Everyone needs water. In fact, we’re largely made up of it; approximately 60% of the adult human body is water. And since the body is constantly excreting fluids, we need to drink water to stay hydrated. While we can use food and other liquids to hydrate, water has its own intrinsic benefits.
According to New York City-based dietician Lara Metz, not drinking enough water can result in constipation, low energy, difficulty focusing, and muscle fatigue. Conversely, regular water intake results in improved appetite, healthy urination and bowel movements, and improved energy. Water also lubricates joints, regulates body temperature, helps human cells survive, and assists in delivering oxygen all over the body, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Dehydration can also cause noticeable effects to the skin, says Dr. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. “Signs of dehydrated skin include skin tightness, pronounced wrinkles, rough texture, and loss of elasticity. Dehydrated skin can also become irritated and itchy,” she says. “Well-hydrated skin looks healthy and plump, and should rebound easily after being pinched.”
Another issue that can be associated with dehydration is overeating. “I often find that clients who are dehydrated eat more because they confuse dehydration with hunger,” says Metz, who notes that increasing your water intake can reduce hunger.
So how much water should you drink? While there are no specific guidelines, Dr. Stern suggests that men consume an average of 3 liters per day, while women should consume 2.2 liters per day.
People don’t necessarily need to restrict themselves to drinking water to stay hydrated. In addition to the boosted alertness and the extra energy caffeine offers, caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea can be used to stay hydrated, according to a study from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. However, coffee is still considered a diuretic by some professionals. “While these types of beverages can be consumed in moderation, excess can produce dieresis (increased urination) and result in the same problem as not drinking enough water: dehydration,” says Dr. Paul N. Chugay, a cosmetic surgeon based in Long Beach, Calif.
We can also stay hydrated by drinking fruit juice, soda, or energy drinks. But as with drinking coffee, there is a caveat to consider: calories. “I don’t recommend beverages with added calories from sugar such as soda or fruit juice. This can add to unwanted weight gain and factors associated with obesity such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” says Metz. “I also guide patients to stay away from diet soda and other diet drinks, as the artificial sweeteners may cause them to crave more sugar, eat more carbs, and gain weight.”
For her patients who are unable to appropriately meet the hydration needs of their bodies, Metz offers several techniques to help increase the amount of water they consume. Her recommendations include drinking at least two glasses of water with each meal, adding citrus flavors or cucumber slices to give water more flavor, carrying a reusable glass water bottle, and drinking a large glass of room temperature water first thing in the morning, which she says helps with digestion and detoxifies the liver. The liver is designed to break down toxins that have been swallowed or inhaled. Regularly drinking water helps the liver because it removes the toxins through urination or bowel movements.
Still, drinking too much water can have adverse health effects, albeit rarely. According to Dr. Stern, drinking too much water can lead to hyponatremia, an uncommon condition that creates dangerously low sodium levels in the blood and prevents the kidneys from being able to excrete excess water efficiently.
So let your thirst be your guide and drink up to maintain your body at its best.