The Wonder that is WATER
If you just read the title and thought to yourself, "Oh great. Another post that's going to hound on me for not drinking enough water and remind me that every second of the day I need to be guzzling distilled H20..." well, nice try, but that's definitely not what's in store in this post (relieved? I knew you would be!). Not at all...in fact, this post is going to do just the opposite: instead of TELLING YOU how much water to drink, I'm going to provide you with information about the body, provide you with information about water, and answer some common questions about water drinking, water quality, water quantity, and water frequency. Let's begin, shall we?
Why Do We Need Water?
Water is essential for life. It's required for EVERY SINGLE chemical function in the body. Out of the essential nutrients needed by humans (oxygen, water, air, sunlight, food, and movement), water ranks #2 in importance. We can only survive a few days without water before our body starts shutting down. Here's just a FEW of the things water does in our bodies:
-Water is needed to stimulate digestive enzyme secretion
-Water (and salt) are needed for hydrochloric acid production
-Water protects your tissues, joints, and spine by keeping the synovial fluids and muscle fibers hydrated (preventing drying out)
-Water helps flush toxins out of your body
-Regulates body temperature and prevents overheating
While there are slight variations in this number (because we're all different!), it is estimated that humans are between 60-70% water by bodyweight. Is that not incredible?!
How Much Water Should We Drink?
Again, you will hear a LOT of conflicting information about this one. Some people swear by the old eight 8-oz glasses, while others push a gallon a day...or more (!). However, I don't like either of these suggestions (nor do I like any other "set point" suggestion, unless it's a set point specifically for you) because they don't take into account some important factors regarding our needs for water, such as our physical size (does it make sense to recommend a gallon of water for both a 225-pound weight lifter and a 85-pound kid? I don't think so...), our activity level and the time we spend sweating every day, our dietary habits (real, whole foods naturally have higher water content, particularly fruits and vegetables), and, believe it or note, our THIRST. Yesiree, our thirst is a very important indicator of our hydration level, as are some other signals such as energy, mood, inflammation and joint/muscle pain, quality of sleep, bowel habits, urine color, etc. So many sources out there will tell you to "drink before you're thirsty," and that if you ever find yourself feeling thirst, you're already WAY past dehydrated. This is only partially true. First of all, God gave us the ability to feel thirst as a way to know when we need water...drinking before we're thirsty can actually lead to over hydration, which is very serious (can be just as if not more dangerous than dehydration!).
I typically encourage my clients to shoot for at least 1/2 of their body weight in ounces of pure water* every day. Anything above this is optional, and only to be consumed if your body is asking for it. Again, I'll preach my same song: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! It is the only one who knows what it needs.
*NOTE: pure water DOES NOT include fruit and/or vegetable juices, as the body still has to metabolize and "digest" these, thus using water in the process. Pure, unadulterated water is necessary for flushing toxins--even if we enjoy other beverages that count as hydration, we need at least 1/2 our bodyweight in plain water daily, from my experience and that of my clients. Hate plain water? Try adding some fresh herbs like ginger or mint, the juice of a lemon, or even a splash of apple cider vinegar. All of these add a nice touch of flavor, while still requiring virtually no "processing" and water use on the part of the body. (I also love THIS flavored water...so good!)
Symptoms of Dehydration
Still not sure if you're getting enough water? Some common symptoms of dehydration include:
-Lack of appetite
-Mental fatigue/brain fog
-Muscle twitches and pain
-Burning or scanty urine
-Feeling hungry but not sure what you want
A note on "dry fasting": this has become a popular thing to do among detox gurus and raw foodists. However, dry fasting (which is basically intentional dehydration of the body) is dangerous...particularly for those who have compromised health (especially health of the kidneys). A common issue in individuals with less than perfect health is ALKALINE URINE. The urine is DESIGNED to be acidic, since it is full of the toxins and particles that the body is trying to excrete. The kidneys, bladder, and urethra can withstand alkalinity in the urine...to some extent...and as long as the individual is adequately hydrated. Prolonged alkaline urine and dehydration can lead to major kidney problems, including UTIs, bladder and kidney infections, interstitial cystitis, and more. Not fun.
Even for the healthy individual, dry fasting is not a great idea. Intentionally dehydrating the body has insurmountable negative impacts down to the cellular level. Fasting from food is one thing, and a practice I fully believe in myself (research "benefits of intermittent fasting for digestive health" for more info!)...but fasting from fluids? That's another story. My advice? Drink when you're thirsty and don't when you're not...but don't inadvertently try to dehydrate yourself because of some supposed benefits because, well, dehydration is not healthy. Period.
When is the Best Time to Drink Water?
It's best to hydrate in between meals so as not to dilute hydrochloric acid levels (drinking with meals dilutes HCL, which can lead to digestive problems, bloating, and acid reflux)...however, as noted above, digestive enzymes are actually stimulated by water, so a few sips during or after your meal is just fine--I just wouldn't recommend gulping it. If you do need to drink a bit with meals, that's perfectly okay, I would just recommend supporting your HCL levels with an HCL supplement (I use THIS ONE) or digestive bitters/apple cider vinegar before your meal, especially if you are eating a high-protein meal (the more protein you eat = the more HCL you need).
Because the body detoxes during sleeping hours (check out this awesome chart for organ/hour cleansing associations!), we need water as soon as we awake in the morning, so as to encourage the remaining toxins that were stirred up during sleeping hours OUT of our bodies. I drink 32 ounces of lemon water within the first hour I wake up (and usually another 32-50 ounces by bedtime)--this helps get my digestion prepped for the day, gives me energy, and helps me hydrate first thing without having to worry about working around meals.
What it the Best Kind of Water to Drink?
Now the star question: WHAT KIND OF WATER DO WE DRINK?! Distilled, spring, tap, deionized, filtered, alkaline, mineral, reverse osmosis, drinking...which one is best? Most studies have found that reverse osmosis water is the safest and best for one's health...however, obtaining RO water can be a costly investment and can nearly become a full-time job (or you might need to get another full-time job to pay for your RO water...not kidding. Those filters can be as much as a small car). I personally opt for glass-packaged mineral or spring water (such as THIS brand), which can be a more readily available and affordable option for most people. I also own quite a few BPA free reusable gallon jugs that I fill at Whole Foods every week (they charge about 59 cents for their pure water...pretty good deal, huh?!).
Water is definitely vital to health, but just as important as water itself is knowing our own personal body's needs for it. As I always say, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and follow your thirst/cravings. When we remember that our own body is the most knowledgable person about it's own health, we can eliminate any fear or anxiety surrounding what we should eat, drink, and do. Just listen to your body--it knows what it needs!