Nearly 60 percent of the average human body is water — it is crucial to our cell function and indeed essential to life itself. While we may live for weeks without food, we cannot survive without water for more than 3-5 days.

Today, we are focusing on hydration, water intake and retention — how they impact your health, your physique and the way you feel.

Though everyone is different, there is a general guideline for the proper amount of water intake in a day. Roughly speaking, a gallon of water a day is recommended for optimal cell and organ function, along with general health and well-being. It’s so abundant and so taken for granted we don’t often consider how vital water is! A cold glass of water in the morning can instantly snap you out of a groggy start to the day; some right before bed may help you sleep better; water during the day helps regulate the body’s internal temperature much the way a car’s radiator fluid does.

But, unlike cars, our body is highly adaptable to the hell we tend to put it through. Fail to put coolant in your radiator and your car will overheat and quickly break down. Your body works more subtly, though make no mistake, it is doing whatever it can to preserve its health. No, you won’t simply die on the side of the road like your car would. But small deficiencies in water have their own symptoms — and remember, at the end of the day, your body doesn’t care what you look like, just how it feels and functions. Its responses to dehydration are not pretty.

For one, remember that the body can be a bit of a hoarder when it’s told it can’t have something. Much in the same way it will cling to body fat if dietary fat supplies are cut short, it will not sacrifice a clearly more-important substance like water when it is deprived of it. This is most commonly seen in inflammation, distention of the stomach and general bloating. In digestion, water and bile play a large role breaking down foods and waste and moving them through the intestines. When water supplies are low, the digestive system will actually leach water away from other organ systems (the skin, for example — think chapped lips) and hold it in the gut. With waste too dry to process through the body and extra water stored in the midsection, this is the textbook example of unsightly bloating: Backed up, swollen and uncomfortable, all because of a water shortage.