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Water, water everywhere

But exactly which drop to drink?

By Robrt L. Pela 

We’re surrounded by it, we’re mostly made of it and we can’t survive without it. Water can move mountains, level a small village, and, according to experts, save every one of our lives on any given day. If you’re an athlete, it can improve your performance and replace the fluids your workout has depleted. Whether you’re running a marathon or just getting through the day, water is essential for maintaining every one of your vital processes.

While you can endure deficiencies of other nutrients for years, a person can survive only a few days without water. Water comprises 50 to 70 percent of body weight in humans. It’s the major component in our blood, cools us through perspiration and enables the storage of energy-giving glycogen in our muscles. It aids in digestion, absorption, circulation and the lubrication of body joints. In fact, experts rank water second only to oxygen as essential for life. And in the summer heat of the desert, it’s nearly as essential as that oxygen in staying alive –or at least well and healthy.

Given these powerful properties, it’s no wonder we’re told that drinking eight eight-ounce servings of water every day is paramount. That edict isn’t propaganda from the bottled water industry; it’s a medical fact. Since we lose water constantly through our skin, lungs, urinary tract and bowels, sufficient replacement of it through our foods and beverages is mandatory. About half our water needs can be met through food intake – particularly from water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables – but our glass is still half empty and has to be augmented with consistent chug-a-lugging.

“Sixty-four ounces of water a day does seems excessive,” admits Jane Frobose, program director of Family and Consumer Sciences at Colorado State University in Denver. “But we really are just replacing fluids that have been depleted. Every day, we lose about two-and-a-half cups of water from various body functions, and exercise dramatically increases the requirement for water.”

Besides replenishing your body’s lost fluids, water provides small amounts of minerals vital for life, such as calcium (essential to blood clotting and bone formation), sodium, potassium and energy-producing magnesium. And while it’s carrying nourishment to your cells, water is simultaneously carrying waste away from those cells, both crucial chores that become doubly important when we’re down in the mouth.

There are other good reasons, according to J. Batmanghelidj, M.D., author of the bestselling Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, for forcing fluids during illness. “When we’re sick,” Batmanghelidj says, “water acts as a means of healing by encouraging our immune system to work overtime. When you consume water, you activate important immune-system chemicals that stimulate germ-killing cells. So you want to make sure, when you’re sick, that dehydration doesn’t unnecessarily heat up your immune system, causing it to shut down.” It’s simple math, Batmanghelidj says. When we’re ill, lowering our body temperature by drinking water keeps everything functioning and heightens healing.

In sickness or in health, we should all be wed to drinking water – and waiting until we’re thirsty may be too late. While thirst signals the body’s need for fluid, some experts believe that the thirst mechanism cannot be considered entirely reliable and that, if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Early symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, loss of appetite, loss of body weight and heat intolerance. Severe dehydration is manifested in muscle spasms, excessive temperatures and total exhaustion.

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This Article appears on the August 2011 issue of LPM under Health

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