Healthy Hydration – How Your Body Uses Water

You eat to fuel your life. But your body needs more than the energy and nutrients in your diet.  It also needs water to survive. Healthy hydration is required for your body to reach its full potential. And while healthy eating may look different for each individual, water is a universal requirement. There’s no question your body is healthiest when you practice proper hydration.

Although essential, there can be some confusion about why hydration is important. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll learn:

  • How water works in your body
  • Why you need to drink water
  • How to get and stay hydrated
  • How to spot dehydration

And you’ll hopefully have a whole new appreciation for H2O.

How Water Works in Your Body

Water facilitates countless physiological processes, including, digestion, elimination of waste, and protection. It can be hard to see the role water plays in your body since it is everywhere, all the time. But it is possible to breakdown how healthy hydration keeps your body in working order.

The mouth is the first stop along the digestive tract. And it’s the first stop on your tour of the ways water works in your body. It all starts with saliva. This is secreted into the mouth by salivary glands, but it’s primarily water. Saliva begins the digestion of food by breaking down your meal into smaller pieces.

Water is a great solvent. This means that things, food and its nutrients especially, dissolve and break apart easily in water. So, it’s no surprise water is involved in this part of digestion. Washing down food with water helps digestion run quickly and efficiently.

After mixing with your meal, water continues through your stomach and toward the small intestine. That’s where most of the water you drink is absorbed. The lining of the small intestine is covered with tiny, finger-like projections called villi. These increase the surface area of the small intestine and allow for maximum water absorption.

Water absorbed by the small intestine is transported through your body in blood. So, drinking plenty of water helps you maintain a healthy blood supply.

Sometimes waste material builds up in your blood and needs to be removed. That brings us to the next step on the proper hydration journey—your kidneys.

They filter blood for waste and toxins. They remove unwanted material from your body through urination. This is why it is so important to maintain healthy hydration levels—especially when you don’t feel great.

Another way you remove toxins is through normal bowel movements. Drinking water can also help alleviate constipation. Water softens stool and helps push it through the colon.

Your skin is the final stop on your tour of water’s body benefits. That’s because perspiration is another body function that relies on water. Sweat is composed of water, minerals, electrolytes, and a variety of compounds your body wants to eliminate. Healthy hydration gives your body plenty of fluid to sweat bad stuff out.

In addition to removing waste, perspiring helps you maintain a normal body temperature. How does it cool you off? Water leaves your body through pores, the moisture that accumulates on your skin. When that moisture evaporates—turns from liquid to gas—it helps cool you down. That’s because it takes energy (in this case body heat) to transform liquid water to its gaseous state, water vapor. This process leaves you feeling nice and cool.

Water, Please: Why You Need to Practice Healthy Hydration

With the knowledge of how your body uses water, you can see how important it is to drink plenty. Every bodily function relies on water. Proper hydration helps your body maintain homeostasis—the balance between physiological processes. Without this balance, your body can’t maintain your health.

An example of this was highlighted in a British scientific journal article in 2013. Researchers found that as many as 60 percent of children arrived at school already dehydrated. This lack of fluid early in the day makes learning in the classroom difficult. Concentration and cognitive skills decrease when you’re not fully hydrated.

But the brain fog caused by dehydration isn’t permanent. Researchers concluded that drinking an additional glass of water during the school day enhanced fine motor skills and visual focus.

Staying hydrated does a lot to keep your body achieving peak performance:

  • Proper hydration supports beautiful, healthy skin.
  • Water helps in wound-repair processes, diminishing wrinkles, and keeping skin looking plump and bouncy.
  • Immune function and germ-fighting power are strengthened when your body gets enough water.

Healthy hydration helps protect delicate bones, your brain, spine, and other vital organs. Spinal fluid, the fluid between joints, and the space around organs is made up largely of water. This liquid acts as a shock absorber and a barrier, protecting your body from damage caused by impact.

How to Attain Proper Hydration—And Stay Hydrated

As you can see, water is a part of all bodily functions. That’s why proper hydration is so critical. Drinking enough water can help your health and make your body happy. But what is healthy hydration, and how can you achieve it?

Recommendations for daily water intake run the gamut. They vary in suggested volume, but one thing is consistent. Drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated. While juice, soda, tea, and coffee all contain water, regular, plain water is the most effective way to hydrate.

Why just water? Juice and soda are high in added sugar that can upset your stomach if you’re dehydrated. And can wreak havoc on your healthy diet. Sports drinks may be appropriate for hydrating, but should only be used if you’ve been exercising hard and sweating a lot. It may be more beneficial to drink plenty of water before vigorous exercise and eat a snack like fruit or low-fat granola afterward.

With all the recommendation for water intake, start with a simple goal—adults should drink at about eight, 8-ounce (or about 236 milliliter) glasses of water every day. Being consistent and drinking water before exercise will keep your body happy. If remembering to drink water is difficult, carry a reusable water bottle around with you. Write down how much water you need each day and cross off ounces (or liters) as you drink them.

Don’t forget about the fruits and veggies that are naturally full of water. Apples, grapes, melons, cucumbers, lettuce, and celery are dietary sources of water. These whole foods are not only healthy choices, they help you maintain proper hydration, too.

If you prefer some extra flavor with your drink, adding fruits and veggies to a glass of cold water could be your ticket to healthy hydration. Berries, mint, and cucumber mix together nicely to give a simple glass of water some extra punch without extra sugar. Start replacing sugary drinks with infused water and treating your taste buds to a more wholesome beverage.

How to Spot Dehydration

It’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re busy. But your body can alert you to dehydration with several symptoms. Thirst is the most obvious indicator, but it often comes a little too late. Mild dehydration can set in before you become thirsty, leaving your body to play catch up.

Other signs of dehydration include fatigue, difficulty focusing, and headache. These can be subtle, so it’s important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Should these symptoms creep in, wash them down with a tall drink of water. And keep drinking through the rest of the day for total body re-hydration.

To truly know if you are drinking enough water, look no further than the bathroom stall. The color of your urine points strongly to your state of hydration. Dark urine lets you know you need to drink more. If what’s left behind in the toilet is light and pale, pat yourself on the back. You are well on your way to healthy hydration.

All Water is the Same, Right?

If your drinking water comes from a municipal supply, you may notice a chlorine odor and taste. Chlorine is often used in safe, monitored doses to treat public drinking water and keep bacteria from tainting the supply. Should you want to eliminate the taste or smell of chlorine from your tap water, there are easy and inexpensive ways to do so.

Activated carbon filters can effectively remove chlorine from drinking water. These can be attached to the faucet in your home or used in water-filtering pitchers and vases. Installing an aerator on your faucet can also help reduce the taste of chlorine.

Bottled water is often regarded as better tasting than tap water. If drinking bottled water is suitable to your lifestyle, purchase it in recyclable containers. Reduce plastic bottle waste by reusing water bottles and recycling old ones. Being an accountable and well-hydrated citizen means purchasing bottled water responsibly.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.