How many of us drink enough water? I don’t mean tea, coffee, fizzy drinks or alcohol. Water, H2O…agua, eau, wasser. Water is the most important substance throughout the living world. Let that sentence sink in for a few minutes.
It’s more precious than oil, gold or diamonds. We cannot live without water for more than about 100 hours, (and air for more than a few minutes); whereas other nutrients may be neglected for weeks or months. Adequate water is an absolute requirement for our health and all active life; especially in this lovely hot Summer. The last thing any of us want is a banging head, wanting to constantly be sick and shivering hot and cold. Speaking from personal experience, sunstroke is really unpleasant; and so easy to prevent.
Commonly water in our diet is treated rather trivially, no other nutrient is more essential or needed in as great amounts. Your body needs water (or other water-based fluids) to work properly and to avoid dehydration. Water makes up about two-thirds of the weight of a healthy body.
The actual amount of water that an individual needs depends on their age, gender, physical activity, physiological condition (or illness); as well as the temperature and humidity of their physical environment. The recommended amounts are somewhat higher than the average intakes, being about 2.5 litres for men and 2.2 litres for women (rising to 2.3 litres if pregnant or 3.1 litres if breast-feeding). These levels of water intake reduce the occurrences of health issues such as kidney stones, gall stones, stiff muscles and joints. Chronic dehydration has been linked with dementia and cancer.
Men require more water than women due to their higher (on average) fat-free mass and energy expenditure. Fully breastfed babies do not require extra water; breast milk having a higher water content for its energy content than the adult diet. Compared with adults (and in spite of appearances to the contrary), they do not produce more urine than adults (it just seems that way) as they tend to retain more water for growth – it’s why some little ones look so chubby. Infants and young children have need for more water in proportion to their body weight as they cannot concentrate their urine as efficiently as adults, giving rise to greater water loss from the skin. The elderly should take care to ensure adequate hydration, as ageing diminishes the sensation of thirst as well as the ability to concentrate the urine.
There seems to be no scientific source for the argument in favour of much increased water intake (e.g. “Drink at least eight glasses of water a day” or similar recommendations) with both benefits and potential hazards of extra water intake being documented. Perhaps surprisingly for such an important nutrient, there is insufficient evidence for either the benefit, or the lack of any benefit, from drinking increased amounts of water (hyper-hydration). However, low levels of water intake do not seem to show any health benefits and may be harmful or even fatal (especially in the very young and elderly).
Water plays many roles within the body:
- To carry and distribute nutrients, metabolites, hormones and other materials around the body and within cells.
- To remove waste products, in our pee, poop, our breath and skin.
- To regulate body temperature
Your water balance
Water balance in humans is on average 2.5 litres per day. Electrolyte intake and output are also closely linked, both to each other and your hydration status. Typical values for an adult in a temperate climate are:
Water In Water out
Drinks 1500ml/day Urine 1500ml/day
From food 700ml/day Sweating 500ml/day
Metabolic water 300ml/day Respiration 400ml/day
All values will vary with diet, activity and climate. The water ingested is determined by social, practical and psychological factors with need indicated by thirst, when the body is becoming dehydrated. Water balance during sporting and strenuous manual work will naturally be greater than for the average person at rest.
Naturally, when the weather is sunny or the climate hotter; we do need to drink more water. So how can we keep hydrated?
1. Drink enough water, I know we all like to enjoy fizzy drinks, tea, coffee, alcoholic beverages, as well. Water is the healthiest choice for quenching your thirst at any time. It has no calories, contains no sugars that can damage teeth and no substances linked with cancer (e.g. Aspartame). If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try sparkling water or add a slice of lemon or lime. You could also add some fruit juice or cordial for flavour. And in this lovely hot Summer, we can always make home-made ice pops.
I know so many people professionally and personally that must have a flavour to their drink, or they whinge about not liking the taste of water. Very few people actually know what fresh water tastes like. I grew up and live in a hard (chalky) water area; I like the taste. If you are fortunate to live in areas with natural springs and sparkling streams, or even have your own; just make sure the source is flowing and clear. Should you have any doubts, boil it before drinking and then use a coffee filter paper to remove any deposits.
All fluid intake counts, including coffee and alcoholic drinks. Remember the diuretic effect of alcohol and caffeinated drinks; especially in hot weather. You can buy various bottled mineral waters, use filtered tap water to remove pollutants; or be daring and just drink it straight from the tap. Just leave the water at room temperature for any chlorine to evaporate; if you don‘t like the taste.
Be aware of the water content of your foodstuffs, it varies from ~6% in peanuts, ~35% in bread to ~85% in fruits and vegetables.
2. Eat lighter foods in the Summer, salads and fresh water-filled vegetables and fruits e.g. melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, pears, apples, berries. Make smoothies and fresh juices.
3. Stay cool, sweat, perspire, glow – it is all natural…It may not look pretty or smell very fragrant. Yet it is your body doing it’s job. In fact, people with a balanced water intake are less likely to stink. If you work in a warm environment or/and do strenuous work take regular sips of water. After drinking water, sweating is second for your temperature control. It varies with your energy intake and level of activity, ambient environmental temperature and humidity.
Wear natural, light-weight clothing made from cotton, linen or hemp cloth.; let the body breathe. As much as we should be sensible about staying out of the sun between 11am and 3pm; it isn’t always practical or possible. So cover your head with a hat, cap or bandana; wear a T-shirt; use sunscreen as and when it is needed; and finally wear sunglasses when appropriate. Enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.
By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated; it is defined as a loss of 2-3% of the body weight due to water loss. It causes a range of symptoms from tiredness, headaches and decreased alertness to collapse and death (at more than 10% loss of body weight). When our bodies don’t have enough water, we are said to be dehydrated. One of the first signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty. If you think you may not be getting enough fluids, check if you have any of these other common signs of dehydration:
- Dark-coloured urine (it might sting a little)
- Lack of energy
- Feeling light-headed
- Decreased concentration
Mild symptoms may be seen in the lack of concentration of children (and big kids) towards the end of their school day, with improved concentration in those less thirsty. Severe symptoms of dehydration are sometimes also evident in the elderly, e.g. confusion, stiffness, due to restricted water intake for medical, psychological or social reasons.
Increased water intake is normally easily controlled due to the effective functioning of the kidneys to produce more urine. If this does not occur, due to excessive water intake or a kidney disorder then extra water (hyper-hydration) may produce low blood sodium levels and cause the brain to swell (cerebral oedema), resulting in death. This is a rare condition.
Water should be drunk little, yet often throughout the day such that we are never thirsty. It is particularly important to hydrate last thing at night to prepare for the significant loss of water during sleeping and rehydrate first thing in the morning (especially if you sleep with your mouth open and snore). This is a time when the blood is most viscous and potential strokes particularly prevalent. We should also drink before, during and after exercise to maintain our level of hydration.
The rate of water uptake is faster when at rest than when exercising with sports drinks, containing sugar and salt, showing a marginally faster rate, at rest, yet similar time for complete absorption. In the light of the increased promotion of special water preparations, it is important to take notice that there are definite and proven health benefits from simply drinking more water and from changing fluid intakes from coffee, tea, alcohol, and hypertonic soft drinks to mineral or tap water. That cup of coffee first thing in the morning is best, perhaps, replaced by a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s a good way of stimulating your metabolism in the morning too.
If you do become severely dehydrated or suffer with heat exhaustion seek emergency medical care. However, if it is mild you can use your own Rehydration drink. This is how you make it:
To make 1 litre you will need:
- ½ tsp of sea salt
- ¼ tsp of Lo Salt (Potassium chloride)
- ¼ tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
- 2 tbsp of glucose powder (or good quality honey added when made)
- 1 tsp of Cardamom pods, preferably powdered (green or black)
- 1 tsp of Chamomile flowers, dried (or fresh if in season)
- 1tbsp of Fennel seeds
- 1tbsp of Peppermint leaves fresh or dried (any mint or lemon balm can also be used)
- 1 glass bowl
- 1 glass storage jar
- 1 glass jug, 1-2 litre
- 1 teaspoon
- 1 clean cup or mug
All ingredients you can buy from a Supermarket, Healthfood store and Pharmacy
- Mix well the salts, dried herbs and glucose together in the glass bowl. If using honey omit at this stage.
- Place the blended mixture into the jug.
- Add 1 litre of just boiled water and allow the mixture to infuse for 10-15 minutes. The seeds and leaves will sink. If using honey add it to the infusion. Strain the drink into a cup or mug.
- Drink as much as possible to replace lost fluids. Always make a fresh batch of infusion and store any remaining at room temperature or in the fridge. Discard any remaining infusion after 24 hours.
Make a larger batch of herb and glucose/salt mixture; store it in an airtight container. This mixture should keep 4-6 months. You can also use this after vomiting or diarrhoea.