Healthy Beginnings

Hidden Hazards of Winter Dehydration

Many people who are vigilant about drinking enough water during the summer months tend to be less vigilant during the winter. Whether you are an athlete or an armchair quarterback, your need to attend to hydration after the temperature falls. It is every bit as important as it is during the summer. Winter dehydration can be an insidious contributor to health problems associated with cold weather. Children and the elderly are at the greatest at risk.

The human body loses water in many ways during the winter. For example, although it may not seem as pronounced, exercising in cold weather still causes the body to lose substantial amounts of water through sweating. Cold, winter air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air, therefore drier air draws more moisture from the lungs as we breathe.

In addition, interior environments are usually very dry in the winter due to drying heating methods. The decreased interior humidity also increases water loss from the lungs and skin. When the body becomes chilled, blood is drawn away from the periphery limbs (i.e. arms, legs, skin) toward the interior organs to preserve vital body heat for these life-sustaining tissues. The directing of blood to the interior increases its flow to the kidneys, automatically increasing the kidney filtration rate and urine output. This effect is called cold diuresis. Cold weather increases the (bodies) metabolism and (the) associated water needs required to maintain healthy body temperature.

The colder it gets outside, the harder your body has to work to maintain its 98.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature. This extra energy requires that you drink even more water than usual. Drinking 64 ounces (8 cups) of water a day will actually help you stay warm.

Beware of alcohol intake too. Alcoholic beverages increase risk of dehydration because the body requires additional water to metabolize alcohol.

Signs of dehydration include increased thirst, dry mouth, and sticky or reduced saliva. Monitor the color of your urine. If it is dark yellow or brown, you are dehydrated.

Your skin tends to get dry in the winter, extra hand cream, lip balm and lotion won’t do the trick in fighting cold weather flakiness. According to Dr. Susan M. Kleiner, your best bet is to hydrate from within by drinking extra water every day.

Respiratory illnesses associated with winter, such as the common cold and influenza, cause the body to generate large amounts of mucous in an effort to rid itself of the offending microbes. The water in these discharges must be replaced. Intestinal influenza, leading to diarrhea and vomiting, requires additional water and, perhaps, electrolyte replacement. We recommend four to eight additional cups of water daily.


1) Water, The foundation of Youth, Health, and Beauty by William D Holloway Jr. and Herb Joiner-Bey, ND.

2) Dehydration in the Winter: Elderly At Risk, by Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.