By Lezley Barth


    Lezley Barth Captioned

    As we enter the hot summer months and spend more time outdoors, it’s timely to offer a reminder about adequate hydration.  It’s also important to provide information on the impact of dehydration, a harmful and potentially life-threatening reduction in the amount of water in the body. 

    Importance of Water

    Water comprises approximately two-thirds of the human body. Consequently, it plays a crucial role in our cells, tissues, and organs.  Water helps regulate our body temperature, maintains other bodily functions such as facilitating digestion and lubricating our eyes and joints, and eliminates toxins. Once water is lost through respiration, perspiration, digestion, and urination, it’s necessary to hydrate.  Hydration typically occurs by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water.  In severe situations, hydration may require medical intervention to return our body’s water and electrolyte balance--salts and minerals that conduct electrical impulses within the body. Common human electrolytes are sodium chloride, potassium, calcium, and sodium.

    Did you know… we cannot depend on our thirst sensation to alert us of the need to hydrate?  When we are about age 50, this sensation diminishes and continues to do so as we age.  Further, our body’s fluid reserve decreases, and the ability to conserve water is also reduced.  To illustrate this issue, it’s estimated that at least one in five seniors is dehydrated to some degree. This is compounded by (1) general health concerns like influenza where significant fluids are lost, (2) chronic illnesses such as diabetes and dementia, (3) mobility problems that make access to water difficult, and (4) the impact of certain medications that operate as diuretics, removing vital fluids and electrolytes from our bodies. These conditions contribute to falls and injuries from dizziness, impaired or acute cognition issues, emergency hospitalizations, and even deaths. For those with dementia, dehydration risk rises six-fold from minimal social contact and forgetfulness. Individuals (and especially seniors) need to drink water or healthy alternatives each day to replace the fluids they lose naturally. The daily requirement is estimated at six to eight eight-ounce glasses, depending on the individual’s physical exercise routines and the environmental conditions.

    For the health conscious, one recommendation is bottled natural spring water, since tap water contains fluoride, heavy metals, and water system disinfection by-products that may have ill effects, unless a filtration system has been installed in your home.  Other alternatives to spring water for your daily hydration include milk, fresh fruit juice, fresh vegetable juice, coffee or tea from bottled/filtered water, or a combination of these. 

    Concerning sports drinks, coconut water will provide you with benefits from its anti-inflammatory qualities, amino acids, and antioxidants.  However, because coconut water also contains sugar, it should be consumed in moderation, preferably after a cardio workout when you need to replace minerals and fluids. 

    Myths …Many believe that sodas, sports drinks, and even commercial juices can easily substitute for water in keeping us hydrated. The fact is these drinks may be harmful.

    • Sodas can be quite addictive.Also, they contain large amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners, sodium, phosphoric acids, and caffeine--a diuretic causing you to urinate more quickly and lose even more fluid.Further, sodas are loaded with calories and have virtually no nutritional value.Note: Every soda you drink requires that you drink an EXTRA glass of water.
    • Sports drinks, widely advertised for use by athletes, actually contain artificial sweeteners, typically have two-thirds the sugar of a soda, and include high-fructose corn syrup.The high-fructose corn syrup is believed by many to impact your health by contributing to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
    • Commercial fruit juices are often heavily processed and pasteurized with their oxygen removed to preserve them, thus making the juices less nutrient-dense. These juices are loaded with sugar, are not especially effective for hydration, and can actually be detrimental to your health.


    In dehydration, adequate blood is prevented from reaching internal organs.  There is a rise in blood sodium levels, and an imbalance between the body’s salts and sugar that can affect the way we perform.  A broad array of health issues may result: headaches, muscle cramps, fainting, cognitive issues, blood clots, kidney stones, seizures, kidney failure, or even death.

    A quick test (“pinch test”) for dehydration can be done to check your skin’s turgor; i.e., the degree of skin elasticity.  With your thumb and forefinger grasp the skin on the back of your opposite hand so that the tissue forms a tent. Hold the skin for a few seconds before releasing it. Skin with normal turgor snaps back rapidly (within about three seconds) to its normal position. Skin with poor turgor takes time to return to its normal position. Lack of skin turgor occurs with moderate to severe fluid loss.  Your doctor will likely use medical tests to diagnose and pin-point higher levels of dehydration. A urinalysis will show whether you are dehydrated and if there is an infection present. Blood tests will determine electrolyte levels, especially sodium and potassium, and how well your kidneys are functioning.  

    If you have moderate or severe dehydration symptoms shown below and/or you have continual vomiting where you cannot keep fluids down, you should call the doctor and go to your hospital’s emergency room.*


    Mild Dehydration

    2-3% body water

    loss in adults


    Moderate Dehydration*

    5-6% body water

    loss in adults


    Severe/Critical Dehydration*

    7-9% body water

    loss in adults


    Headache or head rush

    Slightly dry mucous membranes

    Slightly decreased urine output

    Dark yellow urine

    Loss of appetite

    Tiredness or fatigue

    Dry or flushed skin


    Head rushes



    Little or no urine output

    Increased heart rate

    Sunken eyes

    Decreased ability to sweat

    Faster breathing

    Higher body temperature

    Muscle cramps

    Extreme fatigue

    Tingling hands and feet




    Rapid pulse

    No tears

    Rapid breathing

    Low blood pressure

    Mottled skin

    Muscle spasms

    Impaired vision

    Shriveled skin


    Chest or abdominal pain






    Sources:  Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Wikipedia, HER-Women’s Health and Wellness, Water Benefits Health, MedlinePlus

    Lezley Barth, Benefits Chair:
    Phone: 816-506-0026
    Email: lezleykbarth@gmail.com