Monday Medical: Much ado about water |

Monday Medical: Much ado about water

Riley Polumbus/For the Steamboat Today

— A few years back, we heard the shocking news that drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day was a myth. It forced us to ask, "Have we made drinking water a bigger deal than it really needs to be?"

Our body loses water daily, so it makes sense that we need to replenish daily. And while drinking eight glasses a day may be more than one body needs, not getting enough water can be unhealthy and severe dehydration can be fatal.

It's important to consider the ways we lose water and decide for yourself, "Am I drinking enough?"

Why do we need water? Water plays a role in several bodily functions. It regulates body temperature, moistens and protects tissues and lubricates our joints. Water also protects body organs, helps prevent constipation and lessens the burden on kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products.

Water also helps transport materials in, out and around our body. It dissolves minerals and other nutrients and carries them, along with oxygen, to cells.

"Everything we exchange in and out of cells needs water," said Steamboat Springs family and sports medicine physician Dan Smilkstein. "Water is good medicine. We are less stressed, have more energy and are more alert when we are properly hydrated."

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How do we lose water? Everyday functions such as breathing, perspiration, urine and bowel movements cause water loss. Other circumstances can increase the amount of water loss. High altitude and dry climate cause more rapid evaporation of moisture from skin and lungs. Hot and humid climate will cause us to sweat. Heated indoor air also dries the skin.

Illness or health conditions may lead to additional water loss. Exercise is also a factor as we perspire and breathe our way through workouts.

Dehydration occurs when we lose more fluid than we consume. Depending on our daily environment and activities we can become mildly dehydrated by not getting enough fluids. Other common causes of dehydration are diarrhea, vomiting, fever and excessive sweating.

Smilkstein said he sees people every day who are mildly dehydrated.

"To maintain an active lifestyle, you have to stay hydrated," he said. "Dehydration even at 3 percent can lead to fatigue. You can't wait for the sensation of thirst (around 5 percent) to hydrate."

Smilkstein said the amount of water a person needs in a day depends on many factors: gender, muscle mass, size and lifestyle, to name a few. He suggests starting the day with a glass of water.

"If you start out hydrated, it's going to be easier to maintain hydration throughout the day," he said.

As a noted endurance athlete himself, Smilkstein also recommends the same tactic with exercise. Hydrating before activity will make it easier to replenish fluids. If possible, hydrate during exercise and, of course, after a workout.

We all see people who are constantly sipping from a water bottle throughout the day. This is not always practical for all of us. Yet, making an effort to start the day with a glass of water and drinking more throughout your day can help the body function better.

Remember that water is just one way to hydrate. Caffeine used to be thought to dehydrate the body. Consuming more than four cups of coffee will increase urination; however, in moderation, it can help us hydrate.

Any drinks containing water help in hydration. Tea, juices and soft drinks provide some water but cannot hydrate the body alone. Food, especially fruits and vegetables, also provide water.

If we consider our lifestyle and daily routine, we can set a practical goal for drinking more water and staying hydrated and healthy.

Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

Learn more

Yampa Valley Medical Center will have information on hydration starting Wednesday at the Community Health Resource Center. Stop by this free lending library near the main lobby to learn more.

Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include a dry or sticky mouth, sleepiness or fatigue, thirst, decreased urine output, few or no tears when crying, muscle weakness, headache, dizziness and lightheadedness.

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency. Symptoms include extreme thirst, extreme fussiness or sleepiness in children, irritability and confusion in adults, very dry mouth and skin, mucous membranes, lack of sweating, little or no urination, sunken eyes, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and fever.