Water is one of the most important substances on the planet. Without it, life could not be sustained. Not only does it make up about 70 per cent of the planet, but it also makes up about 60 per cent of our bodies and is vital for many of the functions and processes that we take for granted.
Depending on our fat stores, we can survive for up to eight weeks without eating, but only a few days without water.
Water plays many roles in the body, including temperature regulation, removing waste products, cellular functions and more, and it is for this reason that it’s so vital.
Water needs vary from person to person and depend on diet, activity levels and environmental factors such as heat, humidity and wind. As a general rule, we should aim to drink between 2.7 litres and 3.7 litres of water per day.
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Fatima Sadek, a clinical dietician at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, says maintaining the body’s water balance is vital.
“If we don’t have enough water in our body then most of our bodily functions will be affected, including nerves and muscles,” Sadek says.
“Our body naturally loses water every day. As we breathe, each exhalation gives off water vapour, and when we sweat, the body loses water through our pores. If we rid more body fluid than we take in, the body can become out of balance and dehydration can occur. Indeed, severe dehydration can be fatal.”
One of the first symptoms of dehydration is thirst. It’s the brain’s way of telling us we need something to drink. Sometimes though, people mistake thirst for hunger. Sadek says this is because the body can receive mixed signals when we don’t have enough to drink.
“Dehydration can cause you to believe you need to eat, when you really need a drink,” she explains.
Long-term dehydration – when you do not drink enough on a daily basis – will also leave you feeling tired. And when we are tired, we often feel hungry because our body thinks it needs food for energy.
But the long-term effects associated with dehydration aren’t confined to hunger. In fact, it may have serious health implications over time.
“Although there are some schools of thought that suggest a link between severe dehydration and serious conditions, the link is not specific,” Sadek says. “Currently it’s difficult for doctors to differentiate between water-deficient causes of illness and other potential causes.
“What is known is the right balance of hydration is important, so drinking water regularly throughout the day is strongly recommended.”
Some side effects of dehydration include:
• Increased thirst
• Dry mouth and swollen tongue
• Palpitations, such as feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding
• Inability to sweat
• Decreased urine output
To avoid dehydration, drink small amounts of water regularly throughout the day. “Water is a neutral liquid and will quench your thirst, help you lose that tired feeling and help make your body function properly and your organs run efficiently,” Sadek says.
Not only that, drinking enough water often results in less food consumption and overall better health. “The great thing about water is that you will often eat less when you have adequate hydration. Indeed water is the best antitoxin because it helps to flush toxins naturally out of your body. On the other hand, fizzy drinks contain additives that interfere with your body’s ability to rid itself of toxins.”
Here’s cheers to water: health, happiness and hydration.
Could your thirst be a sign of something more?
Excessive thirst is one of the early signs of diabetes and is often accompanied by severe dryness of the mouth. Sometimes however, the thirst builds very slowly and can be difficult to notice until other diabetes symptoms presents themselves, or until the point of major dehydration.
Clinical dietitian Fatima Sadek, from the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, says that while excessive thirst is a symptom of diabetes, on its own it isn’t a reliable indicator of the disease. “Increased thirst is a very common symptom, from allergies, the flu, common cold, almost anything that causes a fever, plus dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhoea,” she says.
Diabetes is best diagnosed by the presence of high blood-glucose levels. “When glucose levels are too high in the bloodstream, the kidneys lose the ability to pull out the glucose from water,” Sadek says.
“Under normal circumstances, almost all glucose is pulled out of urine – water – and back into the body, depending on the level of hydration. At the stage that the body can no longer do this, the osmotic pressure builds up. That is, the pressure that builds between a liquid with a high concentration of dissolved components and a liquid with a low concentration of undissolved components.
“Eventually, the osmotic pressure gets so high that water can no longer be absorbed back into your bloodstream and is in fact being absorbed out of your bloodstream. The result can be the sensation of extreme thirst.”
While thirst can be one of the early symptoms of diabetes, about half the people living with type 2 diabetes – more than 180 million worldwide – do not know they have the disease. The symptoms can be hard to detect and can be confused with other conditions. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all.
“It’s always better to catch type 2 diabetes early, because the good news is it can be managed, reversed or even prevented altogether,” Sadek says.
If you have any of the following symptoms and/or someone in your immediate family has diabetes, visit your doctor and ask for a simple diabetes test.
• Increased hunger, especially after eating
• Frequent urination
• Unexplained weight loss, even though you feel hungry and are eating regularly
• Blurred or decreased vision
• Slow-healing sores or cuts
• Itching of the skin, especially around the groin
• Frequent yeast infections
• Velvety dark skin changes of the neck, armpit and groin
• Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet
• Loss of consciousness (although this is rare)
Boost your daily water intake with these handy tips
• Carry a bottle of water everywhere. It will act as a reminder to keep drinking.
• Remember, you get water from food, not just from beverages. So, eat fruits and vegetables every day. Remember the ‘five a day’ rule of thumb – at least five servings of fruits and veggies every day.
• Be mindful that you are urinating frequently. You should be going every two to four hours and producing urine with a pale yellow colour.
• Try to drink between 2.7 litres and 3.7 litres of water per day.
For more information about diabetes and the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, visit www.iclde.ae or www.diabetesuae.ae