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Why Water is So Important to Maintaining Your Health

man drinking water

Whether your water comes from the tap, a plastic bottle or an artisan well, drink up: Water is essential for your body’s survival.

Consider these stats: Water makes up 60 percent of your total body, 70 percent of your brain and 90 percent of your lungs.

“Staying hydrated at all times is critical – every cell, tissue and organ needs water to work properly," urologist Ehud Gnessin, MD, says.

“Among the many benefits of drinking adequate amounts of liquid is averting problems like kidney stones and assisting in flushing out bad bacteria in the bladder to prevent urinary tract infections,” he says.

How Much to Drink

Along with maintaining a healthy bladder and kidneys, drinking one-and-a-half to two liters -- about six to eight cups -- of liquid daily helps:

  • Cushion and lubricate joints
  • Nourish and protect the brain, spinal cord and other tissues
  • Keep the body's temperature normal
  • Help remove waste through perspiration, bowel movements and urination

Boomers in particular should stay hydrated throughout the day. That’s because with age, a person’s sense of thirst lessens, and kidneys aren’t able to conserve body water as well as they did in younger days.

“As people get older, the excretion of the antidiuretic hormone that controls thirst perception and formation of urine is damaged, causing excess formation of urine during the night,” Dr. Gnessin says. “This needs to be compensated during the day. A handy guideline is to drink as much water as is necessary to replace water lost throughout the day.”

Prescription and over-the-counter medications can also up your risk of dehydration and loss of electrolytes. To avoid that, drink a tall glass of water every time you take drugs like diuretics, antihistamines, laxatives, antipsychotics and steroids.

One good indicator of whether you're hydrated properly is to look at the color of your urine.

“Clear or light-colored urine means you’re getting enough water, and dark yellow urine may mean you’re dehydrated,” Dr. Gnessin says.

Warning Signs of Dehydration

The warning signs of mild dehydration include:

  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Sleepiness
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urine output
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness

The warning signs of severe dehydration, which is a medical emergency, are:

  • Irritability, dizziness and confusion
  • Extreme thirst
  • Very dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes
  • Lack of sweating
  • Little or no urination
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Delirium or unconsciousness

Fortunately, you don’t have to only drink water or other beverages to stay hydrated. Raw fruits and vegetables can pack a hydrating punch.

About 20 percent of your daily water intake comes from solid foods. For example, a cucumber is 96 percent water and a tomato is 94 percent water. Other water-dense foods include: celery sticks, radishes, cucumber slices, bell peppers, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, grapes, grapefruit, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, blueberries and apples.

“When it comes to preventing kidney stones, I tell my patients that four ounces of lemon or orange juice mixed in a two-liter bottle of water consumed daily can help stop the aggregation of calcium oxalate stones, the most common type of painful kidney stones,” Dr. Gnessin says. “And another tip: drink any hot or cold tea you like – just avoid black tea, which contains oxalate and assists in the formation of kidney stones.”