Depressed feeling due to being dehydrated
Photo: Pexels

by Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.
Founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab
Guest Post Contributor
Click here to contact Dr. Wells via email.

85% of your brain tissue is made up of water. As you can imagine, dehydration can have a big impact on your brain. We don’t often think about how much water we drink – or don’t – but it’s about time we did. Dehydration is a surprising trigger for dozens of medical and mental health conditions. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, dehydration can worsen your symptoms and stress your body in ways that darker your mood.

Let’s dive into dehydration and look at how it affects the body and mind – and what you can do about it.

Telltale signs of dehydration

You’ll know if you’re dehydrated because your body will show signs of dryness. Specifically, your mouth, eyes and skin will become dry and papery. In addition, your body will try to retain and ration its low water supply, which may cause you to stop sweating, experience muscle cramps or urinate a dark yellow. Dehydration will also affect your mood. Your body will run less smoothly without water, which means your energy levels will drop and you may feel fatigued or get a headache. Given these symptoms, dehydrated people also report feeling “off.”

Dehydration in action

Dehydration happens all the time. That’s because the human body has a remarkable ability to adapt to physical circumstances. Typically, you won’t feel thirsty until you’ve already lost a significant amount of water volume – experts say around 1.5%. So, even if you’re not feeling thirsty, your body could be running on lower-than-usual water levels. When you add in other factors, dehydration becomes even more common. For example, athletes can easily become dehydrated because of water losses during intense physical activity. In addition, a hot day can zap your hydration levels, or even a change in your diet or after enjoying an alcoholic drink.

Women, drink up

New studies also report that women may be more affected by dehydration than men. There are a handful of reasons why. To start, women have a lower water volume than men. This means they have less water to lose in the first place. In addition, varying levels of hormones and temperature responses don’t favor women. Since women are more susceptible to dehydration, it’s even more important for them to drink up.

Physical impacts of dehydration

To get a full picture of dehydration, it’s good to understand the impacts it has on the body. Generally speaking, dehydration can contribute to weak physical performance and low endurance levels. It might also play a role in exacerbating constipation, UTIs and heart disease. The physical toll of dehydration is no small matter.

Mood impacts of dehydration

Moreover, new studies show a link between dehydration and depression symptoms. This makes sense in context of how the body reactions to low water volume. According to studies, typical mood symptoms include:

  • Darker moods
  • Low energy levels
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion and/or difficulty concentrating
  • Irritation or crankiness
  • Sleepiness

All these symptoms arise from the body’s attempts to manage your energy supply. As it handles dehydration, certain hormones are triggered or reduced, causing your mood to suffer the consequences. 

The mechanics behind dehydration and depression

There are two main hormonal changes when you experience dehydration, which account for reduced energy and concentration. The first is a dip in serotonin. Serotonin – sometimes called the “happy chemical” – is vital for managing your body’s wellbeing, appetite, mood and cognitive function. Unfortunately, low serotonin levels are scientifically linked to depression and anxiety, as well as a host of other mental health disorders including panic attacks and paranoia. Water plays a leading role in carrying key amino acids that then turn into serotonin. Without water, your serotonin levels slide, making you feel the negative impacts.

On the other hand, dehydration also boost your cortisol levels, further complicating your mood. Spikes in cortisol are associated with the stress response. When your body is dealing with the stress of dehydration, your adrenal glands will produce more cortisol. This can make you feel stressed, anxious and tired.

So, what’s the good news?

Photo: Pexelsls

Lucky for us, staying hydrated is linked to alleviating depression symptoms. According to a study by the University of Connecticut, keeping your water volume stable and replenished can aid your body and mind, and limit adverse mood changes. 

A good rule of thumb for staying hydrated is 8×8: 8 glasses of 8 ounces. However, everybody is unique. For example, you’ll want to drink more depending on your gender, weight and stress levels, as well as if you do intensive exercise, live in a hot climate, are pregnant, or have any specific health conditions. Check out this hydration calculator to figure out your ideal water intake.

Home hydration tips

If you’re always forgetting to drink water, there are three key actions you can take to keep your body running smoothly.

  1. Set a daily alarm: There’s an app for that. Try setting a reminder every couple of hours to get in the habit of drinking up.
  2. Watch what you eat: Your diet can impact your hydration levels. Be sure to eat water-rich foods (hint: they’re typically juicy). In addition, limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume, which can dry up your water volume. And if you’re looking to trigger your serotonin levels, you can try incorporating foods including almonds, avocados, bananas, beans and omega-3 foods.
  3. Carry around a water bottle: If water’s right in front of you, it’s harder to forget about. Purchase a high-quality water bottle that you can carry around during the day, whether you’re at the office or on the go.

Taking these small steps will get you in the habit of staying hydrated and keep dehydration from triggering depression symptoms.

Final takeaway

If you’re struggling with depression, know that you’re not alone. Be sure to seek professional help or visit me at Better Health Alaska and find ways to cultivate a healthy lifestyle. Hydration can’t cure depression. But it sure can help maximize your body’s efficiency and prevent extra stress on your body and mind. Drink up!

About Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief, such as chiropractic care, massage therapy, and physical therapy modality in Anchorage AK.

Click here to read Dr. Wells’ earlier contribution entitled, “Low Back Pain Symptoms, Causes, and Chiropractic Treatment.”

How Dehydration Contributes To Depression
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