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Thoughts on Thirst, Diabetes, Staying Hydrated, and How Much Water to Drink
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Mar 31, 2009
Q. I've been waking up these days feeling very thirsty. I've read online that being excessively thirsty may be a sign of diabetes? Diabetes runs in my family, so should I go to see a doctor?
- Peter K., Toronto, ON
A. Because we're into our fifth month of winter and constant exposure to furnace heat that comes with Mr. Frost, it's quite possible that your thirst is due to being dehydrated. Ratchet this possibility up a notch if you've been eating more than a reasonable share of salty foods as of late, since excessive intake of sodium can leave you parched in any climate.
If decreasing intake of high-sodium foods and increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, and healthy liquids doesn't alleviate excessive thirst, it's prudent to visit your family doctor to rule out the following causes of thirst:
Diabetes Mellitus Types 1 and 2
Diabetes mellitus types 1 and 2 are often accompanied by increased thirst and a frequent need to urinate. In both conditions, the amount of sugar in the blood rises to a point where the kidneys are not able to prevent "spillage" of sugar out of the body via the urine. As sugar exits your body, it takes water with it; the net result of a chronically elevated blood sugar level is dehydration and ensuing thirst.
Typically, diabetes mellitus is diagnosed via a fasting blood sugar test, which measures the amount of sugar that is found circulating through your bloodstream following an overnight fast. If fasting blood sugar is repeatedly measured at 126 mg/dL (7.0 mmol/L) or higher, a diagnosis of diabetes is usually applied.
When screening for diabetes mellitus, I prefer a test called glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1C), which doesn't require fasting prior to the test, and provides an average measure of blood glucose over a period of anywhere between a few weeks to about three months.
Having an average value for blood glucose over a window of several weeks, as afforded by a test for glycosylated hemoglobin, minimizes the likelihood that a high blood sugar level is partly due to a temporary spike in physical or emotional stress, which can elevate blood glucose levels.
If you're concerned about your risk of developing diabetes mellitus type 2, please feel free to view the following article:
Diabetes insipidus is also typically accompanied by excessive thirst and frequent urination. But the cause isn't related to having a high blood sugar level. Diabetes insipidus is an autoimmune illness that results in a deficiency of or resistance to antidiuretic hormone (ADH).
The net effect of diabetes insipidus is loss of excessive water via your urine, which leads to low blood volume and chronic thirst.
Diabetes insipidus is typically diagnosed by a water deprivation test, whereby you refrain from consuming fluids for several hours. Urine produced during this time period is analyzed; if you are producing adequate amounts of ADH and your cells are not resistant to ADH's effects, you should see a decrease in the amount of urine you pass. If you have diabetes insipidus, you'll pass substantial amounts of water despite decreasing your intake of fluids.
In relatively early stages of diabetes insipidus, it's worthwhile to strive for substantial recovery by following a plant-based diet and supporting your emotional health as much as possible - both of these measures can help restore the integrity of your gut lining and promote optimal immune system strength and function. For more information on my approach to addressing autoimmune illness, please free to view:
Other Causes of Thirst
Any factor that results in a significant decrease in blood volume can cause thirst; examples include diarrhea, vomiting, severe infections, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, and severe liver dysfunction.
Classes of drugs like phenothiazines, anticholinergics, and of course, diuretics can cause thirst.
The urge to drink massive quantities of water can also be caused by a psychological disorder called psychogenic polydipsia.
Three Steps You Can Follow to Promote Optimal Hydration of your Tissues
Minimize intake of salty foods.
Minimize exposure to furnace heat; to prevent excessively dry skin and associated dehydration, it's best during cold months to use less furnace heat and stay warm with more clothes.
For more information on how to have healthy skin from the inside out, view:
Eat water-rich foods and drink healthy liquids whenever your thirst calls for them.
Water-rich foods include all fruits, vegetables, and most other plant foods like legumes and whole grains that have been properly soaked and cooked.
Healthy liquids include water, freshly pressed juices that aren't too sugary, and smoothies made with whole fruits and vegetables.
As you strive to stay optimally hydrated by making sensible food and lifestyle choices, please keep in mind that it's not wise to guzzle down a pre-determined number of glasses of water per day. Drinking too much water can actually be detrimental to your health. So long as you follow the three recommendations noted above, you can rely on your sense of thirst to dictate how much you eat and drink.
For more information on the problems with drinking too much water, please view:
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