Running on Empty

“If there is magic on this planet it is contained in water” -Loren Eisley

Planet earth really should be called the water planet. 71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Also, when you explore land, air, and sea, it becomes quite obvious that perhaps the most interesting world lies under the water. An ecosystem so diverse, expansive and fascinating.

It should be no surprise that water has an even more amazing impact on the human body where well over 50% is made up of water-moreso for some parts (blood 90%, brain 85%, muscle and skin 70%). It is no wonder why you can go many weeks without food but can survive only a few days without water. Water is an essential nutrient for optimal function of the human machine, yet most of us (estimated 75%) do not get enough. Most of us spend the day mildly dehydrated, approximately one quart low, something not good for your health.

Water is important to virtually every organ system in the body. It carries nutrients through the system and aids in purification, kidney function, bowel function, joint lubrication, cooling and temperature control mechanisms, and biochemical activity at the cellular level.

“Unlike an automobile, we don’t have an Empty/Full gauge and a red light that comes on when out tank is low”

Unlike an automobile, we don’t have an Empty/Full gauge and a red light that comes on when our tank is low. Thirst is usually the first sign that you are running dry but that sensation does not kick in until you already low on H20. Not a great alert system. So you need to stay ahead. Some signs of mild dehydration include daytime fatigue, dizziness, headaches and muscle aches or weakness. A 2% drop in hydration can result in problems with short term memory and concentration. If you exercise regularly you are even more prone to chronic dehydration. Air Conditioning robs your system of fluids as does air travel.

Water is also important for weight control. The body sometimes confuses thirst for hunger, partly because the thirst center is very near the hunger center in you brain. The result, if you are a little dry, you eat-not great for weight control. This is one reason to drink lots of water when you are trying to lose weight. You can often fool the hunger center. Even mild dehydration can slow down your metabolism also leading to weight gain. Water is the perfect weight-watcher beverage-zero calories, and if you drink enough, especially cold, it has a calorie burning effect! A great way to curb night snacking is to first brush your teeth and then drink a full glass of ice water-good for hunger pangs.

Also all beverages are not created equally when it comes to fluid replacement. Coffee, tea and sodas with caffeine don’t count. In fact they create, through their diuretic effect, a net fluid loss to your system, thus increasing dehydration. Also, they are often filled with naked calories (no nutritional value). Sports drinks are useful if you are exercising over one hour especially in hot weather or involved in endurance activities. Proper fluid intake and hydration is the key to preventing illnesses such as heat stroke in athletes especially in the summer months. This is a totally preventable cause of death in young athletes. Learn more about the science behind hydration from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

Your goal it a minimum of 8- eight oz glasses (2 quarts) of water a day. Try to get it in earlier in the day so that you are not visiting the bathroom all night. There may even be added health benefits to drinking a full glass of water upon awakening in the AM. A twist of lemon or lime removes some of the monotony. Bottled water has become the rage with over 700 choices worldwide and competition heating up for your dollars. It is a $7 billion industry in North American alone and more in Europe where they’ve been imbibing for years. There are even designer brands with vitamins, supplements and even oxygen. Adds for Fiji water remind us that the word SPA comes from the Latin “Salus Per Aquam” which means “Health By Water”. There are indeed touted purity and health benefits, none proven scientifically but I must admit that they do seem to taste better and go down a little smoother, although I usually stick with my home grown Eau d’ faucet. There are even water taste-testing competitions (International Water Tasting Awards) something I tried many years ago with my sister Linda (an early adopter water snob) to see if she could actually tell the difference between Philly tap and French bottled water. I’ll never tell the results!

If you are going bottled, be prepared to get out your wallet, especially in some restaurants where waiters are pressured to sell more (at 300-500% mark up). Some fancier restaurants and hotels even have “water list” menus and a water sommelier, an aqua expert, to help with your choices, before you take the plunge.

Spring, bottled or tap, to me is less important than being sure that you get enough. To learn more including the difference between purified, artesian, mineral, sparkling, spring and other waters, and even calculate your own fluid needs, checkout bottledwater.org or get your feet wet with these Fun Water Facts for Kids.

So, camel-up. Head over to the water cooler, not only for small talk, but also for big health gains.

Follow Nicholas DiNubile, MD on Twitter: @DrNickUSA

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