By Laura Firszt, Networx
This basic fact is well know: water is an essential component of human health. But why do we need it, how much is enough, and how can we ensure we’re getting the right amount? What about other liquids, like cola or wine? Can they substitute for water? And is there such a thing as drinking too much water?
The hydrating effect of water is essential for the body’s day-to-day function – no surprise, given that two-thirds of our physical selves are composed of H2O. In particular, water plays an important role in the digestive processes – from the moment you first swallow a bite of food, aided by saliva, through to the natural consequence -- normal functioning of the bowels. Water is also essential for proper maintenance of body temperature (that’s what sweat is all about) and lubrication of the joints and muscles, as well as giving your skin a healthily hydrated look and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. It can even serve as a weight loss aid; often what we perceive as cravings for foods like ice cream are, in actual fact, the body’s way of signaling thirst. Simply sipping a cup of water will satisfy the underlying desire without packing on calories.
What happens when you don’t drink enough?
Headaches and a general feeling of tiredness and discomfort tend to be among the first signs that someone has not been drinking enough water. Digestive problems, especially constipation, are another. Symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, irritability, disorientation, and dryness of the mouth and eyes. Mild dehydration can be dealt with by drinking more liquid and resting. More severe cases may require hospitalization and intravenous fluid replenishment.
What happens when you drink too much?
Despite the popular misconception that more is always better when it comes to water consumption, in fact if you drink too much plain water without replenishing electrolytes at the same time, you risk diluting your sodium levels, causing potentially fatal hyponatremia, aka overhydration. The condition is most common among endurance athletes and long distance runners, who will need to replace lost salt at the rate of 1 gram (.035 ounces) per hour. This can be accomplished by drinking sports drinks in combination with eating salty snacks.
How much is just right?
Various formulas have been suggested to calculate how much water adults should drink. They range from the old favorite “8 X 8” – eight ounces, a total of eight times a day – to “the same number of ounces as half your body weight in pounds” (in other words, a 160-pound person needs to drink 160 divided by 2 = 80 ounces, or 10 cups).
However, many health professionals today are leery of recommending precise quantities of drinking water, for two reasons. First, much of your liquid intake may come from sources other than water. Second, they consider the body’s urine production to be a much better indicator of your level of hydration – both amount (about 6 cups) and hue (colorless to pale yellow).
What to drink
Surprisingly enough, in many areas plumbers will tell you that just plain tap water is just fine. If you are in a part of the United States which ranks low for water quality, you might prefer to opt for filtered H2O. The bottled stuff is not recommended, due to the potential for leaching of chemicals from the plastic containers, as well as the toll all those plastic bottles take on the environment. Alcohol, sugary or artificially sweetened soft drinks, and caffeinated beverages can be used as part of your daily liquid allowance in moderation.
Not fond of plain water? Give it summery flavor with mint leaves, cucumber, or a citrus squeeze. Or focus on water-rich fruits and veggies. Mix up a salad of lettuce, tomato, radish and celery, all containing at least 94 percent water. Add a bowl of (yummy!) 92-percent water strawberries or watermelon for dessert and you’re laughing. This is especially good as part of a post-workout meal, since the fruit and vegetables replace not only water, but also the body’s depleted store of amino acids, vitamins, salts, and sugars.