Dehydration and Depression
Depression is a complex issue, with a multitude of physical and emotional causes. If you experience depression, however, or someone close to you does, you may want to consider whether dehydration could be a contributing factor. Dehydration is dangerous not just to your physical health, but also to your emotional well-being.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that governs your mood. The amino acid, tryptophan, is a precursor to serotonin. When you consume protein, your body breaks it down into its component amino acids and sends tryptophan to your brain to do its job. Without adequate water, your body cannot transport tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier, and thus your brain does not have the chemical it needs to product serotonin. Dehydration also negatively affects the other amino acids needed by your body and your brain, resulting in feelings of sadness, anxiety, and irritability.
Dehydration also decreases the production of energy in your brain. In Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, F. Batmanghelidj, M.D., writes:
Pathology that is seen to be associated with ‘social stresses—fear, anxiety, insecurity, persistent emotional and matrimonial problems—and the establishment of depression are the results of water deficiency to the point that the water requirement of brain tissue is affected.
With dehydration, the level of energy generation in the brain is decreased. Many functions of the brain that depend on this type of energy become inefficient. We recognize this inadequacy of function and call it depression.
Stress is another recognized factor in depression, and dehydration is recognized as a primary cause of stress in the human body. When you are stressed, your adrenal glands increase their production of cortisol, the stress hormone that produces the “fight or flight” response. The adrenals also produce aldosterone, the chemical that governs your body’s levels of fluid and electrolytes. Under stress, your adrenal glands become fatigued, which reduces the production of aldosterone. The result is greater dehydration and low electrolyte levels.
Although it may seem like too simple a solution, drinking adequate amounts of water will reduce both the physiological and psychological effects of stress. It won’t magically cure depression, but it could be an important step toward feeling better. The Mayo Clinic suggests you drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. If you weight 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of water every day, in order to ensure adequate hydration.
Of course, people’s need for water varies according to factors such as weight, gender, health conditions. climate, level of exercise, and as mentioned above, stress. You need more water if you live in a hot or humid climate, exercise intensely or for prolonged periods of time, or you are ill (particularly if you have a fever, vomiting or diarrhea). Pregnant or breastfeeding women need more water. If you are dieting, you need to be particularly careful to drink extra water, as you may not be getting enough in food.
A simple way to check your hydration is to monitor the color of your urine. People who are properly hydrated have very pale yellow urine. If you notice the color change to a dark yellow or tan, that is a warning sign. Pay particular attention to your level of hydration if you are elderly or have diabetes, and of course, check your children’s urine to be sure they are getting sufficient water.
Water, juices, coffee, tea, soda and alcohol do not replace water. Some of these liquids can even cause dehydration. Eating fruits and vegetables provide you with some water, of course, but food typically provides only about one-fifth of the fluid you need. Water is indispensable.