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We often don’t think about becoming dehydrated in the winter. It’s cold outside, we don’t get as thirsty, and we don’t sweat as much. Hot summer days are when we expect to become dehydrated. Dehydration in winter might take you by surprise, and low fluid intake at that time of year poses some unexpected health consequences. Cold air holds less moisture and dry indoor air from heaters makes the problem worse, so dry skin in winter also is a common winter woe. 

Since we spend a lot more time indoors in winter, another wintertime problem is indoor allergies. These probably aren’t exactly at the top of your mind, like outdoor allergies are in spring. So when you start to sneeze and sniffle, and develop red eyes and itchy skin, you might not realize the reason is allergies. Many of the symptoms are easy to confuse with a cold. 

In this blog post, I’m going to address wintertime health challenges and what you can do to stop them. Here is what you need to know about winter dehydration, dry skin in winter, and indoor allergies.   

Dehydration in Winter vs Summer

Contrary to popular belief, dehydration isn’t just a summer concern. Cold air holds less moisture, leading to dry conditions both outside and indoors thanks to heating systems. In the winter, our bodies lose moisture faster than we might realize and we often feel less thirsty compared to during the hot days of summer. Yet, even in cold weather, you’re losing fluids through urination, bowel movements, breathing, and even some sweating. 

Causes of Dehydration in Winter

Winter dehydration happens for a number of reasons. Often, people sweat less in cold weather, and when it’s cold outside, it’s difficult to tell when you are sweating. If you’re not sweating you may not realize you’re losing fluids in other ways. In addition, in winter, you don’t feel thirsty like you do in the summer, so you don’t drink as many fluids. Heated indoor air is also dehydrating.

Signs of Dehydration in Winter

Thirst is not the only sign of dehydration, especially in winter. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re dehydrated, here are some red flags:

  • Dark-colored urine
  • Dry skin
  • Chapped lips
  • Constipation
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Tiredness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor appetite

If you have any of those signs of wintertime dehydration, increase your fluid intake, according to my recommendations below. 

Risks of Dehydration

About 60% to 70% of the human body is made of water, so it makes sense that your body needs fluids in order to work properly. If you’re not getting enough fluids, the consequences can range from mild to severe. Mild dehydration can put you in a bad mood, affect your memory, and lead to brain fog. Proper hydration lowers the risk of developing kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and constipation. Severe dehydration requires medical attention since it can cause confusion, kidney failure, cardiac problems, and even death. 

At any time of year, the elderly are at a greater risk of dehydration, since they often lose the ability to feel thirsty and forget to drink fluids. 

How to Stay Hydrated in Winter

Drinking plenty of fluids is important all year long, but winter hydration is especially important. Women should drink 11 cups (88 ounces) of fluid per day and men 16 cups (128 ounces), which includes the amount of fluids you obtain from food. A good rule of thumb is to drink half of your weight in ounces. For example, someone weighing 120 pounds will need about 60 ounces of water. Someone weighing 180 pounds should drink about 90 ounces a day. 

  • Drink water consistently: Don’t rely on thirst as a signal to drink water. Realize that in the winter, you might not feel thirsty. Drink water regularly each day, and if you don’t like water, infuse it with fruits like cucumber, lemon, or berries to make it more appealing.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol: Both can act as diuretics. If consumed, ensure you’re balancing with plenty of water.
  • Electrolytes: Adding electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium to your water can enhance hydration. Electrolytes help regulate nerve and muscle function and maintain acid-base balance and water balance.
  • Eat foods that contain fluids: You can get approximately 20% of your daily fluids from foods, so be sure to load up on soups and fruits and vegetables that have a high water content such as cucumbers and watermelons.  
  • Always carry water or fluids with you. You’re more likely to remember to drink fluids if you have them with you when you’re out and about. 

What Kind of Fluids Are Best for Dehydration?

Water is always a good choice, but you can opt for soups, organic vegetable juices, sparkling water, and unsweetened cranberry juice. Herbal teas also are an option but remember that some teas are better than others (see below).  People who regularly drink coffee and tea can consume up to three cups per day without affecting hydration. The one beverage you’ll want to avoid? Alcohol, which is dehydrating and increases the risk of hypothermia. Alcohol stops your body from realizing you’re cold and suppresses the shiver response, a function which helps the body generate heat and prevent hypothermia.  

Herbal Teas: The Good, The Bad, and The Hydrating

If you reach for a warm cup of herbal tea during the winter, it can be a good way to increase your fluid intake. However, not all teas are created equal when it comes to hydration.

Hydrating Teas to Embrace:

  • Chamomile: Known for its calming properties, chamomile is non-diuretic and can be a great bedtime drink.
  • Rooibos: This red tea from South Africa is caffeine-free and packed with antioxidants.
  • Ginger tea: Not only is it warming, but ginger also aids in digestion and can help soothe a sore throat.

Drying Teas to Limit:

  • Hibiscus: While delicious and rich in vitamin C, hibiscus can act as a mild diuretic.
  • Green tea: Though it has many health benefits, green tea does contain caffeine, which can be dehydrating in large amounts.
  • Dandelion tea: Often used for detoxification, dandelion also can act as a diuretic.

Dry Skin in Winter

Winter can be tough on our skin. The combination of cold air, wind, and indoor heating can strip our skin of its natural oils. Soothe your dry, itching wintertime skin from the inside by drinking more fluids. Protect your skin from winter’s wrath on the outside by using the following suggestions. 

How to Keep Skin Hydrated in the Winter

  • Moisturize daily: If you’re looking for a good moisturizer for dry skin in winter, opt for  natural oils like coconut oil, shea butter, or jojoba oil. These create a protective layer on the skin and are free from harmful chemicals.
  • Use a humidifier: This can help add moisture to dry indoor air. Consider adding a few drops of essential oils like lavender for added relaxation.
  • Limit hot showers: While tempting when it’s cold outside, hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils. Choose lukewarm water and moisturize immediately after.
  • Stay protected: To prevent dry skin in cold weather, wear gloves, scarves, and hats to protect exposed skin from cold winds and temperatures.
  • Focus on nutrition: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and flaxseeds, can help maintain skin health.
  • Stay active: Regular exercise can improve circulation, helping to nourish skin cells.

Indoor Allergies in Winter

Many people are surprised when they suffer from allergies in winter, and at first blame the red, itchy eyes and sneezing on the common cold.   Allergies during winter are usually due to indoor allergens like dust mites, pet dander, and mold. Many people turn to antihistamines for relief. However, these medications can reduce the production of saliva and increase urination, leading to dehydration and making dehydration during winter worse. 

A more effective solution to wintertime allergies involves a functional medicine approach that investigates the root cause of allergies in a given patient, as well as maintaining the health of a person’s mucosal barriers such as the sinuses and skin. In addition, a functional medicine approach can include:

  • Neti pots: Using a saline solution can help clear out allergens from the nasal passages.
  • Air purifiers: Use devices certified for allergy and asthma, which can remove nearly 98% of all allergen particles from the air. We recommend HEPA filters. 
  • Identify your allergic triggers: Your functional medicine provider can order tests to find out what indoor allergens are causing your symptoms. You can then reduce or eliminate your exposure.
  • Get your air ducts cleaned and filters replaced.
  • Control pet allergies: Keep pets out of your bed and limit them to certain parts of your house. Replacing carpet with flooring can also help.
  • Reduce dust mites: Buy new pillows and use a mattress protector. Regularly dust and clean the house. 
  • Test the house for mold: If mold levels are high, work with your functional medicine practitioner to determine what remediation steps are needed. 
  • Quercetin-rich foods and supplements: Found in onions, apples, and berries, quercetin acts as a natural antihistamine. Combining it with bromelain and vitamin C is particularly effective. 
  • Probiotics: A healthy gut can boost the immune system and potentially reduce allergy symptoms. Consider fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi and a probiotic supplement.

Overcoming Winter Dehydration and Allergies 

At the Caplan Health Institute, we can give you personalized tips to stay hydrated in winter, as well as how to prevent allergies in cold weather. The first step? Schedule a free 15-minute discovery consultation, by phone or video. If you come on board as a practice member, I’ll order testing and conduct a medical history in order to pinpoint the root cause of your indoor allergies in winter and optimize your overall health. The goal is to reduce your vulnerability to allergic triggers and keep your skin barrier healthy, so you’ll be more comfortable and happier this winter and next.

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Board Certified in Integrative Medicine
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner
Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner