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Here’s How Your Body Tells You That You’re Not Drinking Enough Water

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Saanya Ali

Fact: The human body is made up of nearly 60 percent water. It relies on water for breathing, digestion, lubricating joints, removing waste, brain functioning, communication, and keeping everything running smoothly—essentially, every bodily function. When you’re not drinking enough water, or if your body is losing more water than it’s taking in, dehydration is likely. Unfortunately, the results of dehydration can cause both immediate and longer-term complications, says Adam Brittain, MD, a senior physician at WorldClinic.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re losing water all day and all night long—some when you sweat or cry, more when you pee, and even a little with every breath you take. As such, it’s recommended to sip on water consistently throughout the day in order to maintain your hydration levels and prevent early dehydration symptoms (more on those below).

How can you tell if you’re not drinking enough water?

According to Dr. Brittain and functional medicine expert Erika Schwartz, MD, your body actually does a very good job of warning you that you are not drinking enough water or putting yourself at risk of mild dehydration. After all, dehydration lowers blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which in turn causes inflammation. Therefore, not drinking enough water can cause headaches, brain fog or confusion, fatigue, mood swings, lightheadedness, and dizziness.

Additionally, Dr. Schwartz adds that since water plays an important role in lubricating your joints and muscles, a lack of water can also cause you to experience joint pains and stiffness or cramping in your muscles and ligaments. Some other signs are dry mouth and skin, increased thirst, and darker, more concentrated urine (and less of it).

The key takeaway here? Keeping all of the above symptoms top of mind is vital to recognize that you’re not drinking enough water. For instance, if you start feeling an unnerving muscle cramp or headache come on when you’re in the middle of a run or beach day, don’t pop an Advil and keep going. Pause, consider whether or not you’ve consumed enough fluids in the last few hours, and give your body the hydration it requires.

How much water is ideal to drink per day?

While listening to your body and drinking when you feel thirsty is important, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has determined that an adequate daily fluid intake for a healthy adult living in a temperate climate is about 11.5 cups a day for women and 15.5 cups for men. This may change based on how much you exercise, the environment in which you live, and other health conditions. (Dr. Schwartz even goes as far as to recommend drinking 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water.) More simply, you should drink water often, and always when you’re thirsty.

Keep in mind, however, that drinking water is not the only way to stay adequately hydrated. Fruits and vegetables with high water content are a great way to keep your systems in tip-top shape as well. Produce like broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, watermelon, and grapes are all high in H2O.

In short, Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Brittain both say that your body knows how to tell you that you’re not drinking enough water. The trick is a matter of making sure you’re listening to it.

A dietitian’s guide to the most hydrating foods:

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