What Happens to Your Body When You’re Dehydrated

woman drinking glass of water

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dehydration happens when you’ve lost too much water in your body without replacing it, which prevents your body to perform its normal functions
  • Infants and children are especially prone to dehydration since their bodies are composed of 70 percent and 65 percent water, respectively
  • Beverage companies claim that sports drink will help replenish the electrolytes in your body during exercise or outdoor activities, but the truth is the ingredients of your favorite sports drinks will not hydrate and benefit you, and may even be detrimental to your health
  • When you nourish your body with structured water, you are restoring your body to a balanced and whole state

Dehydration is no ordinary health issue. Anyone can run out of liquids in their body for various reasons, so it is important that you always hydrate yourself with filtered water. Read on to learn more about symptoms of dehydration and how you can prevent it.

What Is Dehydration?

Water makes up at least two-thirds of the human body. It plays a large part in your normal functions, such as lubricating your joints and eyes, keeping your skin healthy by eliminating toxins and facilitating proper digestion.1 Once the water in your body is reduced, it needs to be replaced because an imbalance between the salts and sugar in your body can affect your bodily performance.2

If your body has lost 1 to 2 percent of its entire water content, you will feel thirsty, a sign that you need to replenish the lost liquids.3 Dehydration happens when you've lost too much water in your body without replacing it, preventing your body from performing its normal functions.4 Mild dehydration can easily be treated but if it reaches extreme levels, it can be life-threatening and will require immediate medical attention.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

Aside from the common symptoms like intense thirst or sweating too much, here are some of the mild and severe symptoms of dehydration:5

Mild to Moderate Dehydration Severe Dehydration
Dry, sticky mouth Extreme thirst
Sleepiness or tiredness Irritability and confusion
Dry skin Sunken eyes
Headache Dry skin that doesn't bounce back when you pinch it
Constipation Low blood pressure
Dizziness or lightheadedness Rapid heartbeat
Few or no tears when crying Rapid breathing
Minimal urine No tears when crying
Dry, cool skin6 Fever
Muscle cramps Little or no urination, and any urine color that is darker than usual

In serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness

Infants and children are more vulnerable to dehydration, that's why immediate attention must be given to them especially if you see these symptoms:7

Mild to Moderate Dehydration Severe Dehydration
Urinates less frequently (for infants, fewer than six wet diapers per day) Very fussy
Plays less than usual Excessively sleepy
Parched, dry mouth Sunken eyes
Fewer tears when crying Cool, discolored hands and feet
Sunken soft spot on the head (fontanelle) Wrinkled skin
Loose stools (if dehydration is caused by diarrhea). If dehydration is due to fluid loss, there will be less frequent bowel movements Urinates only once or twice a day

Chronic dehydration can affect your organs and lead to kidney stones,8 constipation9 and electrolyte imbalances that may result in seizures.10 Whether it is mild, moderate or severe dehydration, the lost liquids in your body must be immediately replaced. If any of the aforementioned symptoms appear, get professional treatment as soon as possible.

What Causes Dehydration?

There are various reasons why dehydration occurs, such as intense physical activity, which makes you lose a lot of much water – fat and calories are counted as well – so proper hydration is necessary. Other causes of dehydration include:11

Diarrhea — This prevents your intestinal tract from absorbing water from the foods that you eat, which makes it the most common cause of dehydration.

Vomiting — Common causes include foodborne illnesses, nausea and alcohol poisoning.

Sweating — Vigorous sweating may occurfor various reasons like fever and engaging in intense physical activity. Profuse sweating can also occur when you are working in a hot environment.12

Diabetes — Aside from having high blood sugar levels, some medications for diabetes like diuretics may cause them to urinate frequently.

Frequent urination — This can be caused by alcohol and certain drugs like antihistamines, blood pressure medications and antipsychotics.

Who Is at Risk of Dehydration?

While everyone is prone to dehydration, there are people who have a higher risk for it, such as those who engage in mountain climbing. It is especially hard for hikers to stay hydrated because the pressure at high altitudes makes them sweat more and breathe harder.13

Professional athletes, particularly those who are involved in marathons, triathlons and cycling tournaments, are also predisposed to dehydration. Research suggests that even low levels of dehydration can impair cardiovascular and thermoregulatory response.14

One study15 even revealed that dehydration can affect basketball players' performance. The study focused on 17 males ranging from 17 to 28 years old, and determined their performance based on different dehydration levels of up to 4 percent. The result showed that when there's an increase in dehydration, skill performance decreases.

Infants are especially prone to dehydration since their bodies are composed of 78 percent water.16 Since their bodies are more vulnerable to water depletion, their need for water is greater than adults.
Elderly people are also at risk for dehydration since the thirst mechanism weakens as a person grows older.

According to BBC News,17 1 in 5 seniors are not getting enough water every day, as aging causes people to lose their sense of thirst mainly because of minimal social contact or forgetfulness. Those with dementia were found to have a sixfold increased risk for dehydration.

Those who have chronic diseases have an increased risk of dehydration, such as diabetes or kidney problems due to increased urination frequency.18 If you have a chronic illness that causes dehydration as a side effect, make sure to take the necessary steps to protect your health.

How to Prevent Dehydration

Since dehydration can be a life-threatening condition, it is important that you replenish your body with water immediately. Water plays such an immense role in your bodily functions, making it an essential part of your everyday life.

Always bring a bottle of water with you during exercise or any physical activity, especially when the temperature's too hot. One good rule of thumb to prevent dehydration is to drink as much water until your urine turns light yellow. Dark urine means that your kidney is retaining liquids for your body to perform its normal functions.

It is especially important to pay attention to people who are sick with fever, vomiting or diarrhea, so they may not become dehydrated. They should be given lots of water to replace the liquids that they've lost.

Sports Drinks Will Not Keep You Hydrated

Sports drinks are one of the most commercialized beverages today – from TV advertisements to popular athlete endorsers – as mainstream media makes it look like drinking them will keep you healthy and well-hydrated. Beverage companies advertise that sports drinks will help replenish the electrolytes in your body during exercise or outdoor activities, but the truth is the ingredients in your favorite sports drinks will not hydrate or benefit you, and may even be detrimental to your health.19

A typical sports or energy drink contains high amounts of citric acid. According to a news report from NPR, drinking sports or energy drinks that have citric acid can chip away the enamel in your teeth faster. What’s more, the precise amount of citric acid is not disclosed on the product labels.20

Aside from sports drinks, there are other sweetened beverages that won’t give you any benefit, like sodas. These are equally unhealthy for you, as a 20-ounce bottle of cola already gives you 16 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.21

Commercial fruit juices are another group of sweetened drinks that you must avoid because they do not have any hydrating properties. For example, Minute Maid's 100% Apple Juice actually contains 49 grams of sugar in a 15.2-ounce bottle. 22

What's more, most processed fruit juices bear little resemblance to what an actual fresh fruit juice would be. Commercial fruit juices are pasteurized and their oxygen is removed to preserve them for a long time, making the juices less nutrient-dense. Store-bought fruit juices with an expiration date of 60 days or more is a sign that it is heavily processed, so it’s advisable to boycott these kinds of beverages.

Choose to Drink Living Water

I advise you to avoid drinking tap water at all costs, as it contains fluoride, heavy metals and disinfection byproducts that may have ill effects on your health. Install a water filter in your home to ensure that these harmful contaminants are removed.

If you want the best water for you and your family, I suggest drinking structured or "living" water, such as deep spring water. According to Dr. Gerald Pollack, one of the world's leading research scientists about the physics of water, structured water or EZ "exclusion zone" water is the same type of water found in your cells. It has a negative charge, and works just like a battery by holding and delivering energy.

Since distilled water is too acidic and alkaline water is too alkaline, only structured water contains the ideal PH range of 6.5 to 7.5. That's why you should nourish your body with structured water, as it can restore your body to a balanced and whole state.

I personally drink vortexed water since I became a fan of Viktor Schauberger, who did so much work regarding vortexing hundreds of years ago. By creating a vortex in your glass of water, you are putting energy into it and increasing EZ as well.

Ideal EZ water can be found in glacial melt but since it is practically inaccessible for almost everyone, natural deep spring water is a good source. Just bring glass jugs and avoid plastic bottles since they contain bisphenol A, bisphenol B and phthalates, which are harmful to your health.23,24

Other Natural Thirst-Quenchers for Preventing Dehydration

If you want to drink something more flavorful than water, you can opt for raw, organic green juice made from fresh vegetables. However, I recommend refraining from drinking juice with too many fruits as it will have high amounts of sugar and calories. Go for a green juice recipe that combines one or two fruits and larger amounts of greens like spinachcelery or kale.

That way, you can minimize your sugar intake and still get all the nutrients from the fruits and vegetables in their purest forms. I advise keeping your fructose consumption below 25 grams per day. If you have Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance or heart disease, it is wise if you will minimize your total fructose to 15 grams daily.

Coconut water also serves as a great replacement for sports drinks. It provides optimal health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory,25  and antioxidant26 effects. A word of caution: Coconut water also contains sugar, so you should drink it in moderation. Drink it preferably after a cardio workout, when you need to replace minerals and fluids.

The Key to Avoiding Dehydration: Listen to Your Body

No one can determine if you have dehydration better than yourself. If you feel that you are already thirsty or sweating profusely, you have to replenish your body with water immediately. Do not wait for severe symptoms to show before you take action, since this can be life threatening.

Virtually everyone is at risk for dehydration, even without any physical activity, so it is important to always keep a bottle of filtered water to always keep you hydrated. Remember that a healthy person urinates seven to eight times each day, so if you're not urinating frequently it means that you're not drinking enough water.

Remember to always listen to your body. Once you feel that urge to drink, opt for structured or filtered water rather than artificially sweetened beverages, which can have dire effects on your health. Nothing feels more refreshing than cold water to replace the liquids that you've lost.