Author: Nancy Weiser, Integrative Health Coach
Focusing on good nutrition means paying attention to both the food and beverages we consume every day. Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Nancy Weiser describes how water has health benefits for the body and mind.
How does staying hydrated improve health?
Think of water as ferry system carrying oxygen and nutrients through the blood vessels to nourish all of our organs including our brains. It also promotes the smooth functioning of our body’s natural detoxification system by carrying waste away from our organs and tissues to the liver and kidneys whose job it is to flush out waste.
Why is water important for the brain?
Water and brain function go hand in hand. Being dehydrated can cause issues with brain fog and fatigue, focus, memory, sleep, headache, and mood. While the rest of the body is about 70% water, the brain is about 85% water so it follows that in order to function optimally, water is vitally important. Water literally provides electrical energy for the brain to turn on and function. And there’s more: water allows the brain to produce necessary hormones and neurotransmitters for the rest of the body to work properly. You will think faster, clearer and more creatively when you are consistently getting enough water. It’s important to drink enough water every day because the brain does not have a way to store water. If you’re losing more than you’re taking in, you’re sacrificing your brain’s ability to assist you in being your best, most focused version of yourself.
How much water do we need each day?
There are varying opinions on how much we need to drink. How much to drink varies by how much we exercise and sweat, our overall health and the weather. When we drink six to eight cups of water a day, we can experiment and see how we feel: our energy level, focus, digestion and skin quality may be immediately affected. When we don’t drink enough, we may experience other symptoms. Eight cups a day, known as the Eight by Eight Rule, is a good rule of thumb.
It also is important to remember how much water is in the food consumed. Approximately 20% of our water is actually absorbed through what we eat. Foods that are water-based like vegetables, fruits, grains and beans that absorb water from cooking, and of course soups and stews, all contain water. Processed foods, baked goods, and animal protein contain very little or no water.
How do I know if I’m drinking enough water?
Urine should be on the clear to light yellow side. If it’s darker, you need to be drinking more. Keep in mind that many supplements can affect the color of urine, usually turning it darker.
In addition to “how much should I drink?” you should be thinking about how you drink water. What does this mean?
I recommend drinking water throughout the day, about 3 to 4 ounces at a time—what I refer to as Persistent-Consistent hydration. This allows the body to gradually absorb what it needs while avoiding bathroom emergencies. First thing in the morning, when you’ve gone for 7 or 8 hours without any water, can be a good time to drink a bit more—up to a cup or two. Add a squeeze of lemon for flavor.
Drinking too much at once can lessen the benefits that come from retaining the water over a longer period. The water must be retained by the body for it to optimize functioning. A glass of water that is chugged will be excreted quickly–and therefore isn’t absorbed as effectively.
What are some benefits of staying adequately hydrated?
Water clears sodium from the body, which is important for helping to keep blood pressure in check, as excess sodium adversely affects blood pressure in some people. Restaurant food, processed food, fast food—these are all high in sodium. When we consume these, it is all the more important to be persistently-consistently hydrating.
Here’s what I like the best: Water can help regulate blood sugar. When we are starved for water, the kidneys don’t excrete it as readily, the liver makes more blood sugar prompting the release of insulin, which the body may become resistant to when dehydration is consistent. When blood sugar levels are prevented from extreme fluctuations throughout the day, our energy level is more consistent—keeping us off the blood sugar roller coaster; we feel consistently energized instead of crashing within an hour or two after eating—how great is that?
In addition, water helps our bodies:
Keep our temperature in the normal range
Lubricate and cushion joints
Protect our spinal cord and other sensitive tissues
Get rid of wastes through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements
Being dehydrated means we have lost 10% of our body weight in water. However, losing just 2% is associated with feeling tired, and decreased critical thinking skills and athletic performance.
Will drinking water help with weight loss?
Drinking water before a meal will take up space and create a sense of fullness which will likely result in ingesting fewer calories from food. Over time, this can help with weight loss in addition to the benefits of a steadier blood sugar level, preventing those blood sugar “crashes” that inevitably lead to cravings for simple carbohydrate foods.
Should I worry about the quality of my tap water?
Yes! Pharmaceuticals, household cleaners, industrial chemicals and more all find their way into our water. Many municipalities also add fluoride, a known neurotoxin, to their water treatment. What to do? Use a filtration system that can remove chlorine, fluoride and other contaminants. These can include a filtration pitcher, a filter under the sink that attaches to a small faucet, or systems that filter all the water coming into your home. Make sure to change the filters as recommended.
Do we lose our sense of thirst as we age?
Opinions are mixed on this one or the answer is mixed. It seems that most older adults do get enough fluids. However, in some circumstances, the thirst mechanism does not do its job as it once did. Thirst, along with sleep, hunger and body temperature, is regulated by the hypothalamus in our brains. It also receives signals from sensors in our blood vessels that keep blood volume and blood pressure in check. When these fall too low, from sweating, bleeding, diarrhea or from too much salt in our food, the hypothalamus’s job is to send out the clear signal to get something to drink, pronto! It is not clearly understood why, but as we age this signal weakens. The result can be that older adults will be slower to rehydrate when they most need to. Consider adding frequent water breaks into your daily routine so you aren’t waiting for your body to alert you.