Water: The Elixir of Life
The old adage, "you are what you eat," is never truer than when in reference to water. Water makes up approximately two-thirds of your body and is essential for all your digestive, absorption, circulatory and excretory functions, as well as transporting nutrients and waste products to and from your cells. You can live for several weeks without food, but less than one week without water.
We lose approximately one liter of water every day through urination, perspiration, and even breathing, an amount that can easily increase in hot weather, during physical activity, when you are ill (through vomiting and diarrhea) or if you live in a warm, arid climate. Mild dehydration can occur when you lose just 5 percent or less of your bodily fluids and severe dehydration results when you lose 10 to 15 percent of fluids. By the time you notice that you are thirsty, your body is already in a state of mild dehydration. The most common symptoms of dehydration include headaches, nausea, lethargy, aches and pains, constipation and reduced urination, irritability, and lapses in memory. It is estimated that 75 percent of Americans suffer from mild, chronic dehydration, which can result in deterioration of kidney function, muscles, and the mind.
Lean muscle tissue is approximately 75 percent water, as is the human brain and blood is 83 percent. Even our fat is 25 percent water and bone is 22 percent. Water circulates through our blood and lymphatic system, transporting oxygen and nutrients to our cells and removing wastes through urine and sweat. Water is necessary for all the chemical reactions that take place in our nervous system and is an essential ingredient in synovial fluid, the lubricating fluid between your joints.
Because our muscles are mostly water, it's no surprise that it is essential to building and maintaining healthy muscle. If you are dehydrated and the protein synthesis that builds muscle is hindered, fewer of the calories you consume are used to build muscle and more end up added to your fat stores, leading to weight gain. In addition, muscle control and strength depend on the electrolytes found in water, which is why sports drinks often add them.
Digestion requires large amounts of water to help break down the food we eat. For each gram of glucose you ingest (such as carbohydrates) your body requires 2.5 grams of water to process it and form glycogen, the short term energy your body burns as fuel. If you haven't consumed enough amount of water, your body will draw the necessary fluid from your body and muscles, which is why dehydration leads to constipation, cramps, and headache. Water also acts as a natural appetite suppressant by filling up your stomach to make you feel full.
Water helps to flush toxins out of your body, as well as prevent constipation. The kidneys remove wastes such as uric acid, urea and lactic acid, all of which must be dissolved in water. When there isn't sufficient water, those wastes are not effectively removed, which may cause kidney damage. It's believed that water also helps to flush out kidney stones before they form and helps prevent urinary tract infections by preventing the build-up of waste in the urinary tract. Water adds fluid to the colon and bulk to stools, not only encouraging bowel movement, but also softening the stools. A recent study at Chang Gung University in Taiwan showed that drinking water can lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer as well as bladder cancer.
When you are dehydrated, your cells must draw water from the bloodstream, which causes your blood to become thicker and increases your blood pressure. Your heart must work harder to pump this thick, sludgy blood which can lead to blood clots and heart attacks. A six-year study published in a 2002 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology found that those who drink more than five glasses of water a day were 41 percent less likely to die from a heart attack than those who drank less than two glasses. Dehydration also decreases oxygen levels in the blood, which makes it difficult for your body to burn stored fat for energy. Not only will the body burn more fat when well hydrated but you will also have more energy.
Drinking enough water is especially important during pregnancy. Amniotic fluid, which is made mostly of water, is constantly being replenished using water from your body. Water also helps carry important nutrients to your baby and flush out waste and toxins, as well as helping you avoid bladder infections, constipation, and hemorrhoids - all of which are common during pregnancy. And once you have given birth, water is essential to good breastmilk production.
The amount of water you need every day can vary depending on many factors, but to get a safe estimate simply halve your body weight and drink that many ounces of water per day. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should be drinking approximately 70 ounces of water each day. Avoid drinking alcohol, caffeinated beverages, sodas or fruit juices to meet your water requirements as alcohol and caffeinated beverages act as diuretics which actually increase the amount of water your body excretes, compounding dehydration, and fruit juices and sodas are mostly sugar and can contain lots of extra calories.
Food actually provides approximately 20 percent of your daily water requirements. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of water as they are 80 to 95 percent water; meats are approximately 50 percent water; and grains such as oats and rice are up to 35 percent water.
To ensure you are well hydrated, keep a bottle of water with you at all times and drink from it frequently. To cut the cost of buying bottled water and reduce the number of bottles choking our dumps, invest in a reusable water bottle and fill it with filtered tap water.