This month we’re exploring the Pillars of Health according to me. That’s what you get to do when you have your own blog–make stuff up. But seriously, the elements in my Pillars of Health have been carefully chosen for their importance in any epic wellness plan. These elements are Sleep, Water, Vegetables, Movement, and Mindfulness. The pillars work together to support health and vitality.
Water is a pillar of health because every cell in our bodies needs it. I’ll share a little holistic nutrition secret with you: Simply increasing your consumption of water can improve your perceived level of health faster and more effectively than anything else you can do for yourself today. Boom. That’s it. We are a bunch of dehydrated people walking around wondering why we are so tired, have headaches, are constipated, and are seeing wrinkles prematurely.
What’s the big deal about water?
Well, you probably know that you should drink water every day. Most of your body is made up of water. In fact, 99 out of 100 molecules in our cells are water. Water is necessary for most bodily functions including detoxification and making the fluids in your lymph and blood among other things. We’ll talk a little about why water is needed for detoxification, but I also want to talk about what happens when you don’t drink enough, how much you really should be drinking every day, and sourcing clean water.
What happens when you don’t drink enough water?
According to a study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, drivers who were dehydrated made errors twice as often as adequately hydrated drivers (1). You have observed this effect in yourself, I am sure. How well do you think and react the morning after having maybe one too many cocktails? Hangovers are largely due to the effects of dehydration, as well as a build-up of toxins which can’t be flushed adequately, also due to dehydration. Symptoms similar to those felt with hangovers are also present with moderate to severe dehydration. Headaches, dizziness, and dull, dry skin are consequences of not drinking enough water.
Everything slows down when the body doesn’t have enough water. Fatigue, constipation, muscle (and menstrual) cramps, and bad breath are evidence of this fact. Do you suffer from fatigue in the afternoon? Try increasing your water intake in the morning. Are menstrual cramps a monthly agony that you suffer from? Try drinking more water during the week before you expect your period.
Dehydration can also cause your workouts to suffer. You know you should be adequately hydrating yourself when you workout in order to make up for water loss due to sweat, but did you know your workout may seem harder if you don’t hydrate? According to sports dietician Amy Goodson, “A two percent dehydration level in your body causes a 10 percent decrease in athletic performance.”(2)
Spending money on wrinkle cream? Be sure you are drinking enough water. If you are consistently dehydrated your skin will suffer. I’m sure you have noticed your skin is dry in the winter. This is because the air is drier. Water exchange doesn’t just happen via drinking/urination. It also takes place through respiration and skin. This is why humidifiers are indispensable in dry climates and during the wintertime.
One of my chemistry teachers in college used to be fond of saying, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” She’s not wrong. Not only is water handy to dilute waste, it also is needed to flush it away.
Your body has the amazing ability to detoxify itself. The kidneys, in particular, are responsible for processing and eliminating toxins in the blood and water-soluble toxins from the liver. If there is not enough water in your system, your kidneys cannot function properly and toxins end up circulating around your body.
Case in point is kidney stones. The number one risk factor for kidney stones is not drinking enough water (3). If you don’t drink enough, the minerals which create the stones will not be adequately washed away and accumulate where they shouldn’t.
Also, the lymphatic system, which carries toxins, becomes sluggish when you don’t have enough water in your system–just like every other function. This causes the build-up of toxins and our old frienemy inflammation. Imagine a river, like the Missouri, flowing steadily, uninhibited through the plains. Then imagine a dam going up and slowing the flow of water. What happens? Silt and sludge build up and the water flows much slower. This is what happens to your detox systems when you don’t drink enough water.
How much should I be drinking every day?
You’ve heard the recommendation to drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water every day. That’s pretty general advice. More personalized advice would be to drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces every day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds (half of which is 75), you should be drinking 75 ounces of water daily. Many holistic practitioners advise to listen to your thirst and pay attention to the color of your urine. If you are thirsty, you should get something to drink. If your pee starts to look dark (or really anything more colorful than clear), drink more.
Whichever method you choose, simply being conscious of drinking water throughout the day is the important part. Drinking the whole 75 ounces in one sitting isn’t going to do you as much good as drinking smaller amounts frequently.
Also, skip the sports drinks, juice, sodas, and anything else that isn’t pure water. The amount of sugar and additives in these drinks counteracts what is good about the fluid they contain. If you feel you need the added electrolytes in the sports drink, try this instead: Get a quart-sized mason jar. Fill it with purified water. Add two chunks of Himalayan Salt (available on Amazon) and let the salt dissolve overnight. Shake the jar to incorporate the salt into the water and add 1-2 Tablespoons of this concentrate to a glass of plain, filtered water. Don’t drink the concentrate, it will make you sick! Himalayan salt contains many more minerals than the chemical-laden, artificially colored, sugary sports drink and you will feel much better for this swap.
Where to source your water
Tap water is likely contaminated, bottled water comes from who knows where and is bad for the environment, reverse osmosis filters too many minerals out, charcoal filters may not be effective at all…so where do you get clean water?
Ultimately, fresh mountain spring water is the gold standard for drinking water. However, not many of us have access to a reliable source for clean, pathogen and toxin free spring water. If you are lucky enough to have a well that draws water directly from an underground spring or aquifer, this is just as good. Most people live in cities and towns and don’t have access to well water either. So what’s the next best thing?
In my house, I have a reverse osmosis system. These have gotten a bad rap from a few notables in the holistic/natural health community for filtering out minerals that are supposed to be in the water and making the water slightly acidic. Not having these minerals in the water can lead to serious deficiencies and ultimately chronic disease and acidic water can be bad for teeth. Here’s the thing, my R/O system filters out the worst of the contaminants present in tap water, including fluoride (read about why you don’t want fluoride in your water), herbicides, lead, and disinfection byproducts, and I can add the minerals back in. Use the Himalayan Salt method above for this purpose. It isn’t spring water, but it’s better than tap water.
Before having the R/O system I used a charcoal filtration system which, if you remember to change the filters often, is an okay option as well. Charcoal filters are also cheaper.
When I travel by air, of course it’s bottled water for me and my family. Bottled water is not my favorite thing. First of all, it is in plastic which, environmental impact aside, is a highly questionable container for anything you put into your body. Second, there’s no guarantee that the water inside the bottle is any better than that you would get out of a drinking fountain. This is another time when you do the best you can and don’t worry about it too much. Drinking bottled water is better than drinking the water on the airplane or from a tap in a sketchy environment. I would not, however, drink bottled water on a regular basis when there are better options to be had.
Drinking enough water every day is one of the most important things you can do for your health. I don’t know one health professional in conventional medicine or holistic medicine who would not advise you to drink more water. It helps with mental function, detoxification, energy production, and every bodily function down to the cellular level. If you could do one thing today to improve your health, drinking more water would likely be the most effective. You’ll feel better and be better for it! Be sure to check back next week for my next pillar of health: Vegetables.
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