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Dehydration and Depression: Understanding the link

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Have you been feeling tired and blue lately?  Is your stress-filled life feeling more stressful than usual?  Do the minor irritations seem to be just enough to push you over the edge lately?

Here's a surprising tip that helps more often than you might think:  drink enough water!

Seriously? Yes!  Stress and non-clinical depression are indeed often tied to being dehydrated.

Science of dehydration

The average human body is about 60% water, so you'd think being a teeny bit dehydrated wouldn't be much of a big deal.  It turns out that our water levels make more difference than you'd think.

Researchers from Tufts found that mildly dehydrated college athletes were more likely to be tired, angry, depressed or tense than students who drank enough fluids.  They found that our moods "may be more sensitive to fluid balance."

The standard minor symptoms of dehydration include confusion, fatigue, and sluggishness.  More recent studies show a direct tie between drinking enough fluids and being able to handle stress.  

Dehydrated and stressed

Being dehydrated by even half a liter can increase the level of stress hormones in your body.  Cortisol, a stress hormone is shown to increase when you're mildly dehydrated.  

At the same time, dehydration is tied to a decrease in your serotonin levels.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates many of your processes.  Low serotonin symptoms include fatigue, insomnia, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, and feeling extra-sensitive emotionally.  

But I drink when I'm thirsty!

Sadly that's not nearly early enough.  According to a University of Connecticut study it turns out our thirst sensation usually doesn't show up until we're already 1-2% dehydrated.  By that time we're already starting to feel the side effects.  

The study also found the symptoms of dehydration to be significantly worse for women than for men.

How do I know if I'm drinking enough?

If you're thirsty you're probably already slightly dehydrated.  Time to drink a glass of water.

Over the long run the simplest guidance is to monitor the color of your urine.  The color of your urine should be clear or at most a pale yellow.  People who drink enough water are also more likely to have soft bowel movements, so constipation can also be a sign that you need to up your fluid intake.  

What if I drink too much water?

It's always possible to do too much of a good thing, and drinking water is no exception.  If you have kidney or heart problems you should definitely consult with your physician.  Similarly, if you're involved in endurance sports like marathons you'll want to take a measured approach to your fluids.  For the rest of us, it's quite rare to drink too much water.

Will drinking water cure all ills?

No, water isn't a cure-all.  You already knew that though, right?  Getting enough water doesn't cure clinical depression.  But as we've seen, mild dehydration contributes to feeling stressed, tired, and generally blue.  If you're already drinking plenty of water (passing the clear urine test mentioned For other potential causes of fatigue see my article Why am I Feeling Tired All the Time? 

Getting enough water on a daily basis should be a part of everyone's overall health plan.  As health treatments go, it's as easy and inexpensive as you can get.  Let's go for it!






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