6 great reasons to drink water!

6 great reasons to drink water!

We are always hearing that we should drink more water but rarely do we hear why, other than “It’s good for you!”. But why should we? What does water do for our bodies and what would happen if we stopped drinking it? Here I hope to take some of the mystery out of some of that.

The problem

Our bodies are around 65% water, depending on how you measure it (by weight, volume etc) so it makes sense that if we are losing moisture regularly (through sweating, breathing, waste excretion) then we should top it up regularly. You can last three weeks without food, around three days without water.

Just as very little of your car would function without some oil, so nothing in your body will work (or work properly) without water. I think of it as the oil for your body!

The mechanics

The main principle used to move water through the body is osmosis. This is essentially a pressure difference between the fluid in a cell and those surrounding it. As water is brought from the stomach into the blood stream, increasing the blood’s volume and therefore the pressure, it is pumped through the arteries and then capillaries (finer veins) into the tissues. At this point osmosis takes over, so the pressure of the extra blood volume moves the water (and nutrients) into the cells of the tissues where the capillaries end. The higher pressure in each cell moves through the permeable cell walls and into the surrounding cells. In this way nutrients, oxygen etc are moved through the cells, and the movement of water out of cells removes the waste products for subsequent dispersal by the lymph (‘second blood’) system.

Systems affected

1              Muscles and organs require water to bring in glucose from the blood which provides the energy for them to work.

2              The lymph (white blood) system removes the waste products caused by cells performing their functions. If not removed, they prevent the inflow of fresh nutrients and fuel to allow further operation. Compare how sluggish you feel if sitting around for a whole day, to how energised you feel after an active day.

The lymph system depends on the movement of muscles and skin to create flow. Lack of movement results in lack of flow, and this is exacerbated further if there is insufficient water to keep the lymph in a liquid state. This can often be seen in the elderly or disabled, where whole areas of upper back and shoulders become quite immobile. Lack of muscular activity causes the muscles to tighten up but this lack of movement also causes the liquid lymph to become crystalline, like white sugar. The whole system for removing waste products has suddenly failed, which quickly causes those areas of the body to become toxic. This in turn opens the door to disease or illness.

3              The digestive system relies on water for three things –

  • ·         to enable hydrochloric acid to be produced in the stomach (for killing infection on anything that has been eaten – think of why you should wash your hands before eating!);
  • ·         for mucus production by the intestinal lining to help move food through the system;
  • ·         for sufficient blood supply to help take the extracted nourishment away from the gut and deliver it to where it is needed in the body.

4              Hormones run the body – they regulate blood sugar, direct the immune system, control the intake and uptake of nutrition in the gut and do much, much more. Impairment of the endocrine system leaves us seriously ill in no time at all. The organs and endocrine system control vital processes in the body.

The common organ disease regularly in the news is diabetes, where the pancreas is unable to produce insulin to control blood sugar levels. Good hydration, hand in hand with good (low-sugar diet) and taking l-arginine (an amino acid which improves blood vessel wall elasticity), can reverse diabetes simply by improving blood supply to the pancreas.

5              Thought requires chemical messengers in the brain (neurotransmitters) to connect individual synapses together to form a train of thought. If there is not enough water in the body, the cerebrospinal fluid (surrounding the brain and spinal cord) is insufficiently liquid to allow the neurotransmitters to flow properly, making thinking difficult. One of the early signs of dehydration is inability to focus, compromising perception and causing massively increased reaction times. These are especially important when you need clear thought and sharp reactions, such as when driving or using dangerous machinery.

Even with simple things such as gardening, you will notice that to start with you have high energy and focussed thought but as you continue working (especially if not drinking anything) you become more careless and misjudge things, which is when we are most at risk of an accident or injury.

6              Good hydration is vital. Early signs (around 2% dehydrated) are feeling thirsty or light-headed, feeling tired or having dark-coloured urine.  At 5% you will have increased heart rate or sweating, headaches, nausea, temperature or cramps. At 10% dehydration you are dying and may have muscle spasms, confusion, trouble breathing, racing pulse, poor vision, chest or stomach pains, possible seizures and even unconsciousness.

The body’s prime directive is to preserve life and it will redirect water from less vital areas of the body to enable basic life support to continue, even if it means shutting down organs to achieve this.  If the blood is too thick, due to dehydration, it does not get into the smaller capillaries which reach right into tissues and organs, causing increasing muscle or organ dysfunction and even failure.

Drinking water has to be done correctly to achieve good hydration. The stomach absorbs one mouthful of water every 5-10 minutes, which is why it is hard to keep hydrated during hot weather or intense sports events. Sipping is the key to good hydration. If you gulp water, you absorb a mouthful and pass the rest straight out. This is useful for keeping the kidneys and bladder clear of infection (eg, for the bedridden or less mobile) but not for hydration.

Most people will be right with 2-2.5 litres of water per day.  If you are bigger than average, or have good musculature, increase it accordingly and if you are petite, decrease it. Drinks such as coffee, black (Indian-style) tea and alcoholic drinks all dehydrate so you need to drink an equal amount of water to compensate. Green tea and herbal infusions can generally be counted as part of your water intake.

If you stop drinking water in the hour after your evening meal, you should be able to empty the bladder before you go to bed and avoid getting up in the night.

In summary

The end message to take away from all this is that water is absolutely necessary, not just to wellbeing, but to being able to function properly at every level, from individual cells right up to the body and mind as a whole.

I hope this has inspired you to start drinking more water – cheers!

If you have any questions on hydration, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss them.

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