We’ve all been told a million times that it’s important to drink 6-8 eight ounce glasses of water per day. But outside of quenching your thirst and making sure you don’t pass out during physical activity, do you really understand how important water is to your health?
Consider this. Seventy-five percent of the human body and 85% of the brain is comprised of water. This makes water the second most important element in the body next to oxygen.
According to Dr. F. Batmanghelidj in his book, The Body’s Many Cries for Water, most Americans are moderately to severely dehydrated, and dehydration may be a root cause in the majority of health conditions we try to treat with medication. Unfortunately, the medications often lead to greater dehydration, worsening instead of improving the symptoms. In the end, the body is simply trying to let us know that we need to drink more clean, pure, unadulterated water…a solution that costs a lot less!
Let’s look at some of the symptoms and conditions that might make you think twice about this humble liquid.
- Pain – Pain is a sensation that denotes local chemical changes in the area around the nerves that monitor the acid/alkali balance. When water is not available to wash away the acidic toxic waste of metabolism, the nerve endings sense this and report it to the brain’s pain centers. When the body’s thirst signal is ignored, the intensity of pain increases until mobility of the area is affected. The body ultimately has no choice but to reduce movement in the area to prevent the production of additional toxic waste there.
- Digestive Discomfort (Dyspeptic Pain) – Discomfort in the upper middle stomach, gnawing or burning stomach pain, bloating, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, burping and belching arise when the digestive system does not have enough liquid protection to offset stomach acid and bile, two necessary digestive aids. Additionally, inadequate water supplies in the body make proper enzyme creation and transport more unreliable, leading to numerous digestive challenges. If you have frequent digestive upsets or have trouble digesting a variety of foods, consider drinking more water.
- Stress and Depression – When humans undergo any type of stress, including the stress of being in a dehydrated state, the body assumes a crisis situation and mobilizes for fight or flight. Several hormones are secreted and “trigger” until the body gets out of its stressful situation. Endorphins allow the body to endure more stress and greater pain. Cortisone re-mobilizes stored energies and proteins to be burned by the muscles; if stress is chronic, cortisone continues to deplete reserves, eventually impacting the structural integrity of the body. Prolactin ensures that lactating mothers continue to produce milk during stressful times, although excessive prolactin has also been linked to an increase in mammary tumors. Vasopressin constricts blood vessels in certain areas of the body in order to prioritize hydration to nerve cells and other high priority cells in the body. The renin-angiotensin (RA) system constricts the vascular system and retains sodium (salt) during either water or sodium depletion. And get this! Stress eats up more water reserves during the completion of these emergency measures, resulting in further dehydration, particularly if salt and water levels are not addressed. When the deadlines start piling up, be sure to drink more water!
- High Blood Pressure – With less water in the body, blood pressure may actually increase. The reason for this is the natural vasoconstriction that takes place, as noted in #3 above. During a water shortage, the body must prioritize and re-distribute its water supplies. Sixty-six percent is taken from the water volume normally held inside the cells, 26 percent is taken from the volume held outside the cells, and 8 percent comes from blood volume. This creates a narrowing of the blood vessels and greater concentration in the blood.
- Higher Blood Cholesterol – When water levels in the blood drop, the body, via osmosis, can also pull water from the cells into the blood. Eventually, with the reduction of cellular water, the integrity of the cell’s membrane is jeopardized. So….when the body’s living cells become severely dehydrated, cholesterol production increases to, in effect, stick the bricks together in the cellular membrane to prevent limited water supplies from dropping even further. In this way, cholesterol plays a role in the cell’s survival. The downside is that these cholesterol “bricks” obstruct the free flow of enzymes through the beltway of the cellular membrane, which can impact the proper functioning of the cell.
- Fatigue and Brain Fog – Let’s face it. The brain either gets energy from hydroelectricity or from sugar in blood circulation. Its needs for hydroelectricity are more urgent as the water forms energy and serves as a transport waterway for all of the enzymes and neurotransmitters that make the body function properly. The next time you feel drained of energy, try drinking a glass or two of water and notice the difference in your energy and mental alertness. And the benefits come without the jittery aftermath of caffeine.
- Asthma and Allergies – Asthma, and most autoimmune diseases for that matter, are evidence of increased histamine levels in the body. Histamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates water metabolism and water distribution in the body. In addition, histamine serves as a vital part of the body’s defense system. When the histamine levels become exaggerated due to dehydration, the immune system activates histamine-producing cells, which release an exaggerated amount of the transmitter. As a result, the body starts to treat all kinds of innocuous particles, like pollen and cat dander, as enemies. An immune system in overdrive creates excess inflammation in the body, and chronic inflammation contributes to a variety of serious health conditions.
- Diabetes – The pancreas has two functions. It secretes insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels, and it produces copious quantities of a watery bicarbonate solution that helps neutralize acid from the stomach as food enters the small intestine. When histamine is activated for water management and distribution due to dehydration, a subordinate system of prostaglandins is activated as well. One of these, prostaglandin E, is responsible for shifting the circulation to the pancreas in support of the creation of the watery bicarbonate while simultaneously inhibiting the secretion of insulin when the body’s water levels are depleted.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis and Joint Pain – The cartilage surfaces of bones in a joint contain much water, allowing the two opposing surfaces to freely glide over one another during joint movement. As the cartilage surfaces glide over one another, some exposed cells die and peel away. New cells take their place from the growing ends that are attached to the bone surfaces on the two sides. In well-hydrated cartilage, the rate of friction damage is minimal. Joint movement causes a vacuum which pulls in water from the blood supply to its base attachment. In dehydrated cartilage, however, the rate of abrasive damage is increased. When the body is dehydrated, actively growing blood cells in the bone marrow take priority over the cartilage for available water; the fluid must come from the synovial capsule surrounding the joint. The body also begins creating irregularities on the bone surface, which lead to inflammation.
- Weight Gain – While there are many aspects of dehydration that can contribute to weight gain, suffice it to say that the sensations of thirst and hunger are generated simultaneously when the brain registers low energy levels. As a result, we often feel compelled to eat when what we really need to do is drink. And if water levels are not restored, we continue to eat to satisfy the thirst that is not being satisfied. Ironically, the more dehydrated we become, the more likely we are to misinterpret the signals and eat when we should be drinking.1
Now that you understand how important water really is to almost every function in the body, it’s time to learn to drink more in the right manner. Yes, there is a right and wrong way to drink water! Seek the counsel of an Ayurvedic practitioner to find out the right amount and routine for you.
1 The Body’s Many Cries for Water, Dr. F. Batmanghelidj
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.