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As you walk to the water cooler to fill up your bottle once again, your coworker passes you with his third cup of coffee. You’re both consuming plenty of liquids. But since coffee is also considered a diuretic, you may be feeling better about your choice. With the recommended eight glasses of water we’re told to consume every day, the question becomes, “Are you both hydrating?” The surprising answer is, yes.

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The Benefits of Coffee

We already know that delicious first cup can provide a jolt of caffeine to help get you started each morning. And coffee has been proven to have many health benefits. Yet, there is a debate about whether or not it can be considered a part of your daily liquid allowance. Most people, in general, are unsure about what constitutes adequate hydration, let alone recognize when they aren’t drinking enough. Water makes up nearly 60 percent of our bodies. Without it, we cannot exist for more than a few days.  It’s important to maintain our overall health. Water, along with nutrition, helps us do just that.

Water is essential on a cellular level so that our organs and bodily systems function properly. When we don’t get enough, the result is a decrease in electrolytes prompting the body to lose sodium and potassium. These minerals are important for muscle contractions, heart function, and maintaining fluid balance.

Since coffee typically increases urine output, it’s common to believe that drinking it makes you dehydrated. However, it’s the caffeine in the beverage that causes the body to make you “go” as it increases blood flow in the kidneys. So if you understand your tolerance for caffeine, ahead and sip your latte, Americano, or cappuccino in moderation and with pleasure.  Just make sure you’re drinking regular water, too. If plain water is not your thing, add fresh fruit like lemon or berries or herbs for a kick. Your skin, hair, nails, and the rest of your body will thank you.

Dehydration: What Does It Mean?

In the simplest definition, dehydration occurs when the body uses or loses more fluid than it takes in, and cannot carry out normal functions without having enough water and other fluids present.

When you think about exercising, we know to replace the fluids lost as a result of sweating during the activity. The environment in which you work out plays a role in whether or not a person becomes dehydrated. Exercising in hot, humid climates without drinking enough water can be associated with hyperthermia, reduced stroke volume and cardiac output, decreases in blood pressure, and reduced blood flow to muscle.

Furthermore, kidney stones or urinary tract infections (UTIs) can occur when the body is dehydrated. That’s because wastes and acids accumulate in the body clogging the kidneys with muscle proteins called myoglobin. The good news is that before the situation becomes serious and pain or hospitalization occurs, it’s relatively easy to control by assessing the color of your urine. If it is pale yellow and you’re going throughout the day, odds are you’re properly hydrated. You also should know the signs of when you may be in trouble.

While symptoms of dehydration may vary by age and degree, common signs include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Irritability

Hydration: How Much Is Enough?

As with most things, it depends on your size, weight, age, activity, level of fitness, and even where you live. In other words, some people need more water, while others need less. The general guideline is drinking between .5 to 1 ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day. For a man or woman weighing 150 pounds, that would warrant between 75 to 150 ounces of water each day.

The source of that water, however, can be found beyond its purest form, which is ideal. However, since coffee is still a liquid, its hydrating properties balances out its diuretic effects. The same could be said for tea and other caffeinated beverages. Milk and juice also count toward our daily water intake.

Not everyone loves plain water and there is nutritional value in other beverages, but juices have a high concentrated amount of sugar, so they should be consumed in limited amounts just like caffeine. It’s important to remember we also can get water from certain fruits, vegetables, and soups. Popular choices include:

  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or anyone ill and experiencing a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, should increase their fluids and consult with their doctor about what is best for their condition. Sometimes, drinks with electrolytes are advised to replace the minerals lost.

While water in its purest form is preferred when consuming beverages for thirst, drinking fluids other than water increases calories in the form of added sugar and fat (particularly if you add creamer to that coffee) and should be considered in moderation. It also creates an opportunity for addiction if caffeine and alcohol become a regular choice. Anyone who has had a hangover or caffeine withdrawal understands this. Knowing the facts about what you put into your body, as well as how your body best functions, is the key to living your healthiest life.

If you already drink coffee, your daily cup of Joe may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. It also packs a powerful punch of antioxidants. In fact, it’s been reported that Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than from any other food or beverage. As mentioned earlier, coffee has its benefits and there is no reason to avoid it for fear of dehydrating your body. If you don’t drink coffee, however, or you have certain cardiovascular conditions such as tachycardia (an abnormally accelerated heart rate), it’s not advised you begin without consulting with your primary care provider or cardiologist.

With so many people downloading apps that track their nutrition and steps taken each day, why not track the amount of water you consume? Use thirst as your guide and strike a balance. Coffee can be enjoyed in moderation and there is no concrete evidence that mandates eight glasses of pure water every day. If you’re eating a balanced diet, drinking plain water in conjunction with other beverages and otherwise feel good when you rise and rest, you’re doing ok. With just two calories per 8-ounce cup (no cream or sugar) and no fat, coffee is a guilt-free way to boost your health. We can all drink to that!

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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