Dehydration: More Than Thirst

During the summer months, dehydration becomes a common topic of conversation. We hear stories of people succumbing to the relentless heat and ending up in the hospital. Staying hydrated is important for everyone but, as we grow older the need to stay properly hydrated increases while the body’s ability to hold on to vital fluids decreases. You know you need water but do you truly know why?

Water is Life

Every function in your body is in some way affected by the efficiency of water distribution in your cells, organs and tissues. Water transports hormones that are essential to your body’s communication with itself. Nutrients are delivered to your tissues via lifegiving water. Distribution and balance of fluids are an intricate dance beautifully performed by your body. As we age however, a number of factors can come into play that cause us to  lose the rhythm of the dance.

Many prescription medications and over the counter drugs report dehydration as a side effect. Add to that the fact that, as the kidneys age, their permeability and filtering efficiency decrease. Other physical factors like pain can play a part as well. When simply walking from one room to the next to fill your water glass is uncomfortable or even painful, you are less likely to make the effort. To top it all off, as you age your body’s more familiar thirst signals diminish so you can’t rely on the usual “I feel thirsty” message to pop into your head.

Dehydration is More Than Thirst

Lack of proper hydration can lead to some surprising health challenges. In fact, fluid imbalance can masquerade as common ailments. Like…

Allergies and Asthma: In a previous blog post, we have discussed the many important roles of histamine in the body not the least of which is controlling the flow of water in your body. Dehydration signals the body to increase histamine production causing symptoms similar to seasonal allergies. Stuffed up? Maybe you’re just dehydrated. Drink up.

Heartburn: According to author and researcher, F. Batanghelidij, MD, heartburn is the stomach’s “thirst signal” claiming “Dyspeptic pain is the most important signal of the human body. It denotes dehydration. It is a thirst signal of the body.” When you eat, one of the first and most important things your body does is douse the swallowed food with a highly corrosive acid to begin the digestive process and kill any unwanted microbes that may have hitched a ride with the meal. This process requires copious amounts of water. When water is in short supply, the layers of your intestines that protect tissues from the corrosive acid become vulnerable and send pain signals (aka thirst signals). Before you immediately put out the fire with antacids, try dousing the flames with ample amounts of water.

Chronic Joint Pain: Cartilage, the lubricating, elastic, connective tissue at the end of long bones and joints, is highly susceptible to dehydration. When water is depleted from this protective tissue, it sends us signals of pain and stiffness…. Thirst signals!!

Some other surprising symptoms of dehydration are:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness or headaches
  • Sunken eyes
  • Inability to sweat or produce tears
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low urine output
  • Constipation

Hydration Do’s and Don’t

Making some minor changes in behavior can keep your body’s fluid balance optimal.


  • Over-do it on caffeinated beverages – yes coffee and tea contain water but they also contain dehydrating agents that negate the positive effects of the water they contain
  • Overindulge in alcohol – for all of the reasons you want to take it easy on the caffeine, you want to do the same with adult beverages.


  • Drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily – get a water bottle that has ounce measurements on the side to help you keep track.
  • Infuse water with fruit and herbs – this will amp up the flavor factor and help you stay away from dehydrating beverages.
  • Increase your raw fruits and vegetables – produce contains a higher water content than other foods. It’s an easy and delicious way to up your intake of fluids.

So this summer, and every other time of the year, respect the power of proper hydration and drink up!

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