Dehydrating without enough Water and electrolytes

Drink more water than you need, and your healthy body simply shrugs its shoulders, so to speak, urinates more copiously, and readjusts the water level. It's hard for a healthy person on a normal diet to drink himself or herself to death on water.

But if you don't get enough water, your body lets you know pretty quickly.

The first sign is thirst, that unpleasant dryness in your mouth caused by the loss of water from cells in your gums, tongue, and cheeks. The second sign is reduced urination.

What else do those electrolytes do?

In addition to keeping fluid levels balanced, sodium, potassium, and chloride (the form of chlorine found in food) ions create electrical impulses that enable cells to send messages back and forth between themselves so you can think, see, move, and perform all the bioelectri-cal functions that you take for granted.

Sodium, potassium, and chloride are also major minerals (see Chapter 11) and essential nutrients. Like other nutrients, they're useful in these bodily processes:

  • Sodium helps digest proteins and carbohydrates and keeps your blood from becoming too acidic or too alkaline.
  • Potassium is used in digestion to synthesize proteins and starch and is a major constituent of muscle tissue.
  • Chloride is a constituent of hydrochloric acid, which breaks down food in your stomach. It's also used by white blood cells to make hypochlorite, a natural antiseptic.

Reduced urination is a protective mechanism triggered by ADH, a hormone secreted by the hypothalamus, a gland at the base of your brain. The initials are short for antidiuretic hormone. Remember, a diuretic is a substance, such as caffeine, that increases urine production. ADH does just the opposite, helping your body conserve water rather than eliminate it.

If you don't heed these signals, your tissues will begin to dry out. In other words, you're dehydrating, and if you don't — or can't — get water, you won't survive.

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