Water…is it really that complicated?
Why do we need it?
Water makes up at least 60% of our adult body mass, so to say it is important to our health is an understatement. It is the most abundant and important molecule both on Earth as well as in the human body. Water is the primary component of all the bodily fluids – blood, lymph, urine, digestive juices, tears and sweat - and is involved in almost every bodily function including circulation, digestion, absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes.
Water can slow the aging process, lubricate the joints, flush toxins from the body in numerous ways, and we even need it to breathe – the lungs must be moistened by water in order for oxygen and carbon dioxide to be exchanged.
Side note: Humans are emotionally and psychologically drawn to water. We swim and play in it, we sit on the beach to watch and hear the waves crash in, we float on it in rafts and canoes, we soak in hot tubs to relax our muscles and minds, skate on it when it’s frozen and are drawn to waterfalls and fast-flowing rivers.
How much do we need?
You’ve probably heard that we all need to be drinking at least 8 cups of water each day. While this may be a good rough guideline, individual water needs will vary depending on the climate in which you live, your diet, your activity level and your body weight. In general, though, the average adult weighing 130-155 pounds will lose 8 cups of water each day in urine, sweat, evaporation via our breath, and feces just at normal activity levels. So, if you are heavier, live in a warmer than average climate, or are more active than normal, you will need to drink more than 8 cups per day. If you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, you may need to drink less water than someone who eats a lot of meat and fats.
Medical research has linked chronic dehydration to such things as: adult-onset diabetes, arthritis, asthma, back pain, depression, heartburn, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney stones, lupus and migraines. You can see from this list that it is important to your long-term health to develop a daily habit of getting adequate, good quality water!
Does it matter when I drink it?
It is generally best is to drink your water at various intervals over the course of the day, rather than guzzling large amounts at one time. If you drink a lot of water with or just after meals, it dilutes your digestive juices and can interfere with digestion of your meal and absorption of nutrients. If need be, take small sips of room temperature water during meals.
Is all water created equal?
In our modern world, most of us are lucky to be able to simply turn on the tap and have drinking water easily available, and relatively inexpensive. The local government makes sure our water is safe….right? While it is true that for the most part, tap water in Canada is safe, such that it will not make you seriously ill, at least not right away. However, water quality definitely varies from home to home, even within the same general geographic region, and over time certain contaminants may negatively affect body tissues and processes.
Most tap water comes from groundwater or from rivers, streams and lakes, and goes through treatment plants of varying age and technological sophistication. The treatment not only removes things like microorganisms, and inorganic chemicals like heavy metals (“bad guys”), but some things (“good guys”) are also added to the water, such as chlorine (to kill germs) and fluoride (to prevent tooth decay, though its effectiveness and safety is hotly debated). The problem is, processing does not remove all the bad guys, and there may be harmful long-term effects of ingesting the good guys. Even the pipes it travels through can leach harmful particles into the water before it reaches your glass. This article cannot possibly cover the pros and cons of tap water adequately, but it is important for you to think about all of your water options, some of which may not necessarily be better for you than your local tap water:
· Well water – generally only available in rural situations, this also comes from groundwater, which can be susceptible to the same contaminants as tap water (fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria, petrochemicals, for example). Ensure to have your well water tested by a reputable authority.
· Spring water – “natural” water found in surface or underground springs. Spring water may also be contaminated, depending on its source. Bottled spring water may be disinfected with chlorine by the producer.
· Mineral water – most water is in fact “mineral” water, as it contains minerals. Often though, that marketed as mineral water is bubbly, meaning CO2has been added, which can potentially affect the body’s acid-alkaline balance if consumed in quantity. This water can also contain contaminants, depending on its source.
· Filtered water – involves the removal of chemicals, metals or bacteria through a filter of some sort, including carbon (granulated or solid) and reverse osmosis. To be labelled a “purifier”, it must remove at least 99.75% of incoming bacteria. Filtration systems are widely available, but also have variation in effectiveness, and can be expensive (reverse osmosis systems, in particular).
· Distilled water – most minerals, chemicals and organisms are removed by vaporizing the water in one chamber and then condensing it in another chamber. Because it contains no minerals, many of which our bodies need, it is generally not suggested as drinking water.
So what do I recommend?
If you have heard the saying “if you wait until you are thirsty, it’s too late”, don’t take this too seriously. Our bodies will tell us when it needs water, but we do need to listen to it. Often we get caught up in our busy day and simply don’t pay attention to the cues our body is sending. Some of the early signs of dehydration are: lack of energy or fatigue, headaches, feeling excessively hot and/or clammy, dry/sticky mouth, constipation, muscle cramps, or passing small amounts of dark coloured urine.
As well, be extra cautious when you will be exerting yourself, such as in the gym or working outside, when you are in hot weather, or when you have been drinking alcohol (it will dehydrate you). In these situations, its best to be proactive and ensure you are hydrate beforeas well as during and after.
As for what type of water you should drink, it really depends on a number of factors, including the quality of your local tap water (some is better than others), the availability of options (we can’t all have a well in our backyards), affordability (filtration systems may be beyond your budget) and personal choice (many bottled waters are sold in plastic). Plastic can leach toxins into the water, especially if stored in warm, sunny locations for any amount of time. Plastic bottles are also becoming a problem in terms of our land-fills and waterways. Consider a reusable stainless steel or glass water bottle instead.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of the water discussion, and is meant to bring awareness, not to cause alarm. Feel free to ask us for more details or advice based on your specific circumstances.