WATER… Just how much should you drink for Optimal Health?
There is so much confusing information about how much water to drink. Most of the time we think we should be drinking more but I find that few people realise you can actually drink too much.
Fluid intake is essential for our health. We cannot survive without it. Our body is made up of 60% water. It is found in all our cells, blood, tissues, synovial (join) fluid, eyes, mucus, saliva, lymph fluid and much more. We just can’t function without it!
How do we use water in the body?
In simple terms, we use and lose water through cellular activities, exercise, breathing and sweating.
Specific examples showing the importance of water are:
- For healthy bowel movements- a dehydrated body can lead to constipation as the body will draw water from the bowels into the bloodstream to top up levels;
- For healthy detoxification- water is involved in helping to remove toxins from tissues, pass them through the liver and excrete the resulting waste in urine, stools and perspiration;
- For healthy blood pressure- a dehydrated body will reduce blood fluid levels and could lower blood pressure;
- For optimal digestion- digestive enzymes, stomach acid and the gut mucosal barrier lining all require water. In Chinese medicine the contents of the stomach are described as a soup consistency!
Signs that can indicate dehydration are:
- Poor concentration (75% of brain is water)
- Sore joints
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight (dehydrated cells become hardened to hold onto their water supply making it harder for toxins and fats to escape)
Thirst and Hunger
It can be very easy to confuse the thirst signal for hunger. The more often we are dehydrated and ignore the thirst signal, the more likely it is that we lose the signal for good. We may create a cycle of eating more but remaining dehydrated. Elderly people commonly drink very little fluid.
Did you know you could be drinking too much?
Over consumption of fluid can be extremely dangerous. It can lead to a sudden drop of sodium in the blood stream. Sodium is an important electrolyte that helps to keep blood pressure and cells functioning efficiently. Low sodium can lead to a rush of fluid into the cells. You would have to consume several litres of fluid in one go (2-4L over a short (approx. one hour period) to over dilute your electrolytes in this way but I do know it has happened. This is known as Hyponatremia.
How do you know if you are drinking enough?
The urine test is a good place to start. Urine (other than first thing in the morning) should be a pale yellow colour. The darker it is, the greater the sign of dehydration.
How much do you need?
The total fluid intake should be about 1.5-2.5L per day. An inactive light female adult should aim for 1.5L. A moderately active larger male adult may need 2.5L.
If you exercise you should slowly increase your intake by ½ litre. If consuming much more than this with exercise then try adding some electrolytes or even a pinch of Himalayan salts to help keep the water/electrolyte ratio in balance.
Does it have to be water – I don’t like it?!
There is a misconception when we talk about fluid that it has to be plain water. This is not correct but do aim to drink what I call “hydrating fluids” like herbal and fruit teas, rooibos tea and of course water as much as possible. There is such a wide variety of herbal teas now, there’s a flavour for everyone!
It also includes very diluted cordials or fruit juice (but watch the sugar). I’m not a fan of “low sugar” drink varieties for reasons I’ve covered in another post.
Water can be hot or cold- however you prefer it that helps you drink it throughout the day. Try flavouring it to make it more interesting (eg. mint, lemon, cucumber) and keep a jug made up in the fridge if you like it colder.
What about tea and coffee?
Well they are water! It is an outdated view that they are dehydrating, but they do have a mild diuretic effect meaning the body may excrete more sodium.
The downsides of tea and coffee are the stimulant effect from the caffeine. These stimulate the adrenal glands creating a stress response- not something we wish to experience throughout the day.
Tea and coffee can also interfere with the digestive function. And they can bind to minerals like iron and excrete them from the body so do not consume these with a meal.
And be careful with decaffeinated versions as these still contain other chemicals used to remove the caffeine and other chemicals like theobromine.
So, how much should we drink per day?
In summary, a moderately active person needs about 2L fluid per day (more with exercise) ideally mostly from hydrating drinks (not just water) with a small number (2-3 cups) of tea and coffee a day. And avoid playing catch-up consuming your fluid intake in one go- this can have a dangerous effect to bodily functions. Little and often is the way to go.
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