You might think I’d have little in common with a camel, but we do share one useful skill: both of us can go for a very long time without water.
Usually I start my day with a cup of tea, then I might have a glass of water with my lunch and one with dinner – that’s about a litre of liquid in 24 hours. It feels like plenty, but apparently it’s not nearly enough.
After years of suffering headaches and poor digestion I spoke to a neurologist about my regular headaches and a nutritionist about my poor digestion, and both told me I should be drinking up to three litres of liquid a day for my body to function at its best.
Then, when I read a recent survey suggesting that at least one in five women in the UK consumes less than the recommended daily intake of water, I decided to conduct an experiment. What would happen if I drank the recommended amount every day for a month?
The photograph of me taken the day I started this trial demonstrates perfectly – and rather frighteningly – what a lack of hydration does to a face.
I am 42, but have to admit I look more like 52 in this picture, which is shocking. There are dark shadows under and around my eyes, which make me look exhausted, a profusion of wrinkles and strange reddish blotches, and my skin lacks any lustre. It looks dead.
My daughters, Alice, eight, and Betty, four, tell me I look ‘about 100 years old’ in this photograph and I have to agree.
Even my lips look shrivelled. This is all classic evidence of poor hydration, apparently. Every system and function in our body depends on water.
It flushes toxins from the vital organs, carries nutrients to cells, provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues, and eliminates waste.
Not drinking enough means all these functions become impaired. So I decided to see how I would look and feel if I drank three litres of water every day for 28 days. The results were astonishing . . .
Weight: 8st 7lb
Three litres of water is just over five pints, which sounds like an awful lot. I visit my local GP in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, to be sure there can be no adverse health implications to upping my water intake so dramatically.
He is very encouraging. ‘I suggest you have a big jug of water in the morning, then another in the afternoon and another in the evening,’ he says. ‘Your kidneys, which filter waste products from the blood before turning it to urine, will quickly feel the benefit, as they will be getting a good flush through.’
I usually have a wee three times a day: when I get up, before I go to bed and at some point in the afternoon. By the end of my first day of drinking more water, I have had six and my usually sluggish bowels are much more lively.
I exfoliate my face every day to try to get rid of dry patches before I apply moisturiser, but suddenly I seem to be breaking out in spots. Maybe it’s all the toxins coming out of my skin. A few days into the experiment I’m still urinating five or six times a day but it’s clear now, rather than dark yellow.
I’m enjoying lots of cups of tea. My husband says that’s cheating, but I tell him the British Nutritional Foundation says ‘moderate amounts of caffeine do not cause dehydration, so they do count towards your fluid intake’.
I meet friends for a drink one night, remembering that alcohol is a diuretic (a substance which promotes the production of urine), acting on the kidneys. For every one alcoholic drink, your body can eliminate up to four times as much liquid.
I assume a white wine spritzer is a good option because the alcohol is diluted with soda water, and I sip water between alcoholic drinks throughout the evening.
Hangover headaches result from dehydration: the body’s organs try to make up for a lack of water by stealing it from the brain, as a result of which it actually shrinks.
Headaches result from the pulling on the membranes that connect your brain to your skull. Ouch. Luckily, I escape all this and wake up hangover-free.
For years I’ve been doing ten minutes of yoga every morning straight after I get up, but I’ve been feeling stiffer over the past six months. Yet since I started drinking more water my flexibility has improved. Gemma Critchley, from the British Dietetic Association, confirms that water helps lubricate the joints.