In 2016, there was a story going around the mainstream media that suggested 80 per cent of Australians were showing signs of dehydration – and most didn’t know it.
The research suggested that only one in 20 Australians associated problems with concentration and mental impairment with dehydration – despite more than half the national population having these symptoms.
The research was from the SodaStream company, supported by – and apparently in tandem with – neuroscientist and medical writer Dr Sarah McKay.
She was quoted as saying: “The findings support scientific studies that show even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, increase in complaints of headache, thirst, sleepiness and concentration difficulties.”
Despite many people believing that two litres is the recommended daily amount for everybody, “the amount needed varies, dependent on individual factors including age, diet, climate and levels of physical activity”.
For men aged 19 to 70, she said, “it’s actually considerably higher, at around 2.6 litres”.
It’s a shame that it took a commercial enterprise to at least try and figure out how many of us aren’t drinking enough water.
Studies have looked into dehydration in aged-care settings, but the general population doesn’t appear to have been investigated.
And while the research, which appeared to be a survey, was widely reported without hard questioning, it failed to create a greater awareness around hydration.
Which is what is required.
So what’s the real point of this?
Although summer officially begins in December, it only really kicks in – as a blistering experience – as we move into January.
It’s a drying time and Dr McKay is probably right: The vast majority of Australians don’t recognise when they’re dehydrated.
The simple answer is: When you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
Some people probably think they get enough water because they’ll stand at the kitchen sink and drink the somewhat mythical eight glasses in one go. Or maybe two sessions.
Much of that gets quickly expelled in urine.
The trick is to drink throughout the day.
How much water do we need?
The eight glasses a day we’ve heard about for many years was always just a rough guess.
How much we actually need is the subject of ongoing debate. See here.
As the Mayo Clinic notes, it differs from person to person.
For example, people who eat a high protein diet, such as lots of steak and chicken, are putting added stress on their kidneys. Drinking more water can reduce that stress.
Some common sense rules apply: Men generally need more than women, and people who work or play outside in the heat can easily lose a litre or more through sweat in short order.
What’s also important to know is that babies and young children have a higher risk of becoming dehydrated than adults, especially if they are sick.
Babies who are severely dehydrated have a sunken fontanel, the soft spot on top of a baby’s head – and at that point you need to get to your GP quick.
Also, older people can become easily dehydrated because of declining kidney function, chronic illness, limited mobility and their medications.
If you have an older person living at home, keep an eye on their fluid intake.
What does water do for us?
Remember that tea and coffee are diuretics, and that alcohol is dehydrating.
It’s water that our bodies need.
A handy explainer from Harvard Medical School advises that it’s water that carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells, flushes bacteria from your bladder, aids digestion, prevents constipation, normalises blood pressure, stabilises the heartbeat, cushions the joints, protects organs and tissues, regulates body temperature, and maintains electrolyte (sodium) balance.
In the absence of formal research, it would pay for you to do a little of your own – by investigating how much water you and you family members are drinking.