Remaining hydrated is critical to your overall health because every cell in your body needs water to function properly. Moreover, water accounts for two-thirds of a healthy human body and is responsible for lubricating the joints and eyes, eliminating body waste and toxins, facilitating digestion, and keeping the skin healthy.
Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluids than you take in, resulting in insufficient water content for your biological system to work properly.
Inadequate water intake during the summer months compounded by strenuous exercise that induces excessive perspiration can give rise to a dehydration spell in people of all ages. Aside from these, there are several other causes that may lead to this condition.
Causes of Dehydration
Breathing, sweating, urination, defecation, tears, and saliva are the normal sources of water loss in your body every day. The lost liquid is then replenished through the fluids and food items (with water content) we consume.
Dehydration occurs when a person loses too much water from the body or is unable to eat or drink enough to keep the body hydrated.
Those who are at high risk of suffering from this condition include:
- Young children
- Older adults
- People with chronic illnesses
- Endurance athletes
- People living at high altitudes
Your body may lose more water than usual due to:
- Vigorous exercise in hot weather
- Being in the sun too long (heatstroke)
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Excessive sweating
- Excessive urination (Diabetes and some medications like water pills–also called diuretics – can make you pee more often.)
Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
Symptoms of dehydration in adults include:
- Feeling thirsty
- Dark-yellow and strong-smelling pee
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Muscle cramps
- Feeling tired
- Dry mouth, lips, and eyes
- Insufficient urination
- Urinating less than four times a day
Symptoms associated with dehydration in infants or young children are:
- Dry mouth and tongue
- No tears when crying
- No wet diapers for three hours
- Sunken eyes and cheeks
- Sunken soft spot on top of the skull
- Listlessness or irritability
Symptoms of severe or chronic dehydration are:
- Extreme thirst
- Little or no urination
- Sunken eyes
- Very dry mouth
- Dry skin that lacks elasticity
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Delirium or unconsciousness
If you are already dehydrated, follow the following simple steps:
- Drink oral rehydration solution (ORS) or plenty of fresh fruit juices to rehydrate your body.
- Drink fluids in small sips at regular intervals.
- Loosen your clothing and remove the extra layers.
- If available, use a spray bottle or mister to spray water on exposed skin surfaces to help with cooling by evaporation.
There are a number of safe and natural methods that can be used to treat dehydration.
Natural Treatment Options for Dehydration
Here are some easy and effective home remedies for dehydration.
1. Increase Your Water Intake
The first step towards treating dehydration is increasing your water intake. Water is usually enough to rehydrate adults. You should drink sufficient water, even if you do not feel particularly thirsty.
- Sip small amounts of water or other clear fluids throughout the day.
- Drink carbohydrate- or electrolyte- containing drinks.
- Suck on popsicles and consume sports drinks.
- Suck on frozen bottled water or ice chips. Do this at frequent intervals.
According to the Institute of Medicine, healthy adult men living in a temperate climate need an adequate intake of about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages in a day, while healthy adult women need about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages in a day.
2. Homemade ORS
Prompt restoration of lost fluids and minerals in the body is important when one is suffering from dehydration. An easy way to achieve this is with the help of a homemade ORS.
A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology states that ORS is effective against dehydration mortality caused by diarrhea in home, community, and facility settings.
- Add ½ teaspoon of salt and 6 teaspoons of sugar (or brown sugar) to 4 cups of drinking water.
- Stir thoroughly until the salt and sugar dissolve completely.
- Drink this homemade ORS several times a day until you recover completely.
You can also buy drugstore ORS approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Have a cup of plain yogurt a few times daily. You may add a little cottage cheese to the yogurt.
- You may also eat plain boiled rice with yogurt and a little salt.
4. Water-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
If you are suffering from mild to moderate dehydration, it will help to increase your intake of water-rich fruits and vegetables.
According to a study conducted at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) in 2009, fruits and vegetables that have high water content hydrate the body twice as effectively as a glass of water.
A study that published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) states that regular fruit and vegetable intake may relevantly improve hydration status in children.
Fruits and vegetables with high water content contain hydrating salts, minerals, and sugars. Therefore, they work in a way similar to the isotonic drinks favored by athletes.
A few examples of such fruits and vegetables are watermelon, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, cucumber, grapes, papaya, celery, lettuce, radishes, spinach, zucchini, and tomatoes.
- Eat these foods as snacks.
- You may also add them to your salads or smoothies.
Bananas are another fruit that can help you in treating mild dehydration. Dehydration results in loss of essential minerals like potassium in the body. Being rich in potassium, bananas can help restore this important mineral.
Moreover, it may help in restoring the normal functioning of cramped muscles caused by excess water loss in the body.
- Eat one to two bananas during the day.
- You can also drink banana smoothies.
6. Coconut Water
Consuming a glass of coconut water may also help treat dehydration. The high electrolyte content of coconut water makes it an extremely hydrating drink. Moreover, it is relatively low in calories and sugar.
According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2012), coconut water has a positive effect that is quite similar to sports drinks.
- Drink a glass of tender coconut water a few times daily for rehydrating your body. Because coconut water is rapidly absorbed by the cells, you will get quick results.
According to Ayurveda, buttermilk is a good remedy for mild dehydration. It replenishes the essential minerals that are lost during excessive sweating (one of the main causes of dehydration).
- Drink a glass of buttermilk a few times a day to help your body recover.
- Another option is to drink 1 cup of buttermilk mixed with ½ teaspoon of dry ginger a few times a day.
8. Barley Water
Barley water is another effective remedy to keep your body hydrated. The nutrients in barley help replenish minerals lost with dehydration. Barley water can provide quick relief from symptoms of dehydration as it is easily digested and keeps the body cool.
- Mix 1 cup of soaked barley in 3 to 4 cups of water.
- Bring it to a boil, and then simmer (covered) for 45 to 60 minutes.
- Allow it to cool then strain it.
- Add a little lemon juice and honey.
- Drink barley water at regular intervals.
9. Lemon Water
Lemon water is an excellent remedy for dehydration. This soothing drink will help hydrate the body to keep you feeling energized and refreshed.
- Add the juice of ½ lemon to a glass of water.
- Add 1 teaspoon of raw honey, ½ teaspoon of black pepper powder, and a pinch of salt.
- Drink this soothing drink at regular intervals.
You can prevent dehydration by doing a few simple things, such as:
- Keep yourself sufficiently hydrated before going outside, especially in hot and sunny weather.
- Consume food items with high water content.
- To prevent dehydration, carry a refillable water bottle with you when going out.
- Avoid alcohol if you are prone to dehydration. It has a dehydrating effect.
- Wear suitable and breathable clothing if you are regularly out in the heat or indulge in vigorous exercise.
- Do not exercise during the hottest part of the day.
- Pay special attention to infants and the elderly because they are more susceptible to becoming dehydrated.
- Rest in a cool place. Avoid further exertion.
- When dehydrated, do not drink sodas, coffee, or highly sugary beverages, as these can worsen your condition.
- Avoid too much fruit juice, as the sugar in it can raise your blood sugar levels.
- When dehydrated, stick to bland foods for a couple of days.
- If the dehydration is due to prolonged physical activity, consume a sports drink that contains electrolytes.
When to See a Doctor
It is recommended that you call the emergency hotline or visit the doctor when you experience the following symptoms associated with severe dehydration:
- Fast breathing
- A soft spot on the head that sinks inwards
- Dark-yellow urine
- Few or no tears while crying
- Blotchy-looking and cold hands and feet
- Dry mouth
- Irritability and disorientation
- Sleepier or less active than usual
- Black or bloody stool
- Inability to keep down fluids
- Diarrhea for 24 hours or more
If not treated in time, dehydration may lead to several serious complications. Mild dehydration may be treated without medical intervention. However, you should seek medical help for severe dehydration.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Amber Robins, MD (Family Doctor)
How dangerous is dehydration during pregnancy?
For most women, dehydration during pregnancy could lead to having uterine contractions at various stages of pregnancy. The concern for anyone, whether pregnant or not, would be that severe dehydration can lead to lower blood pressure, and less blood reaching vital organs needed for the body to work appropriately.
To avoid this, pregnant women should be sure to drink water, especially during times of warmer weather.
Is milk a good choice to rehydrate?
Milk is a source of rehydration though water or a drink with electrolytes may be even better. For those who may be having diarrhea or vomiting, drinking something with electrolytes is preferred to replace those that were lost. Milk can help increase calcium levels but is not the go-to for rehydration.
Which organs are the most affected during a dehydration spell?
The body has a way to compensate for minor dehydration, which does not severely affect organs. However, with very severe dehydration that is caused by low fluid intake or even excessive bleeding, the body can go into shock, which can affect the brain, liver, kidneys, and heart.
How accurate is the pinching test to check if you are dehydrated?
The pinching test is usually used for severe dehydration. It is not common that people would get to this point often. A sign of if you are dehydrated in the earlier stages would be looking at the color of your urine. The more yellow your urine is, the more dehydrated you likely are.
Can drinking excessive coffee lead to dehydration?
Coffee can cause dehydration as it is a diuretic causing one to urinate more. This leads to fluid loss from the body. To balance out the effects of coffee, it can be helpful to drink more water to replenish the body with the fluids that were lost.
Please provide some suggestions on how to avoid dehydration for the benefit of our readers.
The simplest test of whether you are hydrated is by looking at your urine. If your urine is clear, it is more likely that you are hydrated. To avoid dehydration, it is good to plan specific times during the day to rehydrate.
If you know that you will be in a warmer climate, you should remember to carry water with you to hydrate throughout the day.
About Dr. Amber Robins, MD: Dr. Robins is a Board-Certified Family Medicine doctor practicing in Washington, DC, and graduate of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is the owner of Camillia Wellness & Aesthetics, LLC. She is a recent Health and Media fellow graduate from Georgetown University and PBS News Hour.
She is the author and founder of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” and “The Write Prescription: Finding the ‘Right’ Spiritual Dosage to Overcome Any Obstacle”.
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