Water is an essential part of life. 71% of the earth's surface is water. However, most of it - 98% - is salt water. Only 2% of the earth's water is fresh water that we can drink, and of this, almost all is trapped in frozen glaciers. The human body contains from 55% to 78% water, depending on body size. Your muscles that move your body are 75% water; your blood that transports nutrients is 82% water; your lungs that provide your oxygen are 90% water; your brain that is the control centre of your body is 76% water; even your bones are 25% water.
To function properly and avoid dehydration, the body requirement for water varies depending on the level of activity, temperature, humidity, and other factors. The popular claim that "a person should consume eight glasses of water per day" seems to have no real basis in science. It is not clear how much water intake is needed by healthy people, though most specialists agree that approximately 2 litres (6 to 7 glasses) of water daily is the minimum to maintain proper hydration. Medical literature favours a lower consumption, typically 1 litre of water for an average male, excluding extra requirements due to fluid loss from exercise or warm weather. Some even say we should drink only when we are thirsty. However, the big question is how much water do we need to alleviate certain illnesses and provide optimum health. You are not just what you eat; you are what you drink. This is why water is so important to your health.
When I started this blog on water I wanted to talk about how water can heal specific conditions rather than how it improves your skin and helps you lose weight. In my research I came across this interesting book: "Your body's many cries for water" by F. Batmanghelidj. He discusses an interesting theory that certain conditions could be alleviated by just drinking more water. He disregards the medical thirst indicator as being "dry mouth" and says that certain symptoms and pains should be translated as crisis signals of water shortage in the body i.e. emergency thirst signals. When these symptoms take place we need to determine whether they are brought on by dehydration. Non-infectious "recurring" or chronic pains should be viewed as indicators of body thirst.
He mentions that pain is a sensation that denotes local chemical changes in the area around the nerves that monitor the acid/alkali balance. The mechanism is designed to prevent excess acid build-up from metabolism. When water is not available to wash the acidic toxic waste, the nerve endings sense the change and report it to the brains pain centres. The brain suppresses it for a while but once the build up is critical the intensity of the pain increases until movement of the area is affected to prevent further toxin production.
Some of the pains of dehydration are as follows:
This pain is the most important thirst signal for the body. It can occur in the young and the old. Those associated with gastritis, duodenitis and heartburn should be treated, according to Batmanghelidj, with an increase in water intake alone. He mentions drinking full glasses of water (250ml) at regular intervals to alleviate the pain. In one instance, he mentions how he stopped a 10hr debilitating dyspeptic pain by giving three glasses of water over 20 minutes!
A large amount of water is needed during the food digestion process. In the stomach, acid and enzymes mix with the food to break it down into a homogenised fluid which can pass into the intestines. The stomach wall is covered in mucus. The mucus is 98% water which forms a barrier from the stomach acid that tries to pass through it. This acid is neutralised by the sodium bicarbonate that is secreted by the mucosal cells. When the body is dehydrated this mucosal layer in the stomach wall is inefficient at protecting it from the acid which passes through and causes damage resulting in pain. Drinking water before every meal is ideal in preventing this problem.
We all know that not drinking enough can bring about constipation which is the impaction of solid waste in the large colon. With increased dehydration this causes the hardening of the solid waste causing colitis pain. Drinking adequate water plus consuming fibrous fruits and vegetables will reduce constipation.
Rheumatoid arthritis pain
The cartilage surfaces of bones in a joint contain much water. The lubricating property of this water is utilised in the cartilage, allowing the two opposing surfaces to freely glide over one another during joint movement. In a well hydrated cartilage the rate of friction is minimal due to good lubrication. However, when a cartilage is dehydrated the rate of friction is increased causing damage to the cartilage and exposing the bone which brings about an inflammation in the joint. This pain can be treated with regular increase in water intake.
Low back pain
75% of the weight of the upper body is supported by the water volume stored in the spinal disc core which also acts as a lubricating agent. An intermittent vacuum is needed to promote water circulation into the intervertebral joints. To prevent back pain, sufficient water needs to be drunk plus doing a series of special exercises to create this vacuum which draws water into the disc space.
According to Batmanghelidj, migraines are brought on by "heat stress", the inability to regulate body temperature. Dehydration plays an important role in the onset of migraine headaches. To prevent them from occurring he recommends regularly drinking water. Cold or iced water may by itself be able to cool the body from inside, including the brain. This may prevent excess dilation of the peripheral vessels which might be the basic cause of migraines.
Asthma and Allergies
Batmanghelidj mentions that histamine plays an important role as a water regulator as well as an immune support. When the body is dehydrated histamine levels increase to preserve body water. For example, asthmatics have high histamine levels in their lung tissue as histamine also regulates bronchial muscle contraction. Since water loss can take place in the lungs through evaporation, histamine causes bronchial constriction so less water is evaporated during breathing. This in turn causes an asthma attack. He says that on average, these conditions respond after three or four weeks of regular water intake. One other factor to mention in asthmatic is the role of salt. Salt shortage is a contributing factor to this condition. It aids in breaking up the mucus build up in the air passages preventing normal breathing. Most importantly salt is a natural histamine, thus taking salt, such as Himalayan or Celtic salt, will prevent excess histamine production.
To Sum Up...
Batmanghelidj discusses many other symptoms of dehydration and how drinking more water can help combat them. He mentions how stress, depression, hypertension, overeating and others, could be due to dehydration. The concern that some have with drinking more water is the fear of hyponatraemia, low sodium in the body. He mentions that this can be easily rectified by introducing half a teaspoon of salt (pink Himalayan or Celtic salt) to every ten glasses of water we drink in the day. The salt corrects the electrolyte balance and the magnesium in the salt assists the water from entering the cells where the water is really needed.
A good rule of thumb for water intake is to calculate your body weight in lbs (pounds) and drink half that figure in oz (ounces) of water. For eg. a 70kg person weighs 154 lbs. Half of this is 77lbs. Therefore, you need 77oz of water which converts to about 2.2 litres of water a day. Use this link to easily calculate your estimated water intake: http://www.thecalculator.co/health/Water-Calculator-56.html
Dr Batmanghelidj proves a very fascinating theory and his book does give a lot of convincing argument about the importance of recognising indirect thirst signals. So the next time you pick up a glass of water think about all the pain you could be avoiding. Bottoms up...
Tips for Increasing your Water Intake
- Start off gradually. Add an extra glass of water a day.
- Drink first thing in the morning when you rise from the bed and immediately before you go to bed.
- Drink at least 2 glasses of water before every meal.
- Add a pinch of Himalayan or Celtic salt on your tongue before every glass of water that you drink. This will help in getting your quota of salt for the day.
- Bored of just plain water? Spice it up be adding fruits, herbs etc, to the water such as cucumber, lemon, orange, raspberries, strawberries, mint, ginger, parsley and the list goes on.
- Ice it up. Freeze your water, add ice cubes or drink it cold if you find it easier to stomach.
- Make a nice warm cup of lemon and ginger tea by infusing lemon slices and grated ginger in warm water.
- Eat your water by eating foods with high water content, such as, cucumbers, watermelons, tomatoes, oranges etc.
- Set a timer to remind you of having regular water breaks. This sounds strange but it will aid you in maintaining good hydration especially if you are someone who doesn't feel thirsty.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks, fizzy drinks, sports drinks, drinks with artificial sweeteners, and caffeinated drinks. These strip your body of it's water supply and causes dehydration.
Your body's many cries for water, F. Batmanghelidj, Global Health Solutions Inc, 2008.
The ABCs of disease, Philip Day, Credence Publications, 2013.