Why is water healthy?
You may be wondering the same thing my 12 year old thought when she learned about this week’s blog entry which is, “an entire article just about water?!” As we move forward you may be surprised by some less common knowledge about our dearest source of life, water. I am sure that most of us have heard that we should be drinking more water from just about everyone that might have some inkling of health education. While drinking more water can be beneficial, the amount of water we should be consuming is going to vary based on your body’s needs and what you put yourself through physically on a daily basis.
Back in the 80’s sports drinks were on the rise and as a result had generated one of the most influential marketing campaigns of the century. Sports drinks manufacturers told everyone that they were “dehydrated!”, and needed to drink as much of their products as possible! Through this highly effective marketing campaign they changed the way we looked at hydration through the 90’s and 2000’s.
The simple truth is, you don’t need to drink a gallon of water everyday to be healthy or even to just attain basic hydration. Most of us just need to actually drink “plain water” slightly more often than other drinks like coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks, and of course alcohol. The benefits of drinking water are profound and can be a great start towards a healthier lifestyle, especially if you only drink soda and coffee for quenching your thirst.
Increasing the amount of water you consume in a day can have some initial, and profound, benefits. As you increase your water intake per day you will notice that your mind feels sharper and clearer, you have a bit more energy throughout your day and you just feel better than before you started drinking all of that water. Your energy levels will feel boundless! Digestion becomes more efficient and you can reduce bloating and sluggish afternoons from that 6am cup of coffee that just decided to give you a headache and a bad mood.
Water is the life force that quenches thirst and cleans hands (among about a million other uses). Large amounts of it could be a fun filled day at the beach, or flash flooding from an oncoming hurricane. Recent studies have shown that just being near large open bodies of water have a positive impact on your mental health and stress levels. It is called Blue Therapy (or Blue Space therapy, or Blue Care) and actually holds scientific merit with thoroughly tested clinical trials backing its benefits. A great journal from 2018 on this topic is right here: https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/day103 .
Not only the visual effect of bodies of water are beneficial, the sound of water lapping against the beach or the babbling brook is actually therapeutic as well (mentioned in this study https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2013097118). Of course not only is water beneficial but just natural beauty in the world is shown to have positive effects on our mood, hormones, energy, and focus as well. This being said, not all of us have access to large bodies of water to go get our recommended 2 hours per week of blue therapy, so there is still something you can go look at for health benefits like a meadow blowing in the breeze, trees moving in the wind and any other scenic picture you may have in mind right now, they just might not have the exact same benefits of Blue Therapy.
Clean Water is a Human Right
Drinking water is universally thought to be “healthy” according to every Instagram health icon you find while scrolling during that Zoom meeting for work, but is it viewed with the respect that water is actually due? Many people say, “I don’t really like water,” or, “I have to make myself drink enough water!” The truth is, water can be the cure for many of life’s mild ailments including mild headaches, backaches, and constipation. Water itself is simple. In our modern world it is vastly available to most of us, but in other parts of the world clean water is harder to come by. Which is why I encourage you to check out waterforpeople.org. Waterforpeople.org is a non-profit organization devoted to providing clean drinking water to those in need across the globe and I strongly encourage you to take a look at what they are doing and how you can help. Providing fresh clean water is such an important mission in our world and I hope we can end the water crisis for everyone, forever.
Water is so important for our survival, but we forget about what it can do for us in our normal day to day lives by simply being taken for granted with easy access to fresh, clean water all around us. The least we can do with this gift of access to such a vital resource is offer assistance to those without the gift.
Not all water is the same
Of course as a species we’ve known to not drink tainted water since it can make you sick or even kill you if you don’t seek treatment. This goes to say that water is not always good when there can be contaminants lurking that can have slow and insidious health repercussions. In modern society we don’t typically have the problem of not being able to drink clean water but what is interesting is there is a growing consensus that drinking tap water without being filtered could be leading to health concerns.
While it usually does not present an immediate risk, tap water from different places in the United States has been shown to have hormones, lead, mercury, BPAs, and much more that can negatively affect your health. Men should have filtered rather than tap water due to the fact that it has been shown to increase the amount of estrogen in men who consumed tap water regularly. That increase in estrogen will lead to an increase in body fat around the belly and chest, lower energy levels, lack of focus, reduced strength, reduced sex drive, and could increase the risk of cancer. It is best to use a pitcher water filter, filtered water from a refrigerator, a reverse osmosis system, or any other well made water filtration system to get all of the “bad stuff” out of your water.
Different ways of drinking water
Drinking water seems to be fairly self-evident and most of us are thinking, “are you serious?” And no I am not talking about absorbing it through your skin or anything weird like that. As you will find, the way you drink your water has different benefits for your health when done correctly.
First, we can begin with lemon water and some of the benefits it can give. Lemon water has been recommended for ages, and for very good reason. Drinking lemon water has been shown to reduce fat content of the liver by dissolving the fat stores. Lemon water can reduce cholesterol, improve blood flow and circulation, reduce kidney stones, assist in weight loss, and lower insulin in the blood. Regulating your blood levels of insulin and glucose is essential for weight loss and managing diabetes. Always consult a physician when considering new modalities.
The best way to make your own lemon water is to juice half of a lemon and mix into 16oz of water and drink at room temperature. Increasing the benefits of your lemon water would be to do it first thing in the morning before you eat anything. This will prepare your stomach for digestion and absorption of vital nutrients through the foods we consume for the rest of the day. Lemon water has been shown to help your digestive system secrete specific digestive enzymes that increase the efficiency of the absorption process leading to more benefits out of everything you eat! It is a simple trick to optimize your diet and who wouldn’t want to absorb more of the nutrients in their food?
Next we have Ginger water. This is most commonly prepared with our first ingredient, lemon. Combining some finely chopped ginger (about 2 Tbs) into cold water for about 2 hours can create a health beverage that lowers insulin levels, improves blood circulation, reduces inflammation, provides antioxidants for fighting cancer and possibly reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course you need to strain out the leftover ginger before you drink it, or you can use a tea infuser to skip that step. One thing though, the water should be cold because heating the ginger will harm some of the antioxidants rendering them less effective. Also, check with your doctor if this modality is right for you.
One of my favorite professors of neurobiology and ophthalmology, Dr. Andrew Huberman, has a strange way of drinking his first glass of water in the day; with salt. Yes, that is correct. He adds about a teaspoon of table salt to his water every morning in order to "kick-start" his nervous system. By adding this small amount of table salt to his water in the morning it helps facilitate the transfer of ions in the brain to improve cognition. Dr. Huberman has a wonderful podcast and YouTube channel and I also encourage you to look into his great content as it is full of real solid advice on how the body operates and how to improve it's efficiency. Here is a link to Dr. Andrew Huberman's YouTube channel and podcast: https://www.youtube.com/c/AndrewHubermanLab
Can you have too much water?
The easy answer is just, yes. You can have too much water which essentially drains your reserves of electrolytes leading to muscle cramps, diarrhea, and a whole host of other nasty effects including death. Statistically speaking, most Americans just happen to be mildly dehydrated on a fairly regular basis and those people could use some more water in their lives.
“How can I be dehydrated and not thirsty?”
Chances are you are thirsty and are “drinking” fluids but might be reaching for coffee, soda, or alcohol which all happen to dehydrate your body. All of these common drinks tend to have a side effect of making you get rid of fluid through urine, ultimately leading to a lower amount of fluid in your body for use. So initially you drink more, but then it leads to faster production of urine which defeats the purpose and keeps you coming back for more! It is a cycle that can be easily remedied by just drinking plain water in between other drinks, and then slowly reducing the other drinks to a healthier, and more hydrating, level of consumption. As always, please consult a physician before changing the amount of water you take in to see if it is right for you.
Some clues for spotting dehydration
Do you often wake up in the morning with a headache or have "brain fog?" How has your low back been feeling over the past week? Is your skin slightly itchy and flakey? All of these can be symptoms of dehydration and it could be your body trying to tell you that it needs more water in order to function well. Many people that I have coached tell me that on the first day of increasing their water intake they feel a strong surge of energy and focus. This is partly due to the fact that your brain is used to scraping by with a low tank day in and day out, then you throw the fuel on and your brain takes it and runs. Clarity is what I personally get from water and it continues to be my favorite drink.
To run a quick re-cap, you don’t need to drink crazy large amounts of water to be healthy, drinking crazy amounts of water can lead to sickness, how you drink your water matters, and mild dehydration is so common that you might be partially dehydrated right now and not even know it. Water is vital for life and it is what around 65% of your body is made of, making it the oldest "bio hack" for you to try today.
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Tyler VandenBosch, RN, Health and Wellness Coach