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On last count, approximately 2.1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. That number keeps increasing by the day, as per a report by the World Health Organisation. The demands for access to clean water and food have never been as pressing as they are today.

The water that is available is so polluted that those who have access to it are constantly at risk of contracting illnesses such as cholera, typhoid and polio, to name a few.

The United Nations also estimates that globally 420,000 die as a result of food contamination. Almost one in ten people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food.

So, what happens to the human body if you don’t drink water?

The short answer is you die a slow and painful death.

The long answer is that every human body is comprised of about 65 per cent water, which is needed for a number of human bodily processes and reactions, including blood circulation, regulation of body temperature, waste removal and detoxification.

We start to feel thirsty when our body water percentage drops about two per cent lower. The thirst centre of the brain is located in the hypothalamus. This feeling of thirst is a survival instinct; it’s our brain telling us to refill on H2O, so that our body doesn’t start dehydrating.

Each day we lose two to three litres of water through sweat, urine and bowel movements. Even breathing uses water from our body. It is essential to maintain a balanced water level, by drinking enough throughout the day. How much water you need to drink a day, depends on factors such as your geographic location, your age, your body fat and your gender. Men roughly need between 2.5 and 3.7 litres of water a day, while women need 2 to 2.7 litres. If you don’t drink enough water, the outcome is usually very bad.

1. Dark urine

When your body is low on water, your brain sends signals to your kidneys to send more water to your blood, rather than flushing it out in the urine. When your blood holds on to the water, it causes your urine to turn a dark yellow with a strong odour. That’s your body’s way of conserving fluids.

2. Brain shrinkage

When you don’t drink enough water, your energy drops and your mood becomes more irritable. A dehydrated brain actually works much harder to achieve simple tasks, than when you are well hydrated. It even temporarily shrinks if you don’t drink water.

3. Joint pain

Water is meant to lubricate the areas between the bones, for easy movement and comfortable sleeping. If you don’t drink water, your joints begin to hurt and your bones grind against each other.

4. Hunger

You feel hungry, when you don’t drink water, even if you’ve eaten recently. You are more likely to overeat when you don’t drink water. It’s very common to confuse dehydration with hunger.

5. Headaches

Because it takes your brain more than double the effort to get anything done, you will suffer headaches if you don’t drink enough water. Your eyes will also hurt, since they’ve become dry.

6. Water weight

If you don’t drink water, you gain water weight. This may sound slightly counterintuitive, but drinking less water causes your body to hold on to every drop, which means you look and feel bloated. The numbers on the scale will temporarily go up.

7. Slowly dying of thirst

When you stop drinking water, you experience all of the above signs of dehydration. Feeling of thirst, having dark urine, feeling hunger and irritability to name a few. As you continue not drinking, you stop going to the bathroom all together. You start having trouble swallowing, suffer from muscle spasms, and should experience some sort of nausea. Your blood stops flowing to the skin and your core body temperature increases. The lack of blood flow in your skin may cause you to turn a greyish blue colour. After three to five days of not drinking water, your organs begin to shut down, especially the brain, which could have lethal consequences including fainting, strokes and in extreme cases, even death.

Drinking water can solve many health problems in the body, so make sure to keep your cells hydrated and healthy. If you want to help in the mission to end global thirst, check out the amazing projects on Water.org and see how you can contribute.

— Information sourced from Mayo Clinic and NHS