Oh, sweet water. One of the key factors for healthy living is to be properly hydrated. Water is essential for nearly every organ and system in the body, which is 50 to 70 percent water. Water regulates body temperature, maintains cellular health, supports waste removal, and enables nutrient absorption.
Acute dehydration is responsible for most of the deaths in developing countries. But even in affluent nations, many people (70 percent in some countries) suffer from chronic low-level dehydration. Here is more information about why water is so important, how much water we need, how to get the most benefit from the water we drink.
Too Little Water
Dehydration has a detrimental effect on energy levels, appearance, and overall health. Insufficient water intake slows up the digestive system, because we need water to create the digestive juices. Lack of sufficient water can cause bloating, gas, nausea, and constipation.
Even mild dehydration can slow down the metabolism, encouraging weight gain and reducing energy levels. Chronic dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, joint and muscle pain, irritability, anxiety, depression, and food cravings. Even a two percent drop in hydration levels can cause mental fuzziness. And athletic performance can drop as much as 30 percent if we are not properly hydrated when we exercise.
The really challenging part is that we may not even be aware that we are dehydrated. The thirst mechanism can be ignored by tenacious individuals. Our thirst mechanism also naturally decreases as we age. And sometimes thirst signals are mistaken for hunger.
Symptoms of chronic dehydration include migraines, unexplainable joint and muscular pain, heartburn, hypertension, and morning nausea.
Too Much Water
It is hard to drink too much water. You have to really try – drinking past the point of the stomach’s fullness several times a day – to get too much water. But we can throw off the body’s mineral balance.
If a person drinks more than 12 liters in 24 hours, has diarrhea, suffers from a kidney disease, or has congestive heart failure, it is possible to develop hyponatremia – but this is quite rare.
If you do find that you drink a lot of water but still feel thirsty, chances are you do not have enough minerals in your system. See the section below about water quality for ideas on how to be truly hydrated. If the feeling of chronic thirst is not relieved by taking trace minerals and drinking plenty of water, you may need to seek help from a health care professional.
The old adage to drink eight ounces of water, eight times a day has been popular for many decades. This is still a good base if you do not want to pull out the calculator. But while expert opinions vary, the general consensus is to modulate your water intake based on your size, activity level, and the other types of liquids you consume.
The basic formula is to divide your weight (in pounds) in half, and drink that number of ounces of water per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you would drink 75 ounces as a minimum.
You would need to add more water to this equation for each other type of beverage that your drink. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar all dehydrate the body by reducing the effectiveness of water transfer systems. So for each cup of soda, coffee, and even sports drinks that you consume, drink another cup of water on top of your formula. For each ounce of alcohol, drink two additional ounces of water.
Quality Over Quantity
True hydration is dependent on more than just the amount of water you drink. In order for cells to actually absorb the water, the body needs to have the right balance of electrolytes and minerals. Otherwise the water you drink can pass right through, strip minerals from your body, and actually leave you more dehydrated than you were before.
To be sure your cells actually absorb the water you drink, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Consider adding sea vegetables and other mineral-rich foods in your diet, and take a mineral supplement that includes trace minerals. Add a little fresh lemon juice to your water to ensure proper electrolyte balance. A dash of Himalayan or other mineral-rich salt in your water can help ensure you maintain the proper mineral balance.
Essential fatty acids (flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts) are also necessary to maintain healthy cellular membranes, which is what allows cells to absorb and hold the water they need.
Water is life. Humans, plants, and most living creatures on this planet are made of water. Just like a plant, we can survive for a long time with insufficient water. But to be truly vibrant and abundant, we need to be sure our cells are properly hydrated.