water pouring from tap

Water: Elixir for Life

water pouring from tapWater may be the closest thing we have to an “elixir for life.”

Think about it: Our bodies are nearly two-thirds water. Even our bones are 20% water. Consequently, water isn’t only essential for life. It’s essential for maintaining a long and healthy life.

Thank goodness our bodies have sensitive detectors throughout that process our water and mineral balance. These detectors are manned by integrative centers which send messages to vital organs (kidney, sweat glands and salivary glands) and to the part of our brain that tells us we’re thirsty. All this is conveyed through nerves and designed to maintain balance.

That balance of water and minerals affects many different organs, functions, and moods. Without adequate hydration, we may suffer symptoms that, at first glance, we might not equate with dehydration.

  • Allergies and Asthma
    An allergy is a response to increased histamine in the body. Histamine regulates the distribution of water in the body. Research suggests that when there’s less water available in your body, your histamine level rises in an attempt to regulate. This can result in allergic reactions and may induce asthma.

  • Body Temperature
    Sweat is an important cooling mechanism. But if the water lost through sweat isn’t replaced, body temperature rises, causing a loss of electrolytes and blood volume. Even mild dehydration can cause an elevation in cortisol, increased sweating, and electrolyte imbalances. In turn, that imbalance can cause dark urine, irregular heartbeat, fatigue, bowel irregularities, muscle weakness or pain, changes in mood, and headache. All these are symptoms of dehydration.

  • Digestion Issues
    One small but compelling study found that inducing dehydration through sauna led to a 3% loss of body mass and gastric emptying that was significantly slower. A similar study showed a 37% increase in gastric distress among participants when dehydrated.

  • Cavities
    Saliva is filled with minerals that help protect teeth from cavities. While much evidence exists that shows dry mouth contribute to caries formation, it’s less clear if periodic dehydration poses the same risk. There’s certainly circumstantial evidence, but more research remains to be done.

  • Cognitive Performance
    In a series of studies, mild dehydration caused disturbances in mood and cognitive function. Participants consistently reported increased fatigue, confusion, anger and vigor.

  • Headaches and Migraines
    Dehydration can cause headaches and trigger migraines. This may be because it causes intracranial dehydration While water may be useful in relieving headache, it’s less certain if increasing water intake will prevent them.

  • Kidney Function
    The kidneys are responsible for regulating water and blood pressure, and for removing waste from the bloodstream. If water conservation happens in the body because of dehydration, waste may build in the bloodstream.

How Much Water Is Enough? And How Much Is Too Much?

While there are major gaps in what constitutes adequate hydration, a good rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces of water a day – 10 eight ounce glasses – to meet your body’s daily needs.

If that seems like way too much to you – and it might if you’re not used to drinking a lot of water – try drinking just one extra glass a day until you reach the level you need.

Beyond that, it’s a good idea to also consider how active you are, the climate you live in, your diet, and your stress level. For example, if you live in a hot, humid area and run 5 miles daily, you’re going to need a lot more water than someone living in a cool place, who spends most of the day seated indoors.

But know that you can get too much of a good thing. Drinking too much water can be fatal because it causes dangerously low levels of sodium in the blood. This can happen when we retain water (some medications can cause this) or drink more than our kidneys can get rid of.

The Dark Side of Water

Darth Vader pouring waterAs the crisis in Flint taught us, the quality of water we drink is critical to our health. A great source to find out what’s in your water is the EPA’s Consumer Confidence Reports.

But even if your municipality gets a passing grade, there are a several “typical” water additives you may want want to filter for.

  • Chlorine, a.k.a. Bleach
    Some cities chlorinate their water to disinfect and destroy harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, drinking chlorine has significant drawbacks – such as the destruction of beneficial gut flora. Without a balanced and healthy microbiome, stomach and enzyme actions necessary for proper digestion may be reduced.

    Similarly, bathing in chlorinated water disturbs beneficial bacteria on the skin. For many of us, this means skin irritations such as acne, eczema, and rashes.

  • Fluoride
    Most cities treat water with fluoride in the belief that it’ll help prevent tooth decay, even as the science suggests otherwise. Fluoride is a “publicly forced medicament,” yet there is no way to regulate the quantities we are all exposed to as it is in many products and processes we use and buy. Toxicity from swallowing fluoride is a real concern.

  • Other Chemicals
    Standard water treatment is unable to remove many environmental pollutants, including herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceutical drug residues, and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium.

The Environmental Working Group has a great online tool for deciding what kind of water filter is best for you – as well as excellent information on the options available.

Images by John & Mike Renlund (modified), via Flickr