Institute doctors weigh in how essential it is to remain properly and potential health risk if you are missing the mark.
Drinking plenty of water is essential to your health: It helps your organs perform their vital functions, regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints, and helps rid your body of waste, among other things.
“Dehydration is when we start trending toward a negative fluid imbalance,” explains Natasha Trentacosta, MD, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. “In its most extreme form, we don’t have enough fluid in our body to carry on with the chemical reactions and body functions to sustain life,” she adds.
As water leaves the body, salts, minerals, and other electrolytes are left behind in higher concentrations than before. “This throws off the electrolyte balance in the body which can be detrimental to the cellular functions of our bodies,” Trentacosta explains.
Recent polls suggests that 75 percent of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration, and for many, the problem goes undetected until complications arise. However, there are several signs and symptoms that can tip you off to a problem before then.
Another major sign of chronic dehydration is a feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness, says Vernon Williams, MD, sports neurologist, pain management specialist, and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California.
“Recall a time in your life when you felt dehydrated. What was the first sign or symptom to present itself? Beyond feeling thirsty, you likely first noticed an initial symptom associated with your head,” he tells Best Life. Williams explains why the sensation occurs: Without adequate fluids, your blood volume goes down, which in turn lowers your blood pressure and prevents the brain from getting enough blood. This ultimately results in that woozy, disorienting feeling that so many people experience.
You may also notice changes in your memory or cognitive function—though sometimes these changes are difficult to detect, says Williams.
“Even slight percentage decreases in brain hydration can result in much more significant percentage decreases in cognition. Consider this: Just a two percent decrease in brain hydration can lead to short-term memory loss.
It may sound obvious, but thirst is the number one sign that you aren’t getting enough water, says M. Ramin Modabber, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California.
In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, being thirsty or having a dry mouth is not a warning sign that you will soon become dehydrated, as many people believe, but instead a sign that you’re already mildly dehydrated. In light of this, your goal should be to stay ahead of the sensation by remaining adequately hydrated throughout the day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, men require an average of 15.5 cups of fluid per day, while women require an average of 11.5 cups to stay healthy. However, Modabber points out that it’s important to monitor for signs of over-hydration or dehydration, and adjust to meet your own body’s specific needs.