by Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., ND
Water is essential for health, and without adequate water, humans can die within a few days. The infant body is comprised of 75 percent water, and even in old age, the human body is made of 55 percent water. In spite of this, most people do not drink enough water, and dehydration has become a common condition. There are several reasons for this, including misunderstandings about the amount of water that should be consumed daily, the amount of water in foods, and how much “other fluids” count toward the body’s need for water. Additionally, there are no good ways to measure hydration status in the average person. Urinalysis measures recent fluid intake but not hydration status, for example. Under normal circumstances, the best way to measure hydration status is to pay attention to daily intake.
Most humans rely on thirst to guide fluid intake, but research shows that thirst is a poor indicator of the need for water, which results in most humans being chronically dehydrated. Aging results in lowered thirst sensation, and research shows that older people drink less water, and all other liquids, following water deprivation than younger people.
The body has very intricate systems that control water balance, regardless of fluid intake. When a person becomes dehydrated, water is moved from inside the cells to extracellular areas. This causes the cells to shrink in size, and then leads to a series of events, which include a signal to drink and also a signal to the kidneys to concentrate waste in smaller amounts of urine. The kidneys can function under less-than-optimal circumstances, as in not enough water intake. But eventually this results in unnecessary wear and tear on the tissues, which can be exacerbated if the individual consumes significant quantities of toxins that are eliminated in urine. Drinking enough water regularly is an important way to protect the kidneys.
Drinking more water instead of other beverages has been shown to reduce the risk of weight gain, particularly in children. In one randomized study conducted in Germany and involving 2,950 children, the children were provided with education about the importance of drinking water, were given water bottles and also given access to drinking fountains with filtered water. The children drank 1.1 more glasses of water per day and their risk of excessive weight gain was reduced by 31 percent.
Another common manifestation of dehydration is headache, even migraine headaches, due to dehydration of the brain and reduced total plasma volume. Studies have shown that drinking water can provide pain relief within 30 minutes to three hours, which is a better alternative to taking NSAIDS for pain relief due to the side effects of the drugs.
Based on this information, it is advisable for people to drink water regularly rather than relying on thirst as indicators for fluid intake. Americans obtain about 22 percent of water needs from food, while slightly more comes from food in European countries, where the intake of fruits and vegetables is higher.
The best way to ensure adequate water intake is to fill water bottles daily. People tend to think they drink more water than they actually do, and as a result remain in a constant state of mild dehydration—not enough to cause an immediate health crisis, but enough to cause chronic and worsening long-term health.
Pamela Popper is a naturopath; an internationally recognized expert on nutrition, medicine and health; and the executive director of Wellness Forum Health. She will be speaking at The Real Truth About Health Conference, which will be held Feb. 2-11, 2018, at the Long Island Hilton, in Melville (RealTruthTalks.com).