The importance of proper water intake
Written by Oddveig Myhre, NMD, MS
When our patients are coming to us, almost all of them are found to be severely dehydrated and they just don’t realize how important it is to drink enough water. Here is what I tell my patients: First of all, nothing can live without water! Every time you are dehydrated, some aspect of your body dies. Water is needed for production of energy, it supports normal cell structure and function, it is necessary for a healthy immune system and it is the main solvent for all foods, vitamins and minerals. Moreover, without it, nothing gets transported to where it is needed.
Let me review a little anatomy to emphasize how important water is. In a healthy body, 75% of the body is water and 25% is solid matter. The brain tissue is about 85% water. These numbers in themselves should convince you that drinking enough water is important. Not only is water needed for proper blood flow, but also to keep each and every cell in your body plump and healthy. After you eat food, the nutrients are broken down in your digestive tract and transported in the blood. From there the nutrients flow from the blood vessels into the cell and tissues where it is needed. That includes getting the nutrients to your brain. The brain has priority over all other bodily systems. The brain weighs about 1/50th of your body, but receives almost 20% of all blood flow. This means the brain is very sensitive to the amount of water in your body. Furthermore, it affects your vision on multiple levels. The eye is a direct extension of your brain and it is highly dependent on proper fluid levels. Dehydration can alter the physiological balance inside the eye and has been associated with some types of vision loss such as glaucoma, cataract, vitreous detachment and uveitis (F. Batmangehelidj, MD. “Your body’s many cries for water”).
If you are dehydrated, your blood is thick and it is more difficult to move throughout the body. This creates a stress signal in the brain that leads to symptom of thirst. However, if you haven’t been good at staying hydrated, this signal stops working. It is erroneous to think that a dry mouth is the first signal for thirst. It is not. It is often the last desperate “cry for help” that your body gives you to remind you to drink. And no; coffee, tea, soda and any other types of drinks, do not count! These drinks actually are dehydrating so they cause further water loss most commonly by increasing the urinary output as well as loss of electrolytes. As a general rule, we should drink our ½ our body weight in ounces. For instance, if you weigh 160 lbs, then drink 80 oz of good quality water a day.
So how do get enough water in you? First of all, start the morning out by drinking a large 8-ounce glass of room temperature or slightly heated water. If you add freshly squeezed lemon juice to it, you now helped the function of liver and gallbladder. Water with lemon juice alkalizes the body which is important for the body to flush out toxins, as well as to normalize (cellular) metabolism. Drinking through a straw or sipping the water prevents you from swallowing excessive amounts of air which often makes you feel bloated.
Almost all of my patients have digestive problems and often this is also related to dehydration. To obtain proper digestion, it helps to drink before meals. This prevents the blood from getting too thick after a meal and ensures better uptake of nutrients. Again, coffee, ice tea and soda does not count. It must be water, but you can add electrolytes in form of fresh lemon juice, slices of cucumber, or a pinch of sea salt (Himalayan, Celtic or other high quality types). If you drink while eating, you will dilute your enzymes that are supposed to digest your food. It is better to drink before or after a meal to support better digestion. It is also better to drink throughout the day rather than gulping down large amounts once or twice a day. That way you get continuous hydration to maintain a healthy water balance in your body. I highly recommend you get into the habit of always having water with you. I also recommend that you slowly increase your water intake with 8 oz a day until you reach your goal amount to give your body a chance to accommodate to the changes. If you have kidney disease, congestive heart failure or use a diuretic, it is extra important to slowly increase your water intake.
So, now that you know that you need to drink more water and you should bring your water bottle with you everywhere, I often get the question of what type of bottle to use. My recommendation is glass bottles. Even if it seems impractical to carry a glass bottle, it is a safer choice. Plastic bottles are made of a chemical that is called phthalates which has been found to disrupt hormone pathways, act as a toxin to the liver, and associated with diseases such as allergies and diabetes. I am concerned with the trend of thinner water bottles that are more environmental friendly. Softer plastic bottles usually mean they leech out even more of these chemicals creating more toxins in the body. Freezing water in plastic bottles or leaving them in the car where they get heated up leads to additional leakage of plastics into the water. Sometimes you can smell the plastic on the water and if you do, make sure to throw it out. If you are afraid that glass bottles will break if you bring them everywhere, Pyrex bottles are hard plastic and leech a lot less than regular plastic bottles. I do not recommend that you put hot water or freeze water in them, but adding ice cubes are fine just. For more information about phthalates, I suggest reading about it at www.ewg.org.
Lastly, let’s discuss the quality of water. What is considered a good choice? Well, since I am personally avoiding as much plastic as possible, I like filtering systems for the house. There are several systems available, from inexpensive Brita filters which work quite well, however the Brita container is plastic. It is made from hard plastic so as long as you don’t use extra hot or cold water it is OK to use to filter it. When the water has been filtered, transfer it to a glass container. My favorite type of filtering systems are full house water systems as Pure Magic water or reverse osmosis filters that you can connect to your faucets. If you have well water, make sure to have it tested for heavy metals, pesticides and bacteria/parasites. Unfortunately, it is hard to find good quality well waters these days. If you cannot find a water filtering solution that works for you, then buying water in the 5-gallon containers that are made from hard, thick plastic is better than the smaller plastic bottles. However I encourage you to make the investment for good water. It is the best way to ensure you are staying healthy for life.
As a closing commend, dehydration has been found to cause diseases such as asthma, allergies, ulcers, constipation, hypertension and arthritis. Often this is due to release of histamine, increased thickness of blood, decreased flushing of toxins through the kidneys, hence leading to increased inflammation. Since every function of the body is monitored and regulated by the flow of water, proper water levels are crucial for staying healthy. It is also readily available, reasonable and probably the easiest way to gain health.
Cheers! Dr. O.
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