You've probably heard that the human body is made up of over 70 percent water, and that drinking enough every day is essential for everything from maintaining a healthy weight to energy levels and flushing toxins out of the body. But despite everything we know about how critical water is for human health, statistics show that almost half of American adults do not drink enough water on a daily basis. As many as 7 percent of adults admit to not drinking any water at all. So how much water is enough? And what really happens when you don't get enough?
How Drinking Water Affects Your Body and Health
The outward symptoms and effects of dehydration are fairly obvious, from dry skin and lack of energy to brain fog and muscle cramps if you're exercising without adequately replacing the water you are losing through sweat. But the effects of chronic dehydration reach all the way down into the cells, which, like the organs, need enough water to function optimally and remove metabolic waste from the body.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dark urine
- Feeling thirsty (fun fact: if you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated)
- Bad breath
- Muscle cramps and fatigue
- Dry skin
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased sweat production or clammy skin if you're exercising and should otherwise be sweating
- Elevated cravings for sweet, sugary foods (one of the ways dehydration can lead to weight gain)
Not drinking enough water is the most obvious cause of dehydration. But there are a few factors that can affect your hydration levels, as well as how much water you should be drinking on a daily basis, which differs from person to person and can even differ from day to day depending on your health and lifestyle.
Common causes of dehydration include:
- Lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and activity levels, and alcohol consumption
- Stress levels
How Much Water Is Enough?
You've probably heard the conventional wisdom that says eight glasses of water per day is the rule, but everything from your activity and hormone levels to your body weight can affect how much water you actually need. As a rule of thumb, most adults are advised to consume at least eight 8 oz. glasses of water per day, but certain fluids and water-soluble fruits and vegetables count toward your hydration allowance.
Keep in mind that drinking and eating diuretic food and drinks may require more water, and women may need to drink more during the menstrual cycle to compensate for elevated hormone levels. Start with a commitment to drink a minimum of four to six 8 oz glasses of water every day, and adjust accordingly as needed.