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Hydration: The Essential Nutrient

You probably have heard that water makes up 60-65% of the human body, but it is also an essential nutrient, necessary for all metabolic processes.

These can include functions such as lubricating joints, creating stable environments for chemical reactions to take place and provide transport for the removal of waste products. Water aids metabolic functions through its presence in blood plasma, which is the transparent liquid component of blood. It contains dissolved substances including glucose, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, which are able to move freely around the body when hydrated. Water itself is also produced in many metabolic processes, such as breathing. An essential component for optimal health, water is needed in every aspect of the human body.

A lack of water within the human body is known as dehydration. Dehydration can manifest itself in two ways, acute dehydration and chronic dehydration. Both have negative impacts on the human body.

  • Acute dehydration is a state where the body has diminishing fluids and electrolytes to carry out everyday bodily functions. This can often occur after intense exercise, poor daily fluid intake or excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Chronic dehydration is a condition whereby low fluid levels occur in the body for long periods of time. This can often happen under certain circumstances, such as extreme heat exposure, prolonged physical activity or unhealthy behaviours surrounding daily fluid consumption.

Acute dehydration can be dangerous, in some cases it can lead to heart palpitations, loss of consciousness and even result in death. Day-to-day, many of us may experience mild levels of dehydration which can lead to long term issues if not addressed. Studies have shown that individuals dehydrated by ~1% are affected by reduced cognitive functions such as poor decision making and delayed reaction time. This may be important if you work in a high-pressure office-based environment and making important decisions quickly is a common challenge. Our body’s ability to function optimally also decreases during periods of mild dehydration. Greater pressure is placed on the cardiovascular system, reducing oxygen and nutrient delivery to essential organs and muscles. This decreases physical performance, which is essential in physically demanding jobs.

On the other hand, chronic dehydration occurs over a long period of time and has the potential to contribute to more serious effects on health and wellbeing. Chronic dehydration typically occurs in individuals with unhealthy behaviours. Some of the behaviours that contribute to a poor hydration status are obvious, such as the regular consumption of sugary drinks and alcohol. Other behaviours may seem small and trivial, but over a longer period of time, will have a significant impact; this can be as simple as not owning a water bottle. There is a long list of conditions where chronic dehydration may be playing a role, these include colon and bladder cancer, urinary tract infection, fatal coronary heart disease, venous thromboembolism, cerebral infarction (stroke), dental disease, increased risk of diabetes and renal (kidney) failure. Hydration may not be the direct cause of these conditions, but the consistent inflammation present within cells caused by dehydration is a contributing factor. This forces the body to function in a sub-optimal state, meaning metabolic processes which keep us healthy and alive begin to waver.

We recommend healthy habits surrounding fluid consumption to promote a better state of hydration, as it promotes many positive health benefits. Research has shown that individuals who have high water intakes, coupled with consuming the correct fluids, have a reduced risk of renal failure and cardiovascular disease. Maintaining a healthy hydration status increases our body’s ability to regulate glucose, and this can be a prominent factor as to whether we develop diabetes or not. Researchers have also shown that mental wellbeing is improved when consistently hydrated. Participants reported being able to concentrate for longer periods of time and showed higher levels of alertness. In many studies, there was also an increase in mood; participants felt more positive towards work even under more difficult circumstances when properly hydrated. 

We have discussed only a fraction of the importance of hydration. Everything the body does can be traced back to a chemical process ranging from immune function, fat metabolism, muscle regeneration; to some lesser obvious things such as hair and skin quality, dental health, wound healing and mental health. Every metabolic process that occurs in the body requires water, oxygen, vitamins and minerals, therefore the first step to improving your health and wellbeing, is properly hydrating.

If you or a loved one is in immediate crisis...