5 Ways Drinking Water Helps Your Body

You’ve heard that it’s important to drink enough water every day, but you’re fuzzy on the reasons why. What does water do for the body, and what happens if you don’t get enough? The truth is that water is one of the most primary ingredients your body needs to function correctly. In fact, your body is made up of 60% water, and major organs like the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles are about 75% water.(1)  

Your body uses water constantly for essential functions like circulation, digestion, and temperature regulation. As water circulates through the body, it helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your cells and carry out waste products. It balances the consistency of blood and plasma so that your heart can pump efficiently. It helps your kidneys filter out harmful toxins and bacteria, and keeps digestive processes running smoothly so that your body can extract nutrients, burn fuel for energy, and eliminate wastes.

You are also losing fluids constantly through everyday processes like breathing, sweating, and elimination. Breathing alone depletes 2-3 cups of water a day! So it’s important to keep replenishing your fluids by drinking water. Most of us don’t drink enough -- it’s estimated that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.(2) Fatigue, brain-fog, headaches, and muscle cramps are often early signs of dehydration. 

Increasing your water intake will help you feel better and can even provide some unexpected health benefits. Here are 5 significant ways that drinking water helps your body.

1. Water Helps Energize Muscles

Think you’re worn out from working out? It could just be fluid loss. When your muscle cells don’t get the right amount of fluids and electrolytes, they shrivel and don’t function as well, according to WebMD.(3) Lack of water decreases blood volume, making it harder for the heart to pump oxygen and nutrients to the muscles for energy and causing muscle fatigue.(4) Dehydration also makes it harder for your body to regulate temperature. As your muscles work harder and harder, they can overheat, leading to muscle cramps.(5) 

It’s especially important to drink more water when you exercise, as exertion and sweat deplete your fluid reserves. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 17oz a couple hours before exercise, and then drinking regularly as you work out to replenish fluids.

2. Water Helps Cushion Joints

Your joint cartilage is made up of about 80% water. Like a sponge, the cartilage becomes soft and cushiony when it’s full of water, helping with shock absorption, but gets stiff when it dries out, causing more friction that can lead to joint pain. Even if you are taking joint supplements like Glucosamine & Chondroitin to help restore healthy cartilage, you still need to drink enough water to soften that tissue.(6) 

Water is also a key component of the synovial fluid that surrounds joints and keeps them lubricated for easier movement. And, as we saw, water is crucial for healthy muscle function, which helps stabilize joints and take pressure off them when you move. So drinking more water helps promote joint comfort in multiple ways.(7)

3. Water Helps Your Brain Function

Your brain is constantly busy carrying out a multitude of complex tasks, all of which require a healthy supply of water. Water is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients to fuel brain activity and removing toxins that can build up and impair brain function over time. Multiple studies show that even mild dehydration has a negative impact on brain performance, including memory, concentration, and mood. (8) One study even showed that dehydration can affect driving performance similarly to alcohol.(1) 

In most cases, the effects of dehydration on cognitive performance are short-term. But in adolescents, dehydration can even affect brain structure, causing shrinkage of brain tissue, which may have a long-term effect on cognitive function.(9)

4. Water Helps You Detox

Water is essential for flushing out toxins, waste, and bacteria from the body to help keep you healthy. It helps your cells expel waste, keeps things moving through the bowels for healthy elimination, and helps your kidneys filter out harmful toxins and bacteria from the blood. Dehydration can cause constipation, increase risk of urinary infection, and lead to kidney health problems over time.(3) It also allows toxins and bacteria to build up in the body, which can weaken your immune system.(10)

One easy sign of dehydration is bad breath. When your body lacks water, it produces less saliva, which allows bacteria to build up in the mouth.(4) Lack of water may also prompt your body to detox through the skin, causing breakouts.(11)

5. Water Helps with Weight Loss

Studies have found that people who drink more water lose more weight.(12,13) One reason is that dehydration can influence your energy and appetite. When you’re dehydrated, your liver has more trouble releasing glucose stores and burning fat for energy. When you feel that energy slump, you get food cravings, particularly for sugar and carbs. So you’re eating more calories while burning less fat.(4,5,14)

On the other hand, drinking more water can make you feel fuller and reduce food cravings. One study showed that when people increased their water intake by just 1%, or 1-3 cups a day, they significantly reduced their daily intake of sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and overall calories.(13)

 

So how much water should you drink every day to stay healthy? Here’s a quick formula: divide your body weight in half, then convert that number to ounces. So if you weigh 180 lbs, you need about 90 ounces of water a day. Make a habit of drinking water along with anything else you’re eating or drinking. Food, juice, and milk need water to help break down sugars and other nutrients. When you drink something dehydrating, like coffee or alcohol, have two glasses of water along with it. Stay hydrated, and your body will thank you!

References:

1.  “Dehydration and What it Does to Your Muscles and Body.Livewell Health & Physiotherapy.

2. Weigel, Jenniffer. Doctors say most Americans are dehydrated.Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 2018.

3.  Zelman, K.M. 6 Reasons to Drink Water.WebMD.

4.  7 Signs You’re Not Drinking Enough Water.Health Associates of Texas, Sept 2018.

5.  George, Nancie. “6 Unusual Signs of Dehydration You Should Know About.” Everyday Health, Jun 2020.

6. "Dehydration and Joint Pain.Orthopedic Specialists, May 2019.

7. “Want Healthy Joints? Hydrate!Tucson Orthopaedic Institute, Jun 2016

8. Leech, Joe. 7 Science-Based Health Benefits of Drinking Enough Water.” Healthline, Jun 2020.

9.  Kempton MJ, Ettinger U, Foster R, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents.Hum Brain Mapp. 2011;32(1):71-79. doi:10.1002/hbm.20999

10.  “5 Immune System Benefits of Drinking Water.FitDay.

11. “The Connection of Dehydration and Oily Skin and Acne.Face Fitness Professional Skin Care.

12.  Stookey JD, Constant F, Popkin BM, Gardner CD. “Drinking water is associated with weight loss in overweight dieting women independent of diet and activity.Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008;16(11):2481-2488. doi:10.1038/oby.2008.409

13. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Drinking more water associated with numerous dietary benefits, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 March 2016.

14. Jamieson, Alex. “Why Water is the Key to Detoxifying Your Body. VegKitchen, Jan 2008.