What Is Optimal Hydration?

How You Can Stay Hydrated for Better Health

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Featured Blog Preventative Medicine

Optimal hydration is crucial to maintaining every organ and system in your body. Insufficient hydration can have an adverse effect on how your body functions. For example, even a 2% drop in optimal hydration can lead to cloudy thinking and fatigue.

Water is an essential component of every cell in your body. For example, the tissue that makes up your lungs is comprised of nearly 90% water. Your blood is more than 80% water. And, your brain is approximately 70% water.

How Optimal Hydration Helps Your Body

Optimal hydration is necessary for every function in your body. For example, you need to be hydrated in order to eliminate toxins from your body through urination, moving your bowels, and sweating. When you are not properly hydrated, your body reabsorbs toxins. This puts a lot of stress on your liver and can even wreak havoc on your immune system over time.

When you are optimally hydrated, it’s easier for your body to maintain a normal body temperature. And, research shows that your metabolism is also dependent on your level of hydration. When you are optimally hydrated, you burn calories at an accelerated rate.

Optimal hydration is important for your body in many other ways, including helping your body produce digestive enzymes, maintaining healthy skin and hair, absorbing essential vitamins and minerals, carrying nutrients to your cells, preventing constipation, and even lubricating your joints.

5 Signs of Dehydration

Your body works to maintain optimal hydration by using hormones to control how much you urinate and by giving your brain signals that you are thirsty. Yet, most people in our hemisphere live in a state of chronic dehydration. Dehydration happens when you lose more fluid than you take in.

Here are five ways you can tell if you are dehydrated:

  1. Your urine is dark. When you are hydrated, your urine is clear to straw-colored. It becomes progressively darker the more dehydrated you are. So, if your urine is honey-colored to dark-brown that is a sign that you need to hydrate. Remember: certain medications and foods can change the color of your urine.
  2. You’re constipated. Water is important for digestion and elimination. Dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation. Of course, there are many other factors that can cause constipation, including the food you eat, travel, and certain conditions and medications. If you are staying hydrated, your stool should be soft and you should not have to strain.
  3. You have a dry mouth. A dry mouth is one of the first symptoms indicating that you need to hydrate. A sense of thirst may follow. Not being able to produce tears or sweat is another clear sign of dehydration.
  4. You get frequent headaches. Your brain can actually shrink from dehydration, causing you to get a headache. This is common after exercise when you have been sweating and not replenishing fluids. But, dehydration headaches can occur any time you become dehydrated, and they can be severe. You can tell if a headache is from dehydration because you will experience other signs of dehydration as well.
  5. You are tired. Dehydration can cause muscle fatigue, sleepiness, and general lethargy. When children are dehydrated, they tend to become less active.

People who are chronically dehydrated may suffer from some or all of these five most common symptoms, as well as other symptoms of chronic dehydration, including: indigestion, muscle and joint aches and pains, high blood pressure, fast heartbeat, depression, lack of mental clarity, skin problems, weight issues, and even allergies.

Severe dehydration can cause low blood pressure, dizziness, and confusion, and it can even lead to chronic kidney disease.

How to Stay Optimally Hydrated

Anyone can be at risk for dehydration. But some people are at greater risk than others. For example, your thirst sensation lessons as you grow older, so older people can be at higher risk of dehydration from simply not reading their bodies’ signals. If you take medications or perspire a lot due to exercise, working outdoors, or living in a hot, humid climate, you may be at greater risk of dehydration as well.

Eat Your Water for Optimal Hydration

You have probably been told that you need drink eight glasses of water per day (eight ounces each) and even more if you exercise. This is partially true, but there is a better way to stay optimally hydrated. Eat your water!

Believe it or not, eating your water is the best way to get hydration to all of your cells. Gerald Pollack, Ph.D., a water scientist and bioengineer at the University of Washington, says that water exists in 4 states—solid, liquid, gas, and gel. His research shows that water in plants is far more hydrating than plain water and more apt to get to the right places in the body, including your cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that bathes your brain), your bloodstream, your gut lining, and your respiratory system.

Gina Bria, co-author of Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration and founder of the Hydration Foundation, also says gel water, or as she calls it, “living water,” is the best way to hydrate because gel water gets into our fascia. Gina has studied desert cultures. These populations have very little available water, yet they are able to stay adequately hydrated from eating plants that contain water in a gel-like state, such as chia seeds and cacti. And she has some great recipes for those of us who don’t live in the desert, such as Gina’s coconut-rose splendor smoothie.

Now, I’m not saying you should stop drinking water. Drinking pure water does help you to meet your hydration needs. Just be sure to get some gel-water from food sources, too.

Here are four more ways to make sure you stay hydrated:

  1. Improve your water. To ensure you get enough water, add something to your water to make it more hydrating, such as a pinch of Celtic or Himalayan salt, lemons, cucumbers, strawberries, or watermelon.
  2. Watch your caffeine intake. Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed psychoactive substances on the planet. And, caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea, and sodas have a mild diuretic effect, which means they remove water and other nutrients from your body. You may notice that you urinate more when you drink caffeine. So, just be sure to drink or eat more water as well.
  3. Limit alcohol use. Alcohol reduces how much anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) your body produces. When you have less ADH available, your body loses more fluid than normal through increased urination. Of course, if you imbibe a little as part of a ritual or an occasional celebration, then you are not going to become severely dehydrated. Just don’t overdo it.
  4. Trust your body. How much water you need varies, depending on many factors, including how much you exercise, whether you drink alcohol or caffeine, how much you travel, and if you take medications. Be sure to trust your body’s signals. If you think you need to drink or eat more water, then you do. As a general rule of thumb, you can always divide your body weight by half, then drink or eat that amount of water in ounces every day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, try to get 75 ounces of water per day, or enough so that your urine is clear. Be sure to hydrate gradually throughout the day.

Remember, fluids other than pure water don’t meet your needs for hydration the way that water does because they don’t act the same as water in your body. Once you begin hydrating your body optimally, you will notice that many symptoms will clear up.

What are your go-to ways to stay hydrated? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

Last Updated: August 21, 2018

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


Add comment
  1. Robin
    4 weeks ago

    Thank you for this article Dr Northrup; very helpful. On your radio show you mentioned keeping a jar of room temp water with Himalayan salt on your counter and using a teaspoon or so in your green tea. Can you share the water/salt ratio again? How much do you drink of this daily? I drink about 40-60 oz of water each day and eat a lot of fruit but think I need to do better. Thanks again for all your help.

  2. Kelly
    4 weeks ago

    Hi Christiane,
    I do only one cup of freshly ground organic coffee every morning, do you think that one cup is absorbing nutrients from my body?

  3. Kathryn
    1 month ago

    What a great article and I have just been reminded that I need to make sure I am drinking my correct amount of water each day to stay hydrated. Thank you!

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      I have to keep reminding myself about this too!! Thanks for weighing in!

  4. Sandra Santiago
    1 month ago

    I keep a daily record of the foods I eat and the ounces of water I drink. First thing I do when I get up in the morning is drink a glass of water because my body needs that to jump start. Besides it’s known to ward off disease. I also have a glass with my medicine. Later I’ll have a cup of green tea with honey. I carry a 28 ounce jug of water with me during the day. On a typical day I drink anywhere between 50 to 80 ounces of water. It’s especially important to stay hydrated with certain medications as they can make you constipated.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      Good plan. I like how you’ve got it down to a science. And you are so right about medications. Even common things like alcohol and caffeine contribute to dehydration.

  5. Terry Yeatman
    1 month ago

    I carry 2 bottles 915 ml each with me everyday and I squeeze half lemon into each one. I am a pool technician so I travel around tending to swimming pools in the South Okanagan, of BC Canada. everyday and sip the water throughout the day.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      Good plan. I like how you’ve got it down to a science. And you are so right about medications. Even common things like alcohol and caffeine contribute to dehydration.

  6. Tere
    1 month ago

    I am enjoying the book “Quench” so much! I just can’t get my head around how much you continue to inspire us all. I love you with all my heart. Thank you beloved! 🙂

  7. Darnelle
    1 month ago

    Thank you for your advice on keeping our bodies hydrated, although I am pretty good at keeping account of how much water I drink, but as I get older, I get lazier, there are days that I drink less that 8 glasses. This summer in London, (sometimes temperatures rose to as much as 32 to 35 degrees in our building), I was reminded by the symptoms my body was expressing that I was not keeping my body hydrated enough. Anyway all was resolved once I became aware and started keeping tract of how much water I was drinking and unknowingly I ate lots of the above items you highlighted, since it was summer and these items are available everywhere… But I have now noted and will follow your advice…
    However, I would like to ask, whether drinking carbonated water could have a negative adverse impact on your health?
    Many thanks,

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      Thanks for asking about carbonated water. There is no evidence that it does any harm. We know that colas do and also carbonated sugar filled beverages. But good old sparkling water with some carbon dioxide in there? No problem!

  8. Cora Larson
    1 month ago

    For every cup of coffee, I drink two 12oz glasses of water. I also enjoy celery sticks, cucumber sticks/slices and add lemons to my water.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      1 month ago

      That ought to do it!! Good plan!!

  9. Eileen Blank
    1 month ago

    Thanks for this new insight. I was truly unaware that you could “ eat” your water needs.
    I sometimes eat my vegetables in their own broth and throw in some herbs. How would you rate this for hydration purposes?

  10. Jennifer
    1 month ago

    Thank you for this post. I recently was put on a hydration detox by a functional medicine doctor. Oh my gosh….I didn’t realize how dehydrated I have been. Also dealing with perimenopause/menopause symptoms but feel so much clearer and less stressed. Hormones are helping too.

  11. Joyce Hoko
    1 month ago

    Thank you for the awesome information to maintain Optimal Hydration. I will be sharing this information with my children and extended family in New Zealand….Nga mihi

  12. Anne
    1 month ago

    Fruit is a great way to eat your water too. Thanks for the tips and reminders!

  13. Loretta
    1 month ago

    Thank you for your continuing great shows. I love how you are down to earth with life, and you can’t fool this young Gal , know you don’t mention age, and I totally agree with you, but let’s say I am a bit older than you and raised 7 beautiful children on my own and have been in the health and fitness all my life…Your show keeps on expiring me and it is one I try not to miss. Just want to let you know I loved this morning on Divine intervention.. Your Guest Speakers are also the best.
    I met you in Fort Lautidale at the conference a few years ago, my daughter came down from Trinidad for that one, with a whole bunch of friends and now you have a following There.
    I thank you.

  14. Lynda
    1 month ago

    I went off caffeine over 25 years ago and started drinking 64oz or more a day. About 15 years ago I started drinking 6 – 8 oz of Aloe Vera juice a day. Prior to that I was chronically constipated and today I have regular easy bowel movements. I don’t have joint problems in fact a couple of years ago when I injured my knee an x-ray showed completely full and even joint cushion in my knees. I am 66 years old and am completely healthy with as much if not more energy than I had in my 30’s and 40’s

  15. Tonya Wiliams
    1 month ago

    Thank you so much. I was severely dehydrated after 4 1/2 hours in dental work. I am a 77 year old diabetic and my BS dropped below 90. I’ve suffered muscle cramps beyond description. I get up and drink 32 oz of water then continue all day. I use Legs PM, magnesium, Vit C by EmergenC and Pom juice (2 oz day). I scour the net to find rememdies because I teach yoga and many have this problem who are over 60. I have been to the Emergency room when cramps extended al the way up to my face. Usually say it’s potassium. So I will try the vegetable route. I almost always eat the colorful plate. If you can help thousands find a solution to leg cramps, you will be the best doctor ever!

  16. Jen G
    1 month ago

    I gave up coffee this year and have one, occassionally two cups of a green tea in the morning. I used to drink 2-3 cups a day. That has had a dramatic impact on my energy in a positive way. I also used to buy at least one case of Trader Joe’s sparkling water a week. I hated schelpping that case up to my apartment and using that much plastic. So, I finally bought a Soda Stream and use their fruit essences to flavor it (no sugar or artificial flavors). I basically drink 3 liters of water a day…some times more. Other than the occassional root beer I don’t drink soda. As I’ve been observing the impact of my choices more I’ve been tapering off alcohol. I’m in my 40s and red wine suddenly doesn’t go down like it used to. After doing Whole30 I really saw what a depressant alcohol really is and so, other than the occassional one cocktail for a special event I really don’t drink anymore and it’s getting easier.

  17. Dorothy Frankel
    1 month ago

    Thanks. I would like to know which foods to eat to hydrate more? Watermelon…and what other foods? good concept

  18. Anita Douglas
    1 month ago

    Can you give us examples of plants we can injest that contain water in a gel form? You said the gel from chia seeds. I also know this as gelatnous fiber. How about the aloe vera cactus? What else?
    Anita Douglas

  19. Christine Wellhausen
    1 month ago

    It’s also very important that the air you breathe is hydrated. Get a hygrometer and check to make sure your humidity is 40% – 50%. Long term low humidity can weaken your immune system and make you susceptible to many health issues.

  20. rebecca
    1 month ago

    dr patrick flanagans ‘mega-hydrate’ is my go to hydration
    rebecca in australia

  21. Barb
    1 month ago

    I “drink and drive”, ie. water!! I’m driving a lot and use the drive time to hydrate.

  22. Denise
    1 month ago

    Chia seeds have lectins and are not an option.

  23. JH
    1 month ago

    I have a kidney issue that makes it essential for me to drink/eat enough water every day. Someone shared with me a wonderful, adorable app called Plant Nanny that has made drinking water fun, so I thought I’d pass that along in case it’s useful to anyone else. I also very much love getting my water from juicing. The app is available for both OS and Android. Here is the OS link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/plant-nanny/id590216134?mt=8

  24. Carmen Ekdahl
    1 month ago

    I have a condition called Anhidrosis (also called hypohidrosis), which means I do not produce sweat. It’s been an issue my whole life and prevents me from doing a lot of cardio or HIIT exercising. Ironically, It also means that, other than urination, I have no way to release toxins in my body. How does this effect my body and is there anything I can do (besides avoid getting too hot)?

  25. pei
    1 month ago

    i suffer from sjogrens syndrome for many years and drinking water is not enough for hydrating as my body keeps on destroying moisture. after reading your article, it is helpful that i can choose other alternatives in helping me have my regular fluid intake more effectively.

    1. rebecca
      1 month ago

      I love dr patrick flanagans ‘megahydrate’ powder.Its my go-to for hydration.
      love rebecca in australia

  26. Ann
    1 month ago

    I enjoyed this article very much.
    I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and this will help removing my toxins

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