by Stephanie J. Tallent
“How much water are you drinking each day?” asked my health care professional. You see, I am expecting our second child and have placed myself in the hands of a dear lady for my own health as well as that of my unborn baby. With test results in her hand showing that I was not drinking enough water I had to fess up. “Probably not enough,” I replied sheepishly. Looking me square in the eyes she said, “I want you to drink at least three quarts a day. Get three, one quart jars and fill them up each morning. Then make sure you drink them each day.” Although she said it very nicely, I knew it was more of a prescription than a request.
While I know water is important, she had me wondering why it is so necessary that she would practically order me to drink sufficiently each day. So I did some research, and here is what I found.
Did you know that nearly three-quarters of your body is made up of water? It infuses every cell and tissue. Each day our body can use 64 ounces of water just for basic body functions such as regulating temperature, aiding in digestion, keeping skin hydrated, and giving us energy. Water is the foundation of our blood. It helps maintain strong muscles, lubricates joints, hydrates organs, flushes toxins, and much more. Without water, your body simply cannot function.
Water is the most common and important compound on earth and is made of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen-hence the familiar chemical formula H2O. Studies confirm numerous health benefits of water. Because our bodies are made up of so much water and because it is responsible for almost all the vital processes that occur, it is important to replace, replenish and rehydrate each day.
As we grow older it becomes more important to pay attention to water intake. Mature adults retain less cellular water. A major contributor to this loss of water is the lack of sensitivity to the body’s cues for thirst. For instance, we often misinterpret the feeling of hunger. Sometimes we think we are hungry when our bodies are actually crying out for water. Try this to see if you confuse your signals: next time you crave a snack, take a drink of water and see if you remain hungry. Your body may be needing water, not food, especially if it is not meal time yet. Because fruit is largely made up of water, it is often a perfect choice for a snack if you still think you are hungry.
Studies have shown that most of us require 6 to 10 glasses of water a day for proper hydration. The more you drink, the more you help your body cleanse itself of toxins absorbed from the environment. Since some of these toxins can show up in skin, drinking more water may rejuvenate your skin and help ward off some types of facial acne. Is your hair dull and lacking the luster it used to have? Drinking enough water each day may help bring that shine back to your hair.
Because of the rapid cell growth and reproduction that takes place when moms are expecting, water intake needs to increase for the demands of the growing baby. In fact, Dr. F. Batmanghelidj in his book You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty, believes that morning sickness is a thirst signal for both the mom and the unborn baby. Increased water intake is also needed during lactation as we provide both water and food for our babies.
No Substitutions, Please
What if you’re “just not a water drinker?” Can other fluids take its place? In a word, no. Other fluids cannot replace the results we can get from water. Juice contains water, but your body will get more nutrients from eating the actual fruits. Milk provides needed calcium and Vitamin D but is still not a replacement for water. In fact, drinking too much milk can have a constipating effect-the opposite of what water helps your digestive tract to do.
What about coffee, tea, and sodas? Though they have a water base, they are actually diuretics and will dehydrate you. For every 6 ounces of caffeinated or alcoholic drink a person consumes it requires an additional 10 to 12 ounces of water to re-hydrate.
Are other health benefits obtained from drinking water? In days past, our parents and grandparents recognized the importance of water, and today, we hear the message from nutritionists and health experts. They confirm that the health benefits of water are numerous. Yet our most common health problem is dehydration.
Dehydration occurs when the body starts drawing water from its own tissues, cells, and skin to replenish itself. Although a very serious condition, it can be avoided simply by drinking the proper amount of water. Since water aids in flushing toxins from our bodies, it is helpful for proper functioning of our kidneys and liver, whose job is to capture and cleanse our bodies of those toxins.
Water has also been shown to possibly reduce heartburn. Heartburn signals a water shortage in the upper gastrointestinal tract. The use of antacids or other medications does not correct the dehydration so the body continues to suffer from a lack of water. Over time, these corrective medications will cause other problems that could have been avoided by drinking a glass of water.
Water can help reduce the pain of arthritis and lower back pain which are also possible signs of a water deficiency. Lack of water in the spine, spinal column, and discs is very painful. The discs are water cushions that support the weight of the body. Intake of water and small amounts of salt have been shown to help reduce some of the pain of arthritis and lower back problems.
Colitis can signal water shortage as well. It is associated with constipation and dehydration as the body squeezes every last drop of water from the excrement. This extraction in turn causes pain as the body tries to eliminate non-lubricated feces. This can potentially lead to diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, polyps, and other more serious gastrointestinal problems.
How Much, How Fast?
But can you drink too much water? Surprisingly, it is indeed possible, though rare. The condition is called Water Intoxication and is caused by drinking too much too fast. The recommended daily water intake is 8 to 12, 8 ounce glasses spaced throughout the day. When you drink too much water-a gallon or more in an hour- Water Intoxication can set in. The debilitating results range from swelling of blood vessels to brain swelling and kidney overload.
Water Intoxication occurs when too much water enters the body’s cells. The tissues swell with excess fluid. As the over abundance of water accumulates the normal saline serum in your body is diluted. Your body tries to compensate for this by sending in more of the saline solution to help balance the excess water. While your body does its best to compensate for the excess water, sometimes it cannot. For already saturated cells, too much water can be like drowning.
Symptoms of Water Intoxication include irregular heartbeat, fluid in the lungs, and fluttering eyelids. The swelling of cells can put pressure on the brain and nerves which can cause seizures, coma and even death. A complete recuperation can occur if water is restricted and additional salt and electrolytes are administered.
But the problem lies not in how much you drink, so much as in how fast you drink it. Your kidneys can process 15 liters (roughly 4 gallons) of water a day, so you are unlikely to experience Water Intoxication as long as you drink over a period of time. Most adults need about three quarts a day. You might need to drink more in warm weather to compensate for perspiration or if you have been exercising or are on certain medications. In my case, though-and likely some of you other busy moms-we suffer from not drinking enough water rather than intoxication.
Quality, Not Just Quantity
The quality of water also matters. If you live in the city, your water has been cleaned and infused with many different things which may include chlorine and fluoride. If you live in the country, you may have well water that should be tested on a regular basis for impurities such as sulfur. No matter where you live, it is a good idea to invest in some form of water purification system to insure that you and your family have the purest water possible. Incidentally, my last checkup showed that my water intake had properly increased! How about you? Do you drink enough? Make sure you get plenty of wonderful water during your day!
(If you would like to further explore the wonders of water, you might want to read for yourself some of the sources I used for this article: Your Body’s Many Cries for Water and You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty by F. Batmanghelidj, M.D.; Also Dr. Ben Kim and Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., for articles on Water Intoxication.)