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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain how water levels in the body influence the thirst cycle
  • Identify the main route by which water leaves the body
  • Describe the role of ADH and its effect on body water levels
  • Define dehydration and identify common causes of dehydration

On a typical day, the average adult will take in about 2500 mL (almost 3 quarts) of aqueous fluids. Although most of the intake comes through the digestive tract, about 230 mL (8 ounces) per day is generated metabolically, in the last steps of aerobic respiration. Additionally, each day about the same volume (2500 mL) of water leaves the body by different routes; most of this lost water is removed as urine. The kidneys also can adjust blood volume though mechanisms that draw water out of the filtrate and urine. The kidneys can regulate water levels in the body; they conserve water if you are dehydrated, and they can make urine more dilute to expel excess water if necessary. Water is lost through the skin through evaporation from the skin surface without overt sweating and from air expelled from the lungs. This type of water loss is called insensible water loss because a person is usually unaware of it.

Regulation of water intake

Osmolality is the ratio of solutes in a solution to a volume of solvent in a solution. Plasma osmolality is thus the ratio of solutes to water in blood plasma. A person’s plasma osmolality value reflects his or her state of hydration. A healthy body maintains plasma osmolality within a narrow range, by employing several mechanisms that regulate both water intake and output.

Drinking water is considered voluntary. So how is water intake regulated by the body? Consider someone who is experiencing dehydration    , a net loss of water that results in insufficient water in blood and other tissues. The water that leaves the body, as exhaled air, sweat, or urine, is ultimately extracted from blood plasma. As the blood becomes more concentrated, the thirst response—a sequence of physiological processes—is triggered ( [link] ). Osmoreceptors are sensory receptors in the thirst center in the hypothalamus that monitor the concentration of solutes (osmolality) of the blood. If blood osmolality increases above its ideal value, the hypothalamus transmits signals that result in a conscious awareness of thirst. The person should (and normally does) respond by drinking water. The hypothalamus of a dehydrated person also releases antidiuretic hormone (ADH) through the posterior pituitary gland. ADH signals the kidneys to recover water from urine, effectively diluting the blood plasma. To conserve water, the hypothalamus of a dehydrated person also sends signals via the sympathetic nervous system to the salivary glands in the mouth. The signals result in a decrease in watery, serous output (and an increase in stickier, thicker mucus output). These changes in secretions result in a “dry mouth” and the sensation of thirst.

A flowchart showing the thirst response

This figure is a top-to bottom flowchart describing the thirst response. The topmost box of the chart states that there is insufficient water in the body, which has two effects. The left branch of the chart leads to decreased blood volume, which leads to decreased blood pressure. This triggers an increase in angiotensin two. Angiotensin two stimulates the thirst center in the hypothalamus. On the right branch, insufficient water in the body leads to increased blood osmolality, which causes dry mouth. Increased blood osmolality and dry mouth is sensed by osmoreceptors in the hypothalamus. This stimulates the thirst center in the hypothalamus to increase thirst, giving a person the urge to drink. Drinking decreases blood osmolality back to homeostatic levels.
The thirst response begins when osmoreceptors detect a decrease in water levels in the blood.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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