Water is absolutely necessary for many bodily functions and supports every aspect of health. Our bodies are estimated to be between 50 and 70 percent water, depending on our age, body composition, and how hydrated we are. Women tend to run closer to the 50-60 percent levels and men 60-65 percent. Babies can be over 75 percent water!
We cannot survive without water and yet, most of us do not drink enough of it on a daily basis. Increasing our intake can be transformational for improving digestion, losing weight, increasing energy, developing mental clarity, or just eliminating that heavy sluggish feeling. Drinking more water throughout the day can vastly improve physical and mental wellbeing.
Let’s take a look at why the body needs water and the many benefits it provides for us.
We have all experienced both hunger pangs and thirst pangs, yet we often mistake our thirst pangs for hunger. As a result, we often eat when we are merely thirsty. The next time you think that you need a snack between meals, drink a glass or two of water and see what happens. If you are simply thirsty, your “hunger” will be sated. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice tuning into your body and its signals. In the conscious attempt to practice this, you can begin to break the habitual tendency to instantly grab for food before checking in with what your body truly needs… not just what your mind wants!
If we look deeply into the body, we will see that our muscles and tissues are made up of trillions of cells. These cells are composed of 60 to 80 percent water. Water is the body’s chief solvent, meaning it is the main substance in which other material is dissolved. Virtually all chemical reactions in the body depend on water and its properties as a solvent. This is a foundational way that our bodies use water to break down and use nutrients.
The brain is composed mostly of water and fat. It floats in a water-filled vault that protects it from damage. When events occur that can traumatize the brain, such as motor vehicle accidents or falls, water cushions and protects the brain from slamming against the walls of our skulls.
When we don’t drink enough water, the brain and spinal cord, having first priority, will take water from other areas of the body in order to continue to function. Dehydration can just as easily make your thinking sluggish as it can make your physical stamina sluggish. Without enough water, you lose mental sharpness. As with other parts of our bodies, nutrients cannot be delivered to the brain, and waste products cannot be carried away.
A common complaint I hear from my dehydrated clients is that they experience loss of concentration; they feel “spacey,” distracted, and have a hard time focusing. Once they replace coffee, alcohol, and sugar with plenty of water, their sharpness and mental acuity returns every time. Water is definitely needed for clarity of thought.
Mucous membranes located throughout the body rely on water as their dissolving medium. We need water and good quality fats to provide lubrication so our organs don’t rub against each other. Dehydration causes these membranes to become viscous (thick and sticky). Have you ever felt a twinge of pain in your abdomen and wondered, “What was that?” Chances are, you were dehydrated, and some tissues were probably sticking!
Water is your body’s shock absorber. Water cushions and protects our joints as we move. Synovial fluid (the slippery fluid that lubricates joints) is composed mostly of water. Cartilage, a flexible material found in various parts of your body (including between your bones), is made of up to 80 percent water! As mentioned before, when you are dehydrated, your brain takes water from other areas of your body, thus water in muscles and joints is redirected to give your brain and spinal cord the water it needs.
When you don’t drink enough water, your joints become dehydrated and your fluids stagnate. Cellular wastes are not flushed out, which then causes inflammation and damage to the joints. Without the water in your knee joints, bone would rub on bone and you wouldn’t be able to walk. You need water for the intervertebral discs (the cushions between the bones in your spine) to be able to absorb the compression that occurs when you walk, run, or jump. Dehydration is a substantial factor in joint disease, thus it makes complete sense to treat joint problems by drinking a hearty supply of foundational water.
Blood is 90 percent water. Blood transports various nutrients and substances inside your body, including the vital nutrient oxygen. If you become dehydrated, your blood becomes viscous. Oxygen transport is affected, and nutrients and wastes can become concentrated. Drinking sufficient water dilutes the blood, which then prevents cholesterol deposits, discourages plaque build-up, and keeps blood from clotting during the circulation process. For this reason, water is a powerful tool in the treatment of heart disease and stroke [I].
Am I crazy for wondering why doctors don’t write prescriptions for water?
Digestion and Constipation
We need large amounts of water to digest what we eat. Just the thought of food is enough to make our mouths water! This sensation is the body’s way of getting the juices flowing in preparation for a meal. Saliva is 95 to 99 percent water. Under normal conditions, your stomach pours out up to three liters (think three one-liter soft drink bottles) of gastric juices daily to break down your food into small particles so that the nutrients can be digested.
After food is broken down, it leaves your stomach and moves into the small intestines, where clear pancreatic juice neutralizes acidic food particles so that your small intestines can absorb nutrients. Pancreatic juice consists mainly of water. As the nutrients make their way through your small intestines, additional intestinal juice, which is mostly water, is secreted to help move the nutrients through the small intestines. Indigestible food residues, which are transported in fluid, are then passed into the large intestines. The large intestine absorbs water from what was not digested, and the material that is left after this process is eliminated as “poop.”
When you’re dehydrated, your large intestine squeezes every last drop of water from these indigestible residues to try to keep your body hydrated. This process makes it difficult to keep these materials soft enough to keep moving and be passed as stools. Hence, a dehydrated body is a constipated body. This means water is a powerful laxative! To help treat or prevent constipation, drink two or three glasses of water first thing in the morning instead of coffee, and drink lots of water throughout the day. You may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly water will get things moving!
Without water, waste materials stagnate within us. This creates inflammation which can damage a whole host of tissues. Inflammation is dehydration at its worst, and it occurs when your body doesn’t have enough water to function as it should. This can result in suboptimal cellular health which results in suboptimal bodily function. Ultimately the perfect environment for disease is created when inflammation runs rampant.
Dehydration plays a major role in muscle tightness, cramps, and fatigue. A dehydrated muscle is not a happy muscle. Remember, your muscles are among the first to be sacrificed when your brain needs more water. Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night screaming because your calf muscle has contracted tightly and feels like it will never let go? Or have you had a toe cramp that feels like you are a puppet and someone is pulling the string attached to your toe? Dehydration can be a major culprit in muscle cramps. So, even if you aren’t an athlete, drinking lots of water will enable your muscles to work their best.
When you’re dehydrated, your skin becomes wrinkled and dull. Eliminating dehydrating foods and beverages, and consuming adequate amounts of water will make your skin plump and juicy. You may even notice some wrinkles disappear! It’s ironic that we’re all looking for a fountain of youth to make us feel better and look younger when it’s right under our noses in the form of water! It is easy to see why water is foundational to good health and vitality.
When you drink enough water to meet your body’s needs, you are properly hydrated. Waste materials can be excreted, nutrients can be delivered, and joints can be properly lubricated. As easy as it seems, staying properly hydrated is a challenge for many of us. Take a look at the sections above to get clarification on how much water you should be drinking and how your diet can play a huge role in your day to day hydration level.
[I] Chan J, Knutsen SF, Blix GG, Lee JW, Fraser GE. “Water, other fluids, and fatal coronary heart disease: the Adventist Health Study.” Am J Epidemiol. 2002 May 1;155(9):827-33. Web. May. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11978586>.