Can drinking water help resolve anxiety?
Writing for ‘The Conversation’ from Australia, Nikolaj Travica comments that a staggering number of people suffer from an anxiety-related condition, with the largest increasing number being in the 15 – 24 age group.
The growing field of nutritional psychiatry focuses on the effects of foods and drinks on our mental health. Despite water constituting 60–80% of our bodies, it is often overlooked as a significant nutrient. In fact, the evidence shows water and hydration can play a role in preventing and managing the symptoms of anxiety.
While we know how important it is to drink water on a hot day to replenish supplies in our body, we might not be aware that we nourish our brains as well when we drink water.
Several years ago, a group of researchers undertook a review that focused on the various ways hydration impacts health. The results were promising.
Overall, negative emotions such as anger, hostility, confusion and tension as well as fatigue were found to increase with dehydration. One trial induced mild dehydration and found increased reports of tension or anxiety and fatigue in participants.
Researchers have also found people who usually drink lots of water feel less calm, less content, and more tense when their water intake drops. When researchers increased the participants’ water intake, people in the study felt more happiness, no matter how much water they normally drank.
Another large study found people who drink five cups or more of water per day were at lower risk of depression and anxiety. In comparison, drinking less than two cups per day doubles the risk. This link was less noticeable for anxiety alone (although feelings of depression and anxiety often influence each other).
More recently, researchers found water with electrolytes may prevent anxiety more than plain water, but it was noted that the placebo effect may explain this connection as study participants were aware when they were given the electrolyte drink. Dehydration might also affect how well we sleep. Poor sleep can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
The link between dehydration and anxiety is also observed in children, who are a group at risk of dehydration.
Water and the brain
Almost every bodily function relies on water. Because 75% of brain tissue is water, dehydration reduces energy production in the brain and can change brain structure, causing the brain to slow down and not function properly. If water levels are too low, the brain shows signs of working harder to complete tasks.
Our cells recognize a state of dehydration as a threat to survival, leading to a state of anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between brain cells) that stabilizes our mood and regulates emotions. During dehydration, we struggle to get the chemicals required to produce serotonin into our brain.
Being just half a litre dehydrated may also increase the stress hormone cortisol, which has been associated with a range of mental disorders, including anxiety.
So, based on what is currently known and emerging evidence, there is plenty of reason to make sure you and the children in your care drink sufficient water.
It is, however, important to note there are a wide range of factors that affect an individual’s level of anxiety. No single thing is likely to be responsible for completely resolving those feelings. This is particularly true in adults and children who experience significant anxiety, where simply drinking more water is unlikely to be helpful on its own.