You're Not Stupid, Just Dehydrated


Water is all over the news these days. More than half the continental United States has been hit by the most withering drought in 50 years. Hurricane Isaac has caused massive flooding throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. The Arctic sea ice is vanishing for real. And leading scientists now predict that water scarcity will compel the world’s population to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet by 2050 to avoid catastrophic food shortages.

Meanwhile, “heat illness” (heat-related dehydration) during athletic events has emerged as a leading cause of death and disability among U.S. high school athletes. And recent studies indicate that, with proper hydration, children in school have better short-term memory and elderly folks are less likely to develop signs of dementia.

Regardless of your age, lack of good-quality water is bound to exact a heavy toll on your well-being.  You’ll experience more fatigue, headaches, memory problems, and lapses in alertness, as reported in an August 2010 Nutrition Reviews report titled “Water, Hydration, and Health.” The authors spotlight an array of disruptions in mood and cognitive functioning that can occur even with mild levels of dehydration.


Many people fail to grasp the importance of drinking high-quality water and getting it in sufficient quantity.  Medical professionals, too, tend to overlook the connections between health and hydration. And yet, water is easily the most essential component of our body. Whereas we can live for weeks without food, we humans can survive only a few days without water.

We humans have much more water as a proportion of our body weight when we’re very young—water comprises about 75% the body weight of infants, but only 55% in the elderly. Thus it seems that as we get older, we get drier, harder and stiffer. Interestingly, elderly people tend to lose their physiologic capacity to experience “thirst” as they age. This means that, when deprived of water, they will tend to drink less fluid than younger people; and thus older individuals may need to learn to drink regularly—even when they’re not feeling the least bit thirsty.


Sources of Water

We obtain water from three fundamental sources, listed in order of decreasing efficiency as follows: as a beverage (pure water and water-containing beverages), as a food (highest within fruis and vegetables), and from oxidation of macronutrients (metabolic water). Only a very tiny amount comes from this last source.

The proportion of water obtained from beverages and food varies with the proportion of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Also, the more animal protein you eat, the more water you tend to lose since those proteins have a diuretic effect. Ditto for coffee and alcohol, both of which result in steady losses of water.

Most people here in the U.S. get their water from the household tap that originates from lakes, streams, rivers, and groundwater sources. Though the bulk of this water is “cleaned” at a local water treatment plant, many harmful pollutants and organisms are present in the final product. Also, about half the population uses water that is partly comprised of recently discharged wastewater—a major source of toxic pollutants.


Best Drinking Options

As for sources of water, my favorites are spring water and reverse-osmosis (RO) filtered water.  Spring water would be my number one pick, but it’s getting increasingly expensive.  RO filters are expensive but worth the investment if you don’t have ready, affordable access to spring water.  Other options are de-ionized water, distilled water, alkalized water (e.g., Kangen), and ozonated water.  Though these sources are fairly pure, I personally feel that they lack vitality when you purchase them in the store.

A dear friend of mine in Europe makes his own distilled water and then places the water in blue-colored bottles outside his clinic to receive the rays of the sun.  He has used this water for healing purposes, and claims good results.  Others claim that freshly ozonated water (ozone is a form of oxygen that kills bacteria and cancer cells) has healing properties, though the water must be drunk within 10 minutes of the ozonation process.

I also like well water, although that source may provide excessive minerals over time, and not all wells are going to provide pure water. If you’re on a well and not sure of the water quality, have it tested and consider getting an RO filter to remove minerals like iron, copper and heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.  On the other hand, if you’ve been on a well with a water-softener system, you may need to obtain more minerals.

If you’ve been drinking well water or “hard water” for at least ten years, I’d switch to distilled water for a month or two and observe how you feel. This is a great way to give your kidneys a break from all that mineral-rich water, and as a result you will be better able to regulate your body’s fluid/water levels over the long term. Never rely on carbonated water as your main water source.


Some Self-Watering Tips

How much water should you drink?  As a general rule of thumb, it is helpful to drink about half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you would drink about 80 ounces of water per day, or ten eight-ounce glasses. This is of course just a rough estimate. The amount needed will vary depending on age, exercise, metabolism, ambient heat, and other factors.

Hot weather is, of course, a key culprit in dehydration.  Mild dehydration under hot conditions has been linked with elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as with increased sweating and electrolyte imbalances. Some adults lose as much as six liters of water per day in conditions of extreme heat and activity. Boosting your salt intake when you sweat a lot will help make up for salt losses, but water repletion requires considerably more attention and effort under these circumstances.

Without a “well-watered” body, it is impossible to establish optimal health. Remember that if you’re very physically active, you’ll need more water.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes drink 16 ounces of fluids within two hours of starting any vigorous workout.

Getting good water—and enough of it—into your system should be your first step toward feeling and functioning better. If you’re not feeling well, don’t just focus on your diet, exercise and stress. Consider your water first! This is especially important for those most vulnerable to the effects of poor hydration—the very young and very old.  And the next time you seem to be having a tough day mentally and physically, watch out:  It could be you’re just dehydrated!




Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(8):439-58.

Jéquier E, Constant F. Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010;64(2):115-23

Fadda R, Rapinett G, Grathwohl D, Parisi M, Fanari R, Calò CM, Schmitt J. Effects of drinking supplementary water at school on cognitive performance in children. Appetite. 2012 July 24.

Ritz P,

Campbell SM. Hydration needs throughout the lifespan. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007;26(5 Suppl):585S-587S.

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© 2017, Mark Nathaniel Mead