We have all heard it, “we need to drink more water“. Everyone from family physicians to workout gurus tout proper hydration as a critical component in optimal health. But how do we separate the facts from the slosh? With summer approaching, and warmer temperatures accompanying sunny weather, let’s take a look at the truth about water, hydration, and how to know when you are or are not getting enough to drink.
For starters, the human body in a healthy state is made up of between 55% and 78% water, based on age. Generally the following percentages are a good rule of thumb:
- Infants bodies are 78% water
- Children, both males and females decline during the first ten years, approximating 65-68% water by age ten
- Adult men average 57%
- Adult women average 52-55%
- Obesity reduces overall body fluid significantly, bringing the percentage of water comprising the body down to 45%
All of that being said, what is the big deal about water intake? Isn’t it just basic common sense to drink something when we get thirsty? We would literally sicken and die without adequate water intake. This could happen quite quickly if we were completely deprived of water in a hot environment, or it could happen more slowly over a prolonged period of time if we consistently take in less water than our bodies need. The average human can only survive up to one week without water at the longest, and most would succumb much sooner. Let’s take a look at what this life-giving liquid actually DOES inside our bodies:
- Water moistens sensitive mucus membranes such as those found in the mouth, nose, and eyes
- Cushions and protects body organs and fragile tissues, such as the brain, heart, and lungs
- Helps regulate bowel function and prevent constipation, thereby avoiding dangerous accumulation of toxins within the body
- Regulates body temperature
- Lubricates joints and provides cushioning between bones by maintaining flexibility of cartilage
- Helps dissolve nutrients such as minerals and vitamins, making them accessible for use by the body
- Aids in kidney and liver function by facilitating the excretion of toxins and waste accumulation
- Maintains adequate systemic blood pressure for the cardiovascular system to function optimally, thereby lessening strain on the heart muscle and arterial/venous structures
- Acts as a carrier of nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body
Of course, this is a concise list compared to every function actually carried out by water in the human body. So, what happens when our body‘s water gauge gets low? Many people assume that the physical sensation of thirst is an adequate indicator that we need to drink something, but there are two key mistakes in that assumption:
- The sensation of thirst in our mouths, that “dry feeling” that makes us crave a cold drink, is actually a last-ditch effort by our bodies to force us to get water before actual damage begins to occur. It is NOT an early warning signal, but rather a late-stage danger sign that we are now heading into potentially serious trouble. A fair assumption for an adult is that by the time we “feel thirsty“, it will take close to a full quart (32 ounces) of pure water to get our system back into a healthy state. Essentially, feeling thirsty is a sensation to be avoided by taking in adequate water in the first place.
- Especially in American culture, we tend to drink all sorts of things besides water, which is fine from a recreational standpoint. Even fruit juices, flavored waters/seltzers, teas, and “sports drinks” contain a large amount of water, so may seem to be a good choice when we feel the need for a drink. However, these drinks also contain minerals, sugars, sodium, and possibly other chemicals that our bodies must use energy to filter out through the kidneys and liver. This is a strain that a thirsty body does NOT need, instead of pure water that simply hydrates without adding any more stress to our system. Recommendations for daily intake of water mean exactly that…WATER intake alone.
This brings us to a critical point. When considering optimal health, all drinks do not hydrate the same and some should be avoided altogether, to be consumed only when one is already in an optimally hydrated state. Here are a few key points to keep in mind the next time you pick something up to wet your whistle.
- Soda pop, full of sugar, artificial colors/flavors, and phosphorus, is one of the very worst drinks for a thirsty human body. Excessive phosphorus actually causes the kidneys to excrete MORE fluid than usual, contributing to dehydration. Excess sugar and other chemicals increase the load on the kidneys and pancreas, causing stress to these organs and increasing the body’s need for even more water.
- Fruit juices, even “all natural” juices, are a concentrated energy source with high sugar levels. Naturally occurring sugar taxes the kidneys, so juices should at the very least be significantly watered down to use as a fluid replacement.
- “Sport drinks”, so called because they are touted as being designed for athletes who deplete their systems of vital minerals during heavy exercise, are usually more overkill than anything. Unless you plan to run a foot race across a desert after a week long fast, it is not likely that even most healthy athletes will deplete their sodium stores enough to require the large amount of sodium supplied by most sport drinks. The idea that the sodium found in sweat must be replaced is a fallacy…when sodium is excreted through sweat, it is typically because there was already an excess of sodium in the bloodstream and the metabolic process used the opportunity of sweating to dump that excess. Excess sugar, colors, and flavors are equally unnecessary and definitely not beneficial.
- “Energy drinks”, while inducing a temporary sensation of increased strength or alertness, should never be used as fluid replacement. While the sugar, sodium, and artificial ingredients alone make them a terrible candidate as a healthy drink, the caffeine usually included in the ingredients acts as a diuretic, again causing further dehydration rather than correcting it.
- Alcoholic beverages of ANY kind are dehydrating. A short body chemistry lesson: Ordinarily when we are dehydrated, the chemical constituents of our blood are more concentrated in less water. This means that salts in our blood will be more concentrated, which triggers the posterior pituitary gland in our brain to secrete more Anti-Diuretic Hormone. This increase in ADH causes our bodies to retain more water, excrete less, and thereby protects us from increased degrees of dehydration. Alcohol reduces the amount of ADH produced in the brain, effectively signaling the kidneys to actually increase urination. This of course, only causes further dehydration and the need for more…yes, you guessed it…water. Think of it this way: When you drink 6 ½ ounces of beer, your body will excrete 10 ½ ounces of water. Where does that extra 4 ounces of water come from? The fluid stores in other body tissues where it belongs is where it comes from! The solution might seem simple. For every 12 ounce bottle of beer, drink 8 ounces of plain water to counteract the extra fluid loss, right? Wrong. The catch is that you will only retain half of that 8 ounces of water you drink, leaving you still 4 ounces behind. This is why most people wake up feeling thirsty after an evening of drinking alcohol. Subjecting this pattern on an already dehydrated human body can have devastating consequences.
With all of this having been said, it should be clear that combating dehydration is simple if we are willing to focus on the true biological need of our bodies for pure water. The lower animals know this. Just put two bowls in front of a panting, overheated dog: one full of a sweet soda pop, the other full of cool clear water. That dog will devour the bowl of water every single time. This is because animals are still governed by survival instinct, and not their taste buds. They innately know that the clear water is what they need in order to live. We humans could take a lesson from them in this regard.
“Support your return to great health with ‘SWAN‘. Shifting Water Attitudes Now. Changing attitudes supports and quickens your recovery period. Water = Flow. Balanced water intake = freedom to flow. Shifting an attitude changes the importance and balance of maintaining habits. This attitude card aids the conscious shift, complementing graceful change and optimum well-being.” ~Scott Wurtz, LMP, Professional Bowenwork Practitioner www.werestart.com
Meanwhile, keep a supply of clear water on hand this summer and enjoy good health!