From bad breath to car accidents, dehydration is a real health threat

Story highlights

  • Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, particularly sugar cravings
  • Driving errors double during a two-hour drive when drivers are dehydrated
  • Study: dehydrated women reported headaches, loss of focus, and irritability

(Health.com)It doesn't take much to become dehydrated. Lose just 1.5% of the water in your body (the human body is usually about 60% H2O), and you've reached the tipping point of mild dehydration. It can be brought on by many things — and it can do much more to your body than just make you feel thirsty. Dehydration also brings on health effects ranging from fatigue and smelly breath to more dangerous consequences like distracted driving.

It gives you bad breath

It's easy to forget to drink water during a busy workday, but at the end of the day you may find people standing unusually far from you when you open your mouth. "Dehydration can give you bad breath," says Marshall Young, DDS, a dentist in Newport Beach, Calif. "Saliva has important antibacterial properties. When dehydrated, the decreased saliva in the mouth allows bacteria to thrive, resulting in bad breath." So drink up for your own sake, and for those around you as well.

    It makes you crave sugar

    Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, particularly sugar cravings. This may happen particularly if you've been exercising, says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys. "When you exercise in a dehydrated state, you use glycogen (stored carbohydrate) at a faster rate, thus diminishing your stores more quickly." So once you finish exercising, you will likely crave carbs to help you replenish those glycogen levels and get you ready for your next exercise bout.

    It wrecks your workout

    Even being slightly dehydrated affects your ability to put effort into your workout. "A 2% dehydration level in your body causes a 10% decrease in athletic performance," says Goodson. "And the more dehydrated you become, the worse performance gets." Measured by "perceived exertion," how hard you feel you're exercising, you might be working at a 6 but you feel like you are working at an 8, says Goodson.

    It dries your skin out

    Keeping skin healthy and glowing requires drinking enough water, says Anne Marie Tremain, MD, a dermatologist with Laser Skin Care Center Dermatology Associates in Long Beach, Calif. "It's best to hydrate from the inside out," she says. "Depending on your lifestyle you may need to adjust your water intake." If you work out every day or are a caffeine fiend, for instance, then you'll need to drink more., because workouts make you sweat and caffeine is a diuretic, which can dehydrate you. For smooth, moisturized skin, Dr. Tremain also suggests keeping showers short (less than five minutes) and using only lukewarm water as hot water can dry your skin out even more.

    It may affect your ability to drive safely

    Few things are more uncomfortable than being stuck in traffic or on a long drive when you need to use the restroom. Logically, it makes sense to simply not drink water before hitting the road. But new research published in Physiology and Behavior shows that the number of driving err