When you reach the end of a busy day, do you remember whether you took the time to drink plenty of water?
Constipation, headaches, and fatigue could all be signs you’ve overlooked this vital task. All too often, hydration is an afterthought.
In your journey toward optimal health, getting plenty of water should be at the top of your list. You need water for good brain function, digestion, and circulation. (1)
Moreover, proper hydration helps ensure you have the energy and fluid you need to optimize detox. This includes detoxification and drainage via your liver, kidneys, and colon.
Read on to find out how hydration supports these and other vital bodily functions. You’ll also get some guidance on how much water you need and 5 hacks to stay hydrated.
What Does Water Do in Your Body?
Water is found everywhere in your body — even in your bones. In fact, water makes up about 60% of your body weight. (2)
The majority of this water is inside your cells. The rest surrounds your cells or makes up the liquid part of your blood, which is called plasma. (3)
All this water is in your body for a reason. Proper hydration enables your whole body to work more efficiently.
Among its many essential functions, water: (2)
- Serves as the place where all chemical reactions needed for life occur
- Plays critical roles in cellular energy production and use
- Carries nutrients from digestion around your body
- Flushes waste products and toxins out of your body
- Regulates your body temperature
- Lubricates your joints and mucous membranes
- Acts as a shock absorber in your body
The best place to start unpacking this list is where most of the action happens in your body: in your cells.
Hydration and Your Mitochondria
What drives the chemical reactions needed for essential life functions? The energy produced by your mitochondria, the biological “batteries” of your cells.
Mitochondria generate chemical energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Your body needs this energy to: (4)
- Maintain membrane pumps needed for transporting nutrients and electrical signaling
- Regulate hormone secretions that direct growth, development, and repair
- Perform physical and mental work
- Break down food and distribute nutrients
- Eliminate waste products and toxins
All this happens in water and with water. Here’s what that means.
ATP in water
During the process of making energy in the watery spaces of your mitochondria, the ATP molecules become hydrated. (5)
Hydration of ATP is not quite the same as being hydrated when you drink enough water.
Water surrounds ATP in a precise orientation that stabilizes it and keeps it dissolved. It’s only when ATP is dissolved in water that it can be used for energy.
ATP with water
Water molecules also react with ATP to free energy stored in its chemical bonds. Then your cells use it in the ways listed above.
In this chemical reaction, the water splits ATP apart. Ironically, one of the by-products of this process is metabolic water. (6)
From a chemical standpoint, metabolic water is like the water you drink. It’s made of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. That’s why it’s called H2O.
But, unlike the water that comes out of your faucet, metabolic water doesn’t contain contaminants. It’s pure. This pristine water supports the optimal functioning of your mitochondria. That has far-reaching benefits in your body.
What Are the Health Benefits of Hydration?
Hydration plays a vital role in every major organ and system of your body. Here’s a closer look at some of these.
Hydration supports your digestive system
Water supports the functioning of your digestive tract from start to finish.
As you chew, the food you eat mixes with saliva — which is mostly water. But, your saliva also contains enzymes that start the breakdown process of carbohydrates. Saliva also helps you swallow. (7)
After you swallow, watery fluids transport the foods you eat through your gut. The fluid also promotes the mixing of food with digestive enzymes, as well as the absorption of digested nutrients.
The fluids your body produces to facilitate digestion include about 118 ounces of gastric (stomach) juices and 20 ounces of bile daily. Water is a key component of these secretions. (8, 9)
At the end of your digestive tract, water traveling through your gut is reabsorbed in your colon. When you experience diarrhea, it means the movement of your gut contents was too swift. So, not enough water was reabsorbed.
On the other hand, inadequate water intake can lead to constipation. Keeping up your water intake throughout the day may help you avoid sluggish elimination. (1)
Hydration supports your kidneys
These bean-shaped organs help to regulate the fluid balance in your body.
Your kidneys also play a vital role in detoxification. Over a million tiny filters in these organs do the dirty work of removing metabolic waste products and toxins from your blood. Later you eliminate these via urine. (10)
This is easy to take for granted since you don’t have to think about making your kidneys do their job. But these organs work very hard on your behalf.
Your kidneys filter about 50 gallons (200 liters) of fluid every day. All your blood goes through the kidneys about 60 times a day. (11, 12)
The kidneys can’t perform this vital function without plenty of water.
If your kidneys receive a hormonal signal that your water intake is low, they stop excreting much of it. In effect, they conserve water needed for essential life functions. Your urine will become more concentrated. As a result, it may appear dark yellow — like apple juice.
Besides supporting kidney filtration, optimal water intake helps protect your urinary system against disease. This includes safeguarding against kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and chronic kidney disease. (7, 13, 14)
To appreciate just how amazing these super filters are, why not enjoy a glass of water in your kidneys’ honor now?
Hydration supports your liver
As your major detox organ, your liver has a vital role to play. It deactivates toxins carried by your blood.
Good hydration supports your liver’s detoxification function. A major reason for this is that your blood is more than half water. About 1 quart (800–1200 ml) of blood cycles through your liver every minute for filtration. (15, 16)
Additionally, adequate water supports your secretion of bile. In turn, good bile flow may reduce your odds of gallstones. (7, 17)
Moreover, hydration supports detoxification via your bile. Your liver releases toxins into bile. In turn, bile is secreted into your gut, and some is bound by dietary fiber. Then it’s excreted via your stools. (18)
Carbon-based binders also bind bile so you can eliminate it, rather than recycle it and its toxins.
So, good hydration goes a long way toward supporting your liver function, detoxification, and drainage.
Hydration supports other organs and systems
Proper hydration also supports your cardiovascular system, skin, brain, and lungs. Your hydration status may even impact your sensation of pain.
Here’s a brief look at how hydration may impact these organs and systems:
Circulatory system: If you get dizzy or feel faint when moving from sitting to standing, good hydration may help. Also, if you’re prone to fainting, it could help to drink plenty of water before extensive standing and hot weather. (19)
Brain: Inadequate hydration may undermine your brain function. Even mild dehydration may impair your attention span, short-term memory, and thinking. Poor hydration may also promote headaches, including migraines. (20, 21)
Lungs: You already know how vital oxygen is to your body. But when you breathe to get this vital oxygen, you lose water. And during intense physical activity, you may lose water around four times faster than when you’re at rest. (22)
Pain: Good hydration may offer you the perk of feeling less pain. This has been shown in competitive athletes and in a study using frigid water as a source of pain. Hydration may also reduce pain related to certain diseases. (23, 24, 25)
Skin: Human studies suggest good hydration supports healthy skin. This includes promoting soft, smooth skin. If your skin is dry and rough, consider whether you’re drinking enough water. (26)
How much water is adequate? Read on to find out.
How Much Water Do You Need?
Adults lose an average of 10 glasses of water (80 ounces) daily. Your urine, stools, and sweat — all routes for eliminating toxins — are major ways you lose water. (27)
Because water is essential for life, you need to replace it. But how much water should you drink every day?
Conventional wisdom recommends eight glasses of water a day.
However, scientists now believe this amount depends on many factors unique to you. These include your body size, health condition, and activity level. Environmental aspects like the climate and altitude are important considerations, too.
Experts provide the following general daily water intake recommendations: (28, 29)
Women: 60–75 ounces (7.5–9 glasses)
Men: 88–100 ounces (11–12.5 glasses)
Keep in mind, these broad ranges are considered “adequate” intake. What’s optimal for you is uncertain and will vary with individual factors.
At any rate, you shouldn’t worry much about exceeding these guidelines. Overhydration isn’t a common problem, though it has been observed in some athletes. Certain diuretics and antidepressants may also affect your water balance and electrolytes. (30)
If you’re unsure how much water is best for you to drink, consult with your functional medicine practitioner.
Water Balance and Electrolytes
Being well-hydrated requires much more than just getting the recommended daily intake of water.
It’s also essential that you maintain electrolytes in the right proportions in all your bodily fluids. Electrolytes are electrically charged particles called ions.
Your body contains several different electrolytes. The amounts of sodium and potassium are the most important. (31)
For your body to function normally, electrolytes must be present in carefully controlled amounts and only where they are supposed to be (inside or outside your cells).
The regulatory mechanism to keep the electrolytes balanced is stringent. Even a tiny change of a few ounces from normal levels sets off hormonal messages to your kidneys to either conserve or excrete fluid. (1)
If you’re consuming enough liquids and a healthy diet loaded with vegetables and fruits, keeping your electrolyte levels on point shouldn’t be a problem.
But note that if you have severe vomiting and diarrhea, you may need supplemental electrolytes and fluids.
Have you ever been so thirsty that you thought you’d faint or even die? Not having sufficient water — dehydration — is potentially lethal. (1)
You may not encounter severe dehydration. Still, you should be alert to milder states of dehydration. Over the long term, this is linked with increased risk of illness, like kidney disease. (7, 32)
Watch for signs of dehydration, including: (33, 34)
- Thirst and dry mouth
- Unusual fatigue
- Moodiness or irritability
- Dry skin
In dehydration, your brain literally shrinks in size, too. (Temporarily, until you rehydrate.) No wonder it can be tough to think when you’re dehydrated. (35)
Fortunately, there are many tasty ways to help you stay hydrated.
5 Hydration Hacks
You may have heard that thirst isn’t always a good indicator of whether you need to drink up. This is true. For example, as you age, the thirst trigger to consume more fluids diminishes. (1)
Moreover, it can be easy to fall behind on your fluid intake if you’re really busy or sweating a lot in the summer heat.
The solution to drink more water sounds simple. But what if you get bored with plain water?
Here are 5 hacks to help keep you well-hydrated.
1. Fruit-infused water
You don’t have to doctor up water with sugar and artificial flavors to make it more palatable. Instead, add your own natural flavorings.
You’ve likely heard of adding lemon wedges to your water. But don’t stop there.
Mash up a few berries or other small amount of fruit in water. Refrigerate it for at least two hours to let the flavors infuse the water. Strain before drinking, if desired.
Also try kiwi slices, orange wedges, peach slices, sweet cherries, or whatever fruit you have on hand. You can try flavor combinations, like pineapple with mango or blueberries with lemon, too.
2. Herbal tea
Beverages flavored with herbs help hydrate you. What’s more, they contain natural plant compounds — phytochemicals — that may provide health benefits.
For example, peppermint tea has long been used to soothe digestive distress. It also contains beneficial phytochemicals called flavonoids. (36)
Animal research suggests peppermint’s flavonoids may calm the activity of your mast cells. Overactivity of these immune system cells may promote leaky gut and irritable bowel syndrome. (36, 37)
You can also enjoy an herb-based “coffee.” Some Ayurvedic herbal coffee substitutes include coffee senna, also known as fedegoso. This herb has anti-parasitic and liver-supportive properties. (38, 39, 40)
Make herbal teas ahead of time and refrigerate them for a cold drink in the summer. Enjoy them hot in the winter.
3. Coconut water
“Noelani” is the Hawaiian name for coconut and means “dew from the heavens.” This hints at the fluid and nutrient-rich composition of coconuts. (41)
You can buy coconut water in most stores. Just be sure to choose unsweetened versions.
Coconut water is rich in electrolytes — particularly potassium. Several studies have explored the beverage’s potential benefits beyond hydration.
Drinking about 2 quarts of coconut water every day may help prevent kidney stone formation better than tap water, according to a preliminary human study. Whether smaller amounts would significantly help protect against kidney stones hasn’t been tested. (41)
Animal studies suggest coconut water helps combat depression. This may be because it impacts your neurotransmitters. (42)
4. Fruits and vegetables
Remember those eight glasses or so of water you’re advised to get daily? This water doesn’t have to come entirely from beverages. Some comes from solid foods.
About 20% of the water you consume is tucked away in the foods you eat, especially fruits and vegetables. (1)
In fact, vegetables and fruits contain as much as 96% water by weight. This varies with the specific produce items, but most are high in water. (43)
Examples of water-rich options include cucumbers, salad greens, broccoli, strawberries, peaches, and oranges. Even avocados, which may seem rather solid, are 73% water by weight. (43, 44)
5. Broth and soup
Homemade broths and soups are another delicious way to bump up your fluid intake.
Not only does the liquid in soup support hydration, but so do the water-rich veggies in it — like celery, carrots, and onions.
If you make broth by boiling the bones from grass-fed cattle or organic chicken, you’ll receive the added benefit of collagen. An animal study found that the collagen in bone broth helped protect the gut lining. (45)
Additionally, a lab study suggests that collagen helps prevent increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut. (46)
Water takes the prize for being the unsung hero in your journey toward robust health.
Hydrating sufficiently is critical for your body to perform a large number of essential life functions. These include many actions necessary for detoxification, namely:
Producing and using cellular energy
- Filtering and detoxifying wastes via your liver and kidneys
- Eliminating toxins via your stools, urine, and sweat
Besides drinking plain water, fluids like herbal tea and bone broth also count toward your daily intake quota. Whole vegetables and fruits make significant water contributions, too.
What creative ways to hydrate will you try today?