Dehydration occurs when the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount taken in. In addition to losing 2% of initial body weight through sweating, urinating and pooping, in an average day, we lose two cups of water by breathing! If you fail to replenish these losses, you may become dehydrated – and constipated.
Restoring proper fluid balance does not necessarily relieve constipation, but it can help prevent it. When the body senses low water stores, it tells our kidneys to conserve the water we would have otherwise excreted. Since dehydration causes electrolyte disturbances, the kidneys will also hold onto sodium. Sodium retention contributes to bloating and it concentrates electrolytes in the urine. This slows the digestive process.
The longer a poop is in your system, the drier it becomes. Water is absorbed out of your fecal material when it passes through the large intestine. Three-quarters of your average, healthy poop is made up of water. When constipated, waste materials stay in the large intestine longer and more water is removed – the feces may become hard and difficult to pass.
Exercise can cause substantial dehydration through increased sweating. The increase in energy expenditure associated with exercise results in more heat production. To prevent fluid losses, drink 2 Liters per day (68 oz or 8.5 cups) of water. Water is the ultimate beverage because it has zero extra calories and, if unfiltered, adds trace minerals that help replenish the electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) lost with sweat. There are many other beverages that contribute nutrients in addition to providing fluids that are safe to include into daily fluid requirements. Tea, low-fat or skim milk, coffee (8-16 oz), unsweetened juice, and fruits and vegetables “juiced” in juicers will help maintain long-term fluid and digestive balance.
When traveling, it’s important to drink adequate amounts of water – warmer climates and high altitudes may necessitate increased fluid intake. And when recovering from traveler’s diarrhea, it’s important to restore proper fluid balance as soon as possible – so that you don’t end up on the other end of the poop chart.