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The Consequences of a Lack of Water

author image Sylvie Tremblay, MSc
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Based in Ontario, Canada, Tremblay is an experienced journalist and blogger specializing in nutrition, fitness, lifestyle, health and biotechnology, as well as real estate, agriculture and clean tech.
The Consequences of a Lack of Water
A woman drinking a bottle of water on a park bench after exercising. Photo Credit amenic181/iStock/Getty Images

Water plays a central role in your health -- it carries sugar, nutrients and hormones throughout your body, lubricates your joints and aids in eliminating waste products. Each day, your body loses a large amount of water through your urine and feces, as well as from evaporation off your skin. You need to replenish your body's water stores by drinking fluids and consuming water-rich foods to avoid dehydration, or you'll suffer a range of health consequences.

Early Signs and Symptoms

A lack of water has rapid consequences when it comes to your bathroom habits. If you aren't getting enough water, you won't have to urinate often and, when you do have to go, your urine will appear dark yellow. Ideally, you should urinate regularly throughout the day, and it should have a light yellow color. You might also find that your mouth feels dry or sticky, you have difficulty producing tears or notice your eyes appear sunken.

Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances

Over time, a lack of water also negatively affects your body's fluid balance. Your body tries to maintain a relatively consistent concentration of electrolytes -- minerals that conduct energy -- dissolved in your body fluids. These electrolytes play a key role in tissue function -- for example, sodium aids in nerve communication -- and maintaining healthy electrolyte balance helps your cells work properly. When you're dehydrated, your body loses water faster than it loses electrolytes. As a result, you can develop an electrolyte imbalance, which causes a range of symptoms, including muscle spasms, weakness and an irregular heartbeat.

Problems with Temperature Regulation

Water plays a key role in regulating your body temperature, ensuring your core temperature stays within a healthy range, so that the enzymes in your cells can function properly. Water absorbs and dissipates heat created as a side effect of your metabolism, and your sweat glands release fluid onto your skin in the heat, which evaporates to reduce your body temperature. Dehydration hinders your body's ability to cool itself, and if you're dehydrated and exposed to heat for a long time, you might develop heat exhaustion, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center. This overheating can cause weakness, headaches or dizziness, and in extreme causes even seizure or death.

Getting Enough Water

You need several cups of fluid daily to replenish your body's water stores -- men need an average of 15.5 cups daily, while women need an average of 11 cups, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Roughly one-fifth of your daily fluid intake comes from food, and you can increase your water consumption by opting for water-packed foods, such as fruits and vegetables. The remaining four-fifths come from water and other beverages, which can include caffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea.

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