We all know we should drink plenty of water, but do we do it? And just how much should you drink? Water is so critical for our health, and it’s especially important for anyone with digestive issues like IBS.
The average adult body is 50-65% water. There is variation between men and women (men’s bodies are approximately 60% water, and women’s bodies are approximately 55%), and the amount of water differs by body composition and fitness level. Lean tissue contains more water than fatty tissue. The water in the body is mostly in the intracellular fluid. It’s the liquid that plumps up each individual cell. About a third of the water in our bodies is extracellular – outside of the cells.
Water acts as an insulator, helping us regulate our internal body temperature. That’s why our bodies sweat when we get hot. The sweat on our skins evaporates to cool our body temperature back to normal. Water is also important to the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates. Water is the primary component in saliva, which begins the digestive process in the mouth. Water is also used to flush waste products and toxins from our body, as our kidneys filter them out and produce urine. Water also acts as a lubricant in our joints and protects our brain, spinal cord and organs, acting as a shock absorber.
By the time you feel thirsty, your body has already lost around 2-3% of its water content. Dehydration can cause multiple problems in the body. Two of the first signs of dehydration are a decline in mental performance and in physical coordination, which occur around 1% dehydration. Mild dehydration can also drain your energy, making you feel tired.
How much is enough?
Water is naturally lost from the body through the breath, sweat, urine and bowel movements. A frequent recommendation is for adults to drink 8-10 eight ounce glasses of water a day. People who are exercising or out in the sun may need more water, and anyone who’s sick also needs extra water to help flush the body. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding also need additional water, as water is the main component in amniotic fluid and breast milk. In general, if your urine is colorless or light yellow, you’re well-hydrated.
While it is possible to drink too much water (water intoxication that leads to a dilution of sodium called hyponatremia), this is rare and is most commonly seen in young infants or athletes. Water intoxication occurs when a dehydrated person drinks too much water too quickly without the needed electrolytes.
The importance of electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals in the body that have an electric charge. They are found in the blood, urine, and other bodily fluids, and are naturally ingested through foods and fluids consumed. Electrolytes include sodium, calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate, and magnesium. Our bodies maintain the right balance of electrolytes to perform a number of cellular functions. Dehydration can cause an imbalance in electrolytes.
Water intake and IBS
People with IBS-D (predominantly diarrhea) may experience dehydration from frequent bouts of diarrhea and may need to drink extra fluids and electrolytes to keep their bodies hydrated. People with IBS-C (predominantly constipation) also need extra water to help the stool move through the intestines.
When you have diarrhea, drink at least 1 cup of liquid each time you have a bowel movement. In addition, eat some salty foods, like chips, popcorn, or pretzels. Sports drinks or other rehydration drinks can also help. Foods high in potassium, like bananas, potatoes, and fruit juices, can replenish lost electrolytes.
When you have constipation, drink more water and increase your fiber, such as fruits with the skin, whole grain products, and vegetables.