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What is Hydration? Let’s Make Hydration a Priority

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Drinking water seems obvious doesn’t it? Like breathing or sleeping, it’s just something we do when we’re thirsty, and we know we need it to survive. However, research shows that it’s not that simple. 

What is hydration?

Hydration is the body’s ability to absorb water, the vital liquid it needs, and is based on how much is available to it. Every cell, tissue, and organ requires fluid to perform functions such as maintaining temperature, disposing of waste products and lubricating joints.

This absorption of water is primarily done through drinking liquids, preferably water, but around 20% of our intake comes from food as well.

Factors which will affect hydration, and so how much water we need, include age, climate, and level of physical activity. We also lose water through a range of normal bodily functions such as breathing and urinating, and this needs to be replaced. Additionally, drinks such as coffee actually dehydrate, despite containing water, so should not be considered a source of fluid.

How do we stay hydrated?

The general recommendation is 6–8 glasses of water on top of what we eat, but it’s important to note that this isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ situation. To maintain hydration, you should regularly be drinking squash, fresh juice or water throughout the day, and should increase your intake depending on your circumstances, e.g. if you are exercising, are unwell, or it’s a warmer day.

Monitor your hydration levels using the urine colour chart

Hydration Support

In some cases, it may be necessary to take supplements to increase your hydration levels. For example if you are losing fluids faster than you’re able to take them in, or you are dehydrated already.

There are options called Oral Rehydration Solutions/Therapy that can help with this. They are formulas that can be used to treat or prevent dehydration, and provide support in recovering from exercise. They can be in the form of hydration tablets, drinks, gels and more.

Why is hydration important?

Lack of hydration (dehydration) can occur for a number of reasons, from simple lack of adequate water intake to losing it through illnesses such as sustained vomiting and diarrhoea. With water’s essential role in our bodies, the consequences of not getting enough are understandably wide-ranging in both nature and severity.

At one end of the scale, not taking in enough water during the day will cause thirst, lethargy, dizziness, and headaches, but prolonged dehydration begins to cause the body to shut down. Heart rate will increase as the body compensates for the lack of liquid in the blood, and fluids will be diverted from vital organs such as the brain and lungs.

A major condition associated with dehydration is kidney disease or acute kidney injury (AKI). The kidneys may stop working temporarily or fail entirely. It’s caused by reduced blood flow and so can be associated with dehydration.

Monitoring hydration in the pharmacy

As with many conditions with multiple and common causes, pharmacists are well-placed to identify the signs. While medications such as some antibiotics can cause dehydration and so come with advice from the pharmacy, customers can also seek over the counter remedies for conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTIs).

With 2 out of 3 cases of AKI starting in the community, the Department of Health commissioned an audit in 2015. The NHS surveyed nearly 1,000 pharmacies and almost 15,000 patients, looking into how many came to pick up prescriptions for certain antibiotics, as well as those looking for oral rehydration solutions and UTI relief. The report helped to produce and review the 10 key characteristics of ‘good nutrition and hydration care’.

Helpful resources

Nutrition and Hydration 

The Association of UK Dietitians

Specialist Pharmacy Service AKI audit data collection form

NHS Eat well


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