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When Water Runs Out, Part 1: Dehydration Effects


How important is water to the body?

Dehydration Effects

In terms of sustaining the human body, nothing is more essential than water. The body can go for long periods of time without large quantities of calories; however, it cannot survive for long without water and dehydration effects come on quickly.


Our bodies can readily adapt to emergency situations and it can even use up its emergency stores of glucose, protein and fat to ensure that your organs are working even if you’re not eating very well. However, if there’s no water, it can just choose to shut down, system by system, until lethal dehydration occurs.


Always remember: our need for regular hydration is completely different from our need to eat food.


The human body is more than 60% water and requires the “elixir of life” for proper thermoregulation and other physiological functions.


What happens when you don’t find water fast enough in the wilderness?


There are many factors that come into play when it comes to determining a person’s level of dehydration. Stress, fatigue, heat/cold exposure – these are just some of the dehydration effects that will predict the speed at which you lose water.

Below are some common signs of dehydration:


  1. Inexplicable light-headedness
  2. Dry mouth and throat
  3. Raspy or hoarse speech
  4. Fatigue
  5. Prolonged stress
  6. Drying of the eyes which may then lead to irritation and blurry vision
  7. Infrequent urination
  8. Low urine output
  9. Reduced stamina
  10. Reduced physical strength and speed
  11. Muscular weakness
  12. Constipation


How much water does a person lose on the average?


If you are in a warm or hot environment, you can lose as much as 5 gallons of water with continuous physical activity.


If water is a scarce resource, you may want to conserve water in your body by moving about in the evening or by taking small, frequent sips from your canister of water.


If you spend the whole day walking and working in a very hot environment, you may begin to suffer from symptoms of dehydration and hyperthermia.


How will you know if you’re dehydrated?


The fastest way to determine your hydration level is by looking at the color of your urine.


If your urine is almost colorless and is of a good volume, you’re well hydrated and you can safely perform rigorous activities even in warm weather.


However, if the color of your urine is dark yellow to almost tea-colored, you’re already dehydrated. The general recommendation in this situation is to drink water immediately to bring your body’s moisture level up.


The frequency of a person’s urination is also a good indicator of his hydration level.


If you don’t urinate for 10 to 12 hours straight, your body is probably in an emergency state because it is dehydrated. You’re not producing much urine because your body is desperately holding on to the water that is available to it.


What are short-term strategies to conserve water?

Dehydration Effects - Water Conservation

If you only have very limited water, you have to exert extra effort in conserving this precious resource. Here are some expert survival tips:


  1. Limit Your Water Intake – If you drink water too frequently, your body will react by producing more urine (which will have to be voided) and this will eventually cause your water stores to run low. For the short-term, stop consuming water and let your body maximize the water it already has.


  1. Avoid Diuretic Agents – Alcoholic beverages and caffeinated beverages are a bad idea if you’re dehydrated. These beverages contain diuretic chemicals that cause the body to expel water more frequently.


  1. Avoid Overexerting Yourself- Intense physical activities increase the heat generated by the muscles. When the body’s temperature goes up, the body uses water to produce sweat which in turn cools the body down. The increase in sweat production will dehydrate you.


  1. Maintain Normal Body Temperature – You can make your body more comfortable by keeping your skin as cool as possible. Any available body of water is fine, as long as it’s clean. You can even bathe in saltwater to keep yourself cool.


  1. Stick to Carbohydrates – If you’re out in the wilderness with little water, avoid foods that are rich in protein and fat. These macronutrients require more water to digest and break down.


Your muscles need glucose primarily so stick to carbohydrate sources for the short-term. Carbohydrates do not require a lot of moisture to break down and are perfect for scarce water scenarios.


  1. Breathe Properly – Proper breathing is through our nostrils, not through our mouths. If you breathe through your mouth most of the time, you’re going to start losing more water just by exhaling.

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