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Keeping your blood sugars stable is a balancing act in diabetes, and not drinking enough water may make it even more challenging.
Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
People may dodge the office candy dish or order diet soda over regular when trying to manage diabetes. Yet, drinking enough water may not be the first thing to come to mind. According to a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Public Health, hydration is a hallmark for a healthy metabolism, and diabetes is a metabolic condition. Further, dehydration can increase your risk for diseases related to digestion, blood flow, urinary health and brain health—affecting diabetes and whole body health.
One thing is for sure: good hydration is vital to your well-being. Keep reading to find out why hydration is essential, how much water to drink daily with diabetes and how to make drinking more water doable in your life.
What is diabetes?
According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 people are diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, a disease that directly affects the body’s ability to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Whether blood sugar levels rise too high or fall too low, abnormal blood sugar levels can harm the body and compromise good health. Insulin is a hormone your pancreas makes that regulates blood glucose (or blood sugar levels) so your body can use it properly for energy. “In diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or does not use insulin effectively (type 2 diabetes), leading to elevated blood sugar levels,” says Stewart Parnacott, APRN CRNA CPT, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, and certified personal trainer.
Why is hydration important for diabetes?
Interestingly, some side effects of not drinking enough water can mimic diabetes symptoms such as dry mouth and excessive thirst. On the one hand, you may think you’ve had too little H2O—and on the other, too much. Frequent urination can be another early sign of diabetes. “This is the result of the body trying to get rid of the excess sugar in the blood. When blood glucose levels are high, our kidneys have to work extra hard to get rid of the excess sugar, causing frequent urination,” says Christine Lothen-Kline, M.P.H., MCHES, RDN, LDN, and dietitian director of ModifyHealth. For this reason, drinking enough water daily is especially important for people with diabetes. “Staying well-hydrated aids in regulating blood sugar levels by facilitating the transport of glucose and insulin throughout the body. Hydration promotes normal kidney function and prevents dehydration-related complications. Other symptoms may arise as dehydration progresses, including dry mouth, dark yellow urine, fatigue, dizziness and headache. Moreover, individuals may experience difficulty concentrating, irritability and decreased urine output,” says Parnacott.
Overall, healthy hydration is vital for preventing high blood sugar levels, keeping the kidneys healthy (diabetes is a risk factor for kidney disease) and preventing dehydration that could escalate into a medical emergency and cause life-threatening conditions such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS). “Proper hydration also supports cardiovascular health, which is vital for individuals with diabetes, as they are at an increased risk of heart-related issues. Drinking enough water helps maintain blood volume and circulation, reducing the strain on the heart.” says Parnacott.
How much water do you need to drink daily with diabetes?
“People with diabetes do not necessarily need more water than others if their diabetes is well-controlled. If their blood glucose levels are high, they will lose more water and get dehydrated if they do not increase their water intake. It is most important to identify why their blood glucose levels are high and take steps to prevent that in the first place,” says Lothen-Kline.
“The Institute of Medicine recommends about 13 cups of water per day for men and 9 cups for women, but the reality is that individual needs vary widely. Factors such as age, activity level, weight and weather,” says Lothen-Kline.
The best way to find out how much water you need to drink daily with diabetes is to work with your medical provider. Some individuals with diabetes may have other conditions where drinking too much water can be dangerous. “Two health conditions that may require fluid restrictions are congestive heart failure and end-stage renal disease,” says Lothen-Kline.
An easy method to check your hydration levels is to check the color of your urine after using the bathroom. If you’ve been hydrating well, your urine should be a light pale yellow or sometimes nearly clear. Darker shades of pee signal that it’s time to refill your water glass.
8 tips for healthy hydration
Lothen-Kline offers some realistic advice for healthy hydration. “Getting enough water can be a challenge for many of us. We cannot always count on our body cueing us to drink more water when we need it. The first step to increasing our water intake is to identify how much we are drinking now. Track what you drink for a few days to determine your baseline. Then aim to increase your intake by about eight ounces per week until you hit your goal,” says Lothen-Kline.
After speaking with your medical provider, set a specific goal for how much water you should drink daily.
Drink a glass of water with every meal.
Track your intake using an app like Waterllama, Habit Tracker or good old-fashioned paper and pen.
Set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to drink water.
Recruit a partner for mutual support and accountability.
Flavor up your water by adding frozen fruit, cucumber slices, basil or mint leaves.
Try carbonated flavored water without added sugar.
Continue following your diabetes care plan per your medical provider, which usually includes eating a diet rich in diabetes-friendly foods, regular exercise, getting quality sleep and taking medications as recommended.
The bottom line
Drinking enough water can help you live a healthier life, with or without diabetes. Diabetes is a metabolic condition that alters your ability to regulate blood sugars without lifestyle interventions. Staying hydrated is vital to checking your blood sugars and preventing diabetes-related complications. The best way to know how much water you need is to talk to your medical provider because everyone’s needs differ. Generally, about 13 cups of water per day for men and 9 cups for women is the goal to aim for unless your doctor has said to follow a fluid-restriction plan.