There is more water in our bodies than any other substance. At birth we consist of up to 80% water and with age we dehydrate to about 65%. We depend on water to function. Every cell in the body is surrounded by and filled with a watery fluid, enabling the transportation of metabolic substances and communication between cells. Proteins and enzymes vital to life function more efficiently in solutions of lower viscosity (more watery). Waste in the body is diluted by water making it less toxic and easier to remove.
Drinking plenty of water helps concentration, memory, stamina, eyesight, kidney health and increases longevity. A lack of water can be a major factor in pressure headaches, inflammation, digestive disease, hormonal problems and even depression. A 2% loss of water can result in a 20% decrease in energy levels. In short, this fluid we evolved from is vital to our lives!
Tune into Your Thirst
So how much do we need to drink to stay hydrated? This will vary depending on the climate, activity levels and individual constitution. On a hot day or after exercise we lose a greater volume of water through sweat and moisture from our breath. These fluids need replacing, so we need to drink more than we would on a cold day when we are sedentary. On average 4 – 6 pints of water per day should be consumed.
The sensation of thirst arises when the water content of the blood falls by around two percent. If we are tuned in to our thirst this is a good cue to drink water and re-establish balance. However, thirst signals may not always be clear. Research has found that sugar in the diet can cause thirst signals to be weakened and as we age, the mechanism works less effectively1. Stress and a weak digestive system may also reduce feelings of thirst. In the Herbal Clinic we find that patients are often dehydrated when they first visit the clinic.
For some it seems that no matter how much they drink they still experience signs of dryness in the body such as cracked lips or a dry throat. In these cases urination may be frequent and the urine clear but the water that is drunk is not retained. This may indicate a weakened digestive system and build up of toxins which prevents the water from being carried effectively to the cells. Herbs such as Foeniculum vulgare (fennel seed) and Chamomilla recutita (chamomile) can be used to repair and strengthen the digestive organs. These combined with supplementation of essential fatty acids encourages the retention of water, bringing back a state of cellular hydration and vitality.
As we age the thirst mechanism works less effectively; ensure you sip water regularly and notice the colour of your urine – during the day it should be a very pale yellow, if it is medium to dark yellow you need to drink more water. Dry lips or a dry sticky mouth can also be a sign of dehydration.
How to Stay Hydrated
- Fit water into your daily routine; if you already have a morning or bedtime routine make drinking water a part of that. Make a glass of warm water the first thing you drink in the morning, like an internal shower it cleanses the body and gets you off to a fresh start.
- Eat your water! Raw fruits and vegetables contain minerals, natural sugars and hydrating salts that act like an edible re-hydration solution, increasing the uptake of water from the intestines and encouraging retention of water within the cells of the body. For maximum benefit eat the whole fruit or vegetable rather than juicing or blending and ensure you drink water throughout the day as well.
- Feelings of lethargy, poor concentration and low energy caused by dehydration may, out of habit, be answered with a sugary snack as a ‘pick me up’. Try drinking a glass of water before snacking to see if this is really what you need.
- Add interest to your water with a slice of lemon, cucumber or your favourite fruit, giving some flavour without the added sugars.
- Get your own high quality bottle for your water that you can take with you wherever you go. Try to find a bottle made of tempered glass, stainless steel or a BPA free plastic.
Herbal Infused Water
Cold herbal infusions extract a range of medicinal properties from the plant whilst preserving the character of the flavours; over the summer there is an abundance to choose from. Leaves such as mint, lemon balm or rosemary can be washed first but flowers such as elderflower and meadowsweet should be gently shaken to remove any insects before infusing.
Take a good handful of your chosen herb and place in a large glass of filtered water. Cover the glass with a small saucer and leave for 10 – 12 hours (overnight is ideal.) Strain and drink, appreciating the subtle tastes and invigorating energies of the herb.
If you have access to a spring you are blessed. For the rest….
Tap water: Chlorine added to drinking water to kill pathogenic bacteria may also have a negative impact on the gut microbiota. Studies have linked the by-products of chlorination in drinking water to colorectal and bladder cancers2. Tap water may also contain heavy metals such as copper and lead, toxic contaminants from the household plumbing.
Bottled water: Though it may have been pure and vital at its source, bottled spring water has often been stored for months in plastic before it reaches the consumer. There are serious concerns over plastic chemicals leaching into the water and the huge bottled water industry is a major source of environmental waste.
Jug filters: Most contain activated charcoal and remove some heavy metal contaminants as well as reducing the chlorine. A convenient choice for filtering tap water, though some contaminants remain.
Solid block carbon filters: Block carbon filters are one of the best options for removing chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and toxic volatile organic compounds. Combination filters that use solid block carbon alongside other filtration techniques (such as the Berkey Water Filter) effectively remove 95% of heavy metals, 99% of VOCs and all of the chlorine, though they do require counter space.
Reverse osmosis filtration and distilled water: These processes removes all heavy metals and the largest range of contaminants, including residues from pharmaceutical drugs. Trace minerals are removed in the process and this may be of concern for some people. There is a high degree of wastage in the processing of these waters.
- Shoshana R. Arai et al. Quench the thirst: lessons from clinical thirst trials. Biol Res Nurs. 2014 Oct; 16(4): 456–466.
- R D Morris. Drinking water and cancer. Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Nov; 103(Suppl 8): 225–231.
Published in the August edition of ‘The Bay’ Magazine
The Herbal Clinic in Swansea provides natural healthcare with the use of organic herbs, acupuncture and iridology.