin levels decrease, which reduces both fat storage and risk for diabetes.
  • you will not feel hungry as much as you would when chronically dehydrated because water is an appetite suppressant.
  • your toxin elimination system will work better.

Drinking more water can be an excellent first step to achieving your weight loss goals. It won’t happen overnight, but drinking more water is a long-term investment in your health, not just your weight loss goals.

Further Reading

The article “Can Drinking More Water Help You Lose Weight?” explains how much weight you can expect to lose if you increase your water intake. It also recommends additional strategies for promoting weight loss.


Water and Your Hormones

Dehydration causes hormonal imbalances that lead to serious chronic health complications. Serious as in diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular problems.

Although the human body has many hormones, let’s stick to those that are well-known to make things simple:

  • Testosterone and cortisol – The testosterone/cortisol ratio changes throughout the day, but dehydration reduces testosterone while increasing cortisol. This leads to so many unwanted outcomes that it’s impossible to list them all here Continue reading here…
  • Estrogen – This hormone is listed so that women don’t feel forgotten, but there is not enough research on the relationship between estrogen and hydration to ensure that any statements are valid. An article dedicated to estrogen will be added once appropriate literature is found.
  • Insulin – This is a hormone you don’t want to mess up. Dehydration increases insulin resistance, and prolonged states of high plasma insulin and insulin resistance lead to not just diabetes, but also cardiovascular disease and cancer. Continue reading here…
  • Melatonin – Dehydration reduces melatonin, but don’t take supplements! One of the side-effects of melatonin supplements is dehydration, which is not good for an already-dehydrated body. Because melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle and mood regulation, decreasing melatonin with dehydration can cause both insomnia and mood swings.

Water and Mood Regulation

Some people control extreme moods by dunking their head in bowls with water and ice. If you’re not a masochist, don’t feel left out – you can improve your mood just by drinking water to stay well-hydrated:

  • This study found that women with mild dehydration were more likely to be in a bad mood than well-hydrated women. The authors believe that the change in mood is linked to survival. The brain puts you in a bad mood to warn you that your physiological functions are at risk, just like your chances of survival if you don’t find water soon. Fortunately, you don’t need to scout for water in modern society, so survival has never been easier – just head to the nearest water cooler or tap.
  • This study found that men with mild dehydration had higher perceptions of anxiety and psychological tension than well-hydrated men. Even if it’s just your personal perception, it can make your life difficult. Our minds aren’t objective, so it’s a good idea to give it a positive outlook whenever possible. Apparently, that’s not easy when your body is at risk for dehydration.

The negative effects of dehydration on mood already occur during rest, and mood during dehydration further deteriorates after moderate physical activity. So don’t leave your house dehydrated.

Further Reading

Start your day right by drinking water on an empty stomach to make sure you rehydrate yourself after a long night of sleep so that your mood is easier to regulate during the day.

Want to find out how dehydrated you are? The easiest way to make an estimate is to use a urine color chart, and you can find one in this article.


Water and Sleep Quality

Short and to-the-point: Chronic dehydration reduces the amounts of essential amino acids your body needs to produce melatonin. Low melatonin leads to insomnia.

Assuming that chronic water shortage is the cause of your insomnia, there is one situation you should avoid: If you realize that you did not drink enough water throughout the day, don’t just guzzle 1+ quarts/liters of water before you go to bed. That would just make your situation worse and increase the chances of getting up at night to pee.

A better approach is to:

  • Start your day by drinking water (Read more here)
  • Drink water before every meal (1-2 glasses)
  • Reduce drinking soda if necessary because it will dehydrate you

The idea is to spread drinking water throughout the day and avoid drinking water 1-2 hours before bedtime.

Chronic dehydration isn’t the only condition that leads to melatonin deficiency:

  • Other lifestyle habits, such as smoking or low protein diets or alcohol consumption, can also lead to low melatonin and insomnia.
  • Traumatic events, such as loss or abuse, also affect sleep quality until those issues are resolved, preferably with assistance from a professional counselor.
  • Physical and psychological conditions can affect sleep quality.

We can’t blame everything on water shortage, but drinking enough water can help regulate the sleep cycle, even when people suffer from traumatic events or medical conditions – as long as they receive appropriate therapy to address the causes.


Water and the Brain

As you probably know, water builds a lot of your brain tissue, but how do the consequences of chronic dehydration manifest?

  • Headache – Without a physical cause, other than water shortage in the body, headaches are more common in dehydrated people than in well-hydrated people.
  • Reduced focus – Can’t maintain your attention for prolonged periods of time? Well, if you’ve made it this far into the text, you’re probably one of the few people with good attention spans. Without water, it is difficult to maintain concentration over prolonged periods of time.
  • Increased mental fatigue/lethargy – Dehydrated people are usually not in the mood to do anything that requires spending mental energy, probably because they perceive tasks to be more difficult than they actually are (Source).
  • Anxiety and mental tension – Dehydration leads to increased amounts of psychological stress you have to deal with. We all have to deal with a certain level of psychological stress, but drinking enough water makes it easier to deal with it – even if it only reduces the perception of stress magnitude.
  • Cognitive impairment – This is a general term used to describe any problem related to processing information, storing memories, and so on… This study found that impaired executive functions (e.g., short-term memory, focus, and information delegation to long-term memory) can be attributed to changes in brain structures caused by dehydration.

These are just some immediate effects of mild dehydration. Severe and acute dehydration can lead to delirium, fainting, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, and various other symptoms.

Don’t worry too much about severe dehydration because it usually occurs when other disease cause rapid water loss. However, you’ll want to stay well-hydrated at all times to reduce risk of severe dehydration and conditions that lead to dehydration because water improves your immune system.


Water and Your Immune System

Be honest – when you think about the immune system what comes to mind first, pharmaceuticals or lifestyle choices?

Most people don’t think about health while they have it, so it becomes a condition you restore with medicine. Of course, medicine is necessary in many cases. Your lifestyle can reduce risk for disease, but there is always a degree of risk involved in life. You can’t spend the rest of it in a sterile room, but you can help your immune system protect you.

Unfortunately, we are usually focused on solving problems rather than preventing them. Start thinking about maintaining health instead of solving disease, and the obvious choices are:

  • Reduce risk for genetic mutations
  • Reduce risk for external infections

Building healthy lifestyle habits addresses both. You don’t have to reinvent your life if you feel that you’re starting from nothing. Simply start by drinking more water and improving drinking water quality.

Water quantity affects all systems in the body. Any physical stress, including chronic dehydration, suppresses the immune system and makes it less effective.

However, when it comes to your health, water quality is as important as water quantity. “The quality of water we drink and the air we breathe can actually affect the integrity of our DNA” (Source). To experience all the health benefits of water, you also need to think about water quality.


Improve Drinking Water Quality to Improve Your Health

Think your country has a clean water supply? Chances are it doesn’t. No matter how advanced you think society is, it still consists of humans. We tend to take things for granted, and that is obvious in our relationship with water.

If you read about these water pollution facts, you’ll notice that there are few distinctions between the “third world” countries and “first world” countries. As we all share the same planet, and the same water circulates throughout our planet, any source of water pollution affects the whole world.

Not to mention that dangerous substances and unregulated substances can be found in the water supply, with a count of more than 300. That statistic doesn’t come from “third world” countries – it’s from the Environmental Working Group analysis of the United States water supply.

Waiting for the government to find alternative ways to disinfect the pipelines without producing hazardous substances isn’t a good option. To learn how you can improve the quality of your drinking water, read about the different ways to purify water at home and while traveling.