Dehydration can occur in both an acute and a chronic state: the former is easy to identify and fairly easy to remedy; the latter is insidious, overlooked and, I believe, the cause of many of today’s illnesses and conditions.

Acute dehydration

This occurs most frequently in younger adults who overexercise in hot or humid conditions. The athletes we see failing in their excursions due to cramp are usually doing so because of dehydration. The symptoms are obvious in some cases but in others require a little thought.

A sensation of thirst, dry mouth and lips is fairly obvious but overlooked are tiredness, muscular fatigue and cramps, dry skin or cessation of sweating. Later signs of acute dehydration will include dizziness or fainting, rapid heartbeat and confusion or delirium. This usually only occurs when dehydration is very severe, as can be seen in desert movies!


Avoid dehydration! If you are in a hot climate or performing exercise, ensure a regular or persistent intake of water.

If dehydration has occurred, replenish water slowly. Alternate with salty or sugary solutions, or use specially prepared electrolyte solutions in conjunction with water to replace the lost salts and glucose. Use natural sugars, not refined.

In more severe cases, place the body in a bath or wet cloth and, of course, remove from heat where possible.

Chronic dehydration

Chronic dehydration does not have the same immediate or acute symptoms as described above. It occurs over a period of time when most individuals slowly but surely drink less water than they require and the body adjusts by losing its sensitivity to thirst and learns to live with dry lips, dry skin, muscular aches and pains and a variety of other symptoms described below. This lack of sensitivity is a tribute to the human body’s ability to adjust to its circumstances but it may be that this adaptation has led us to deal with an increase in many of the symptoms that plague us, especially in the Western world. These include cancer, asthma, arthritis, eczema, digestive problems and susceptibility to infections.

The biochemistry of the body requires water in most, if not all, of its reactions. Most of these reactions go on within cells that will be reluctant to give up water if less than adequate amounts are taken in regularly. Every cell in the body will protect itself by taking up cholesterol, other fats or lipids and proteins to create a lipoprotein layer around itself. This prevents water leaving the cells but also inhibits water from entering the cells. The biochemical processes continue but, like a stagnant pond, will eventual use up some of the natural energy provided in molecules that can interchange with each other and, although the processes will continue, the natural energy associated with them may not. Meanwhile, the water we take in is not absorbed fully into the cells, our tissues can become bloated and the bloodstream mildly diluted, telling the brain that we do not need water and thereby reducing our thirst and perpetuating the dehydration cycle.

The cholesterol, fats and proteins that are required for this protective process are made by the liver. The liver works overtime and has less availability to deal with the body’s general requirements for metabolism, both in breaking down toxins and building up the compounds that we need. More energy is required to keep the liver functioning and therefore less energy is available elsewhere so that tiredness and fatigue become common initial symptoms. The lack of breakdown of toxins puts pressure on the kidneys and poisons get deposited around the body. Much of this poison is taken up by fat stores, which are also accommodate the extra fats that the liver is constructing for the benefit of the protective layer of the cells, and so the fat stores increase, as does one’s weight. Toxins are dissolved into the fat stores and more water is pulled into these tissues to dilute down these toxins. This again increases the body’s retention of water in areas where it should not be held.

The slightly higher metabolic rate created by dehydration encourages the production of free radicals known to promote atheroma, leading to heart attacks, strokes and also cancer.

Lacking water, the body generally concentrates its fluids. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach and the digestive juices throughout the intestine become more concentrated and, whilst this may help digestion overall, it challenges the lining of the bowel leading to inflammation and ulcerative conditions and this inhibits the correct production and multiplication of the body’s natural bowel flora.

The higher concentration of acidity is absorbed into the bloodstream and can cause: arthritic conditions; conditions in the skin, such as psoriasis or eczema; and concentration of other fluids, such as in the gallbladder, leading to gallstones.

Need I go on … ?

Put simply, the argument could be made for dehydration affecting many if not most medical conditions in the body. Dehydration is insidious. One must remember that we are losing approximately two pints of water each day in our urine, approximately the same through sweat and about a pint through nasal mucus and stool. This has to be replaced, otherwise we fall into a dehydration pattern.


Any persistent or recurrent condition of a lack of health or illness requires a review of the body’s hydration.

There is no strictly accurate amount that suits everybody. If you are a thirsty person, ensure that your thirst is quenched by water and that any other fluids (tea, coffee, alcohol, juices, etc) are taken for pleasure or effect rather than to quench the thirst.

If you are not a thirsty person then a minimum of half a pint of water per foot of height should be taken throughout the day.

Do not confuse the intake of fluid with the intake of water. You are not rehydrating yourself using anything but water or the most dilute of juices.

Tea, caffeine and sugars (both refined and natural, such as fruit juices) are all potentially dehydrating. Each time any of these are enjoyed, a glass of water should follow within 15min. • Avoid tap water where sanitation is poor or the water is fluoridated.