Monday, October 02, 2006

Stressed and depressed, or dehydrated?

When you are depressed, some of the things you may feel are headache, stiff or sore muscles, and lethargy. You may experience a reduced alertness and ability to concentrate, and begin to feel anxiety, fear, and depression. If this goes on for any length of time, you could find yourself suffering various mental and physical problems such as digestive system problems, insomnia, impaired memory function, even chronic fatigue syndrome.

When you are dehydrated, some of the things you may feel are headache, stiff or sore muscles, and lethargy. You may experience a reduced alertness and ability to concentrate, and begin to feel anxiety, fear, and depression. If this goes on for any length of time, you could find yourself suffering various mental and physical problems such as digestive system problems, insomnia, impaired memory function, even chronic fatigue syndrome.

Repetitious? Yes! Many of the symptoms of chronic dehydration parallel the symptoms of stress and depression. While I tend to read exaggerated claims with a critical eye, (i.e. “drinking water will relieve depression”) I must admit that the dehydration/depression link has a lot of merit. I have sifted through a great deal of technical information over the past few days, and will be sharing more of that in the future.

“Depression or dehydration” is one of those topics that again drives home the point that your symptoms must be evaluated in the context of your life and lifestyle. Never should a health-care professional come to a conclusion about your symptoms or complaint, or worse prescribe medications, without examining you through a holistic lens.

This is exactly what has happened in the case of stress, depression, and dehydration. A person suffering from chronic dehydration is incompletely assessed: without asking about diet, exercise, or lifestyle, the doctor goes over a list of approximately twenty symptoms of depression, and if the patient nods “yes” to as few as six of those twenty symptoms, the medical professional happily prescribes anti-depressant medications.

Anti-depressants are known to exacerbate dehydration, and the individual is being led further down the road of illness because her true condition of dehydration is being made worse by the medications, she is receiving treatment for the wrong condition, and now she suffers side effects by taking a medication that is completely wrong for her complaint. After another trip to the medical professional, her true condition remains undetected, but she comes away with another prescription to alleviate the symptoms caused by the first prescription. Now, new side-effects come to the surface. And so it goes…..

Most of the time, it is assumed that someone suffering depression has low levels of the neurotransmitter (a brain chemical that relays electrical signals between cells) serotonin. Whether this is true or not is a topic for hot debate among medical professionals. (Click to read “Serotonin and Depression” in Adobe Acrobat format)

What you need to know is this: anti-depressants are known to cause dehydration, and they are known to interfere with normal digestive system function. This is important because serotonin is created by an amino acid called tryptophan which you ingest through your foods. Tryptophan is absorbed through your digestive system. If your digestive system is not working properly, your body won’t absorb the tryptophan properly, and the tryptophan won’t be carried to the brain to make serotonin. Of course, this is the simplified version, but it shows that any malfunction in the body or override of natural bodily function (which is exactly what many medications do) can affect many and varied other body systems. It should also be noted that tryptophan is also converted into niacin (Vitamin B3), and niacin deficiencies can also mimic clinical depression: headache, apathy, fatigue, impaired memory function, digestive and nervous system malfunctions.

To understand how dehydration mimics depression, and how to tell whether you are depressed or dehydrated, you need to know a little about water and the body.

The water in your body has many functions. It helps your body digest food, and it carries wastes out of your body through sweat, urine, and feces. Water also controls your body temperature, and provides nutrients and minerals. It helps to cushion your joints, and it moisturizes the soft tissues of eyes, ears, nose, and throat. I’m sure you can see how a deficiency in water could upset the balance of several of your body systems.

I know that all of you have some idea of the composition of the body and how much of your body is water. It is important that you be aware of the breakdown of the water content in various parts of the body, especially the brain and the blood.

The numbers vary from source to source, but on the average the percentage of water in the various body parts is:

Human body: young people – 75%, older folks – 50%
Blood: 87%
Brain: 75%
Muscle: 75%
Lungs: 90%
Fat: 30%
Bones: 22%

Blood is responsible for carrying nutrients all around your body and removing many waste materials such as carbon-dioxide. If the blood is unhealthy and cannot properly carry out its function, your body will be deprived of nutrients while being unable to disperse wastes and toxins.

The brain will suffer quite quickly from just a small reduction in water. If you suffer from dehydration, the level of energy generated in the brain is decreased which can cause an inability to concentrate, and feelings of fear, anxiety, insecurity; in short, depression. A chronic lack of water in the brain can actually cause the brain tissue to shrink just as skin that is too dry will shrivel.

Dehydrated muscles will quickly lose strength and tone which will cause aches and pains, and adversely affect circulation.

I have already written about the importance of breathing properly, so will only add that if lung function is impaired due to dehydration, almost every other body system will be affected.

Through various bodily functions, you lose about 2.5 quarts, or 2.4 liters of water daily. You must replace that water in order to be healthy. Drinking water is one way to replace the loss, and the best thing about water is that it has no calories! The more water you drink, the more toxins will be flushed through your body and removed from your system.

How much water should you drink? I have to admit, I don’t care for the one-size-fits-all, “drink two quarts of water no matter who you are” advice. One source recommends one-half ounce for each pound of your body weight. I like that because it is tailored to the individual: divide your weight by 16 and that will be the number of eight-ounce glasses of water you should drink daily.

Of course, there are other options to replenish the moisture you need. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables; many are very high in water content. Drink milk and fruit juices. Avoid self-dehydration by staying away from caffeine, carbonated drinks and alcohol…they all rob you of vital moisture.

Here is another good idea: put a slice of lemon or a little lemon juice in your water. It adds a bit of flavor, is very refreshing, and lemon juice, even though it is an acid, has an alkalizing effect in the body which works to reduce excess acidity caused by dehydration, and by stress.

If you are taking prescription medications for any condition and think you may have been misdiagnosed, continue to take your medications, but do discuss options with your physician as soon as possible.

While researching this article, I did discover a book that has a great deal of worthy information: Water: For Health, for Healing, for Life: You're Not Sick, You're Thirsty! by F. Batmanghelidj, M.D. Some of the ideas may appear to be a little “over the top” at first, but on the whole, this author’s research seems to be sound and his conclusions valid.

Overall, I have found this to be a good book about the curative effects of water not only on depression, but on many diseases. Not every cure works for every person, but every person certainly needs water. If paying attention to the amount of water you drink can effect a cure, I say “Go for it!” See my review of this book at “manuscripts, movies, & music” my online store.


Veggies.... said...

Just fascinating Michelle. Drinking lots of purified water is one thing I AM consistent about but this is interesting reading nonetheless. I am not a fan of any drugs and once again, we see how they usually end up causing more problems than they actually solve. Not to mention that the real underlying problems are usually overlooked. Thanks for sharing.

jlb said...

Good food for thought Michelle. I am an avid water drinker (the only downside of which is the frequency withwhich I must make water). :D

Regardless, I know that if I don't drink lots of water each day, I am definitely inclined to feel tired, cranky, and all around yucky. I struggle with frequent migraines and headaches, so drinking water is crucial to helping to keep the headache monster away.

amyrosaquintana said...

Great article! The importance of water and keeping hydrated is a fundamental key to health! Thanks, Michele for this article. I know some people who hardley ever drink water, it's hard to believe they live on soda and other drinks but hardly any water. They do have some of these symptomes of dehydration as well.

Thanks again for this article,