In its essentiality to life, water is considered second only to oxygen. We reckon it’s as important as oxygen, because, we need water even to breathe! That’s true, in order to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, our lungs have to be moist. In fact, our lungs are nearly 90 per cent water.
The importance of water to our health and wellbeing cannot be overemphasised. Our body is 60-70 per cent water. Our muscles are 75 per cent water; our blood that transports nutrients is 82 per cent water; our brain, the control centre of our body, is 76 also per cent water; even our bones, apparently solid, are approximately 25 per cent water.
As is evident, water wears many hats. It’s a coolant, a lubricant, a solvent, and also a medium of transport. No wonder, being “watered”, both from within and outside, is a necessary condition for maintaining good health. It is hardly surprising then that lack of sufficient water causes various health problems. For example, lack of water or dehydration, poses hurdles for the blood to circulate. The gravity of the problem can increase, as it causes the brain to become less active and our body feels tired and fatigued.
Indeed, our health is heavily dependent on the quality and quantity of the water that we drink.
Team CW did an extensive research on water’s role in maintaining and promoting our health and keeping us disease-free. Based on what we found, we compiled a list of some basic but pertinent questions relating to water. We have also provided answers to the same based on our research. Read on…
Why should you drink enough water? What are the dangers of drinking less water?
Sometimes, we drink less water than our body needs. This could be due to various factors ranging from trying to avoid frequent urination to being too busy to remember to drink water. Yet, a single glance at the dangers of dehydration will convince us to never ignore our thirst signals again.
When our water loss is greater than our intake, or vice versa, a fluid imbalance may result, which in turn can affect important physiological functions such as digestion of food, blood circulation, creation of saliva, and absorption as well as transportation of nutrients. But, water is regularly expelled out of the body by way of urination, perspiration and even exhalation. This loss of water needs to be compensated adequately in order to help our body perform its normal functions. Hence, it is important to maintain this balance of water intake and water outflow.
Because regular functioning of the body needs certain amount of water, let’s look at some critical physiological processes that water plays a part in:
Whenever the ambient temperature rises, the brain senses it and instructs the skin to perspire more. With evaporation of the sweat, the temperature of the body is brought down. Thus, water is critical in regulating our body’s temperature.
Digestion and nutrient distribution
When we eat a meal, nutrients are released from food through digestion. Digestion begins in the mouth by the action of chewing and the chemical activity of saliva, a watery fluid that contains enzymes and certain proteins that help break down food. Further, digestion occurs as food travels through the stomach and the small intestine, where digestive enzymes and acids liquefy food, and muscle contractions push it along the digestive tract. Nutrients are absorbed from the inside of the small intestine into the bloodstream and carried to the sites in the body where they are needed. At these sites, several chemical reactions occur that ensure the growth and function of body tissues. The parts of foods that are not absorbed continue to move down the intestinal tract and are eliminated from the body as faeces
Joint lubrication and shock prevention
The presence of water in and around body tissues helps defend the body against shock. The brain, eyes and spinal cord are among the body’s sensitive structures that depend on a protective water layer. As a lubricant, water also is helpful for smooth movement of bone joints
The kidneys help the body get rid of wastes. Urine is the liquid that the waste is put in. Urine lets the body get rid of:
- Extra water
- Extra electrolytes [salts]
- Urea [a waste]
- Toxins [poisons in the body]
Because water is essential to the basic bodily functions, lack of it can, and often does, seriously impair our health.
How I do know how much water is sufficient?
This is a common question. The traditional recommendation of drinking eight glasses of water per day is not valid anymore. New research suggests that for normal, healthy adults, the amount of water consumption should be governed only by thirst – in other words, you should simply drink water when you feel thirsty. Like David Perlow, MD, a reputed American urologist says, “If you follow your thirst, you won’t go wrong.”
You must also remember that the body derives its fluid content from sources other than water – tea, coffee, carbonated drinks, fruits and juices and even several types of foods contain water in various proportions [Read Thirsty? Eat these …]. So your body’s actual water consumption may vary from one day to another depending upon what else you’re drinking and eating. Thirst is, therefore, a good signal that you can depend upon for your water needs.
There are exceptions to this rule: anyone who has a medical condition that requires fluid control; sportsmen and athletes; and people involved in prolonged physical activities are but some examples.
It is possible that, due to various physiological and psychological factors, your body’s thirst mechanism doesn’t work well. A back-up plan for determining whether your water intake is sufficient is to observe the colour, odour and frequency of your urine. When we get enough water, urine flows freely, is light in colour and free of odour. The normal frequency is 7-12 times a day. When our body is not getting enough water, urine concentration, colour, and odour increases because the kidneys trap extra fluid for bodily functions. The frequency is also lower.
When do we need more water?
Our body loses a normal amount of water regularly via sweating, urination, and even breathing. But sometimes, due to illness or other factors, our body tends to lose more water and this increases our water needs too. Certain illnesses, fever, excessive sweating, vomiting, frequent urination, or diarrhoea can also increase our fluid needs.
Some conditions when we lose a lot of water are:
Severe, acute diarrhoea [loose motions] can cause a tremendous loss of water and electrolytes in a short amount of time. If you have vomiting along with diarrhoea, you lose even more fluids and minerals. Children and infants are at a higher risk.
In general, higher the fever, more the dehydration. If you have fever in addition to diarrhoea and vomiting, you lose even more fluids.
You lose water when you sweat. If you engage in vigorous activity and don’t replace fluids as you go along, you can become dehydrated. Hot, humid weather increases the amount you sweat and the amount of fluid you lose. But, you can also become dehydrated in winter if you don’t replace lost fluids. Preteens and teens who participate in sports may be especially susceptible, both because of their body weight, which is generally lower than that of adults, and because they may not be experienced enough to know the warning signs of dehydration.
This is most often the result of undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes mellitus. This diabetes affects the way your body uses blood sugar and that often causes increased thirst and frequent urination. Another type of diabetes [diabetes insipidus] is also characterised by excessive thirst and urination, but in this case the cause is a hormonal disorder that makes your kidneys unable to conserve water. Certain medications – diuretics, anti-histamines, blood pressure medications and some psychiatric drugs – as well as alcohol can also lead to dehydration, generally because they cause you to urinate or perspire more than normal.5
Is there such a thing as “drinking too much water”?
Yes! Just like less water is harmful to your health, so is excess water. Sometimes, because of inappropriate advice, you may compulsively drink vast quantities of water, literally flooding your system. This flooding can lead to a physiological condition called “water intoxication”, which can cause—in extreme cases—seizures, coma, and even death.
“Water intoxication is very rare, although it has been seen in fraternity pranks. That can be very serious and result in death” says Perlow. A recent study of Boston Marathon runners showed that one in three marathon runners was drinking too much water during a race—probably because they were following recent advice to drink as much as tolerated. Once again, it’s best to allow your thirst to dictate your water intake.
OK, so I drink enough water. Now what?
Great! Your body will thank you for keeping it adequately watered from within. Now, all its functions work perfectly. Your body’s temperature is properly regulated. Every cell of your body is well-nourished. Your joints work fine because of proper lubrication. And your kidneys are working fine too, eliminating all the waste matter created, and keeping your body clean from within.
But, drinking enough water is not enough! You have also to be careful about the quality of water you drink because there are grave risks of drinking impure or contaminated water.
What are the risks of drinking impure or contaminated water?
Drinking contaminated water is as bad as drinking less water. If water you drink is polluted or impure, it can cause various waterborne diseases. These are caused by micro-organisms such as protozoa, viruses, bacteria, and intestinal parasites. For more on waterborne diseases, read Water can be dangerous.
How can I reduce the risks of drinking impure water?
- Bottled water is a great option when travelling. Be sure that you buy a brand that you trust
- Do not drink water from suspicious sources
- Watch out for hidden sources of contaminated water getting into your diet. Ice cubes in your juice are an example of such unnoticed contamination
- Ensure sanitised conditions around water
- Don’t store drinking water for long as the chances of re-contamination and microbial growth increase.
Purification and decontamination methods include:
- Boiling: Bring water to a rolling boil, and keep it at a rolling boil for a few minutes.
- Water Filters: From the candle-based filters of the past to the UV and RO filters of today, there are a number of purification options available. See box “Pure for Sure” for more water purification choices.
Any tips on drinking pure water in the right quantity?
Sure! Besides understanding your individual water requirements explained above, the following tips will help you:
- Start your day by drinking a glass of water
- Always keep a water bottle handy throughout the day
- Drink water frequently, even if small quantities
- Drink water soon as you feel even slightly thirsty
- Pay attention to signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth and concentrated urine, which indicate a need for more liquids.
- Drink about a glass of water or sports drink half an hour before your workout
- Quench your thirst with a variety of healthy, low-calorie beverages such as fruit juices, tender coconut, skim or low-fat milk, and tea.
If you don’t like water very much, you can still keep your body happy by consuming lots of fruits and vegetable.
Signs of dehydration
As the list shows, signs and symptoms of dehydration range from minor to severe.
- Increased thirst
- Dry mouth and swollen tongue
- Palpitations [feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding]
- Sluggishness, even fainting
- Decreased urine output. Urine color may indicate dehydration. If urine is concentrated and deeply yellow or amber, you may be dehydrated.
Pure for Sure
With passing years, as people became aware of the importance of pure drinking water, things have become increasingly complicated. There is a plethora of technical jargon about water purification. What do these technologies mean? What kind of purification is useful for a which type of water? And what would help us?
Reverse osmosis [RO] is a technology in which water passes through a selective semi-permeable membrane. The accumulated impurities are disposed and purified water is stored for use in the tank. Reverse osmosis is highly effective in removing impurities like asbestos, lead, total dissolved solids [TDS], turbidity, radium, and many dissolved organics from the water.
However, RO is not effective in removing the compounds that are too small, too light, or have a chemical structure that the RO membrane cannot process. RO is best suited to treat hard water, so for areas that obtain water from wells, bore wells and tanks, this is a better option.
Boiling as method of water purification is well known. The concept of e-boiling is that it provides water that is as pure and safe as water boiled for 20 minutes. The process destroys all known disease-causing bacteria and virus. Boiled water is safe for drinking only if we follow specific steps to boil the water. Firstly, we need to heat the water at exactly 100oC and then keep it boiling at 100oC for 20 minutes. Then cool the water for 20 minutes before using it.
Some water purifiers have pre-carbon filters made from silver-impregnated activated carbon. The main purpose of this filter is to remove chlorine from the water. By removing chlorine, the quality of the water improves and the internal parts of the purifier are protected from damage. The carbon filter also removes smells and traces of pesticides in the water, improving its taste.
Each water purification system has an inbuilt system to keep a check on the purity of water. For example, certain systems have purity-sensors that continuously scan the water to provide 100 per cent safe water or no water. The design of this system is such that drinking water supply stops, if the treated water does not meet a certain level of purity. Some systems have in-built water-pressure-enhancers that help in drawing the water. This is very useful when running tap water is not available to the purification unit.
Health benefits of water
Drinking water is heart-healthy
The findings of a six-year study of more than 20,000 healthy men and women aged 38-100 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who drank more than five glasses of water a day were 41 per cent less likely to die from a heart attack during the study period than those who drank less than two glasses. The protective effect of water was even greater in men.
Drinking water promotes weight loss
Water is a natural appetite suppressant, so developing a good water drinking habit can be a long-term aid in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Doctor F. Batmanghelidj MD, author of Your Body’s Many Cries For Water, says most times your “hunger” is your body asking for water—not food.
It’s also important to remember that when the body is dehydrated, fat cells get “rubbery” and cannot be easily metabolised. This means that it’s harder to lose when you don’t drink your water.
Importance of water for skin
Water maintains the integrity of skin. It is responsible for giving it elasticity, lustre and a healthy glow. Many skin-related problems are caused simply due to poor water intake.When we don’t drink enough water, our skin becomes very dry, wrinkly and loses its lustre. If you pinch such skin, it takes a long time to come back.
Water has an important role to play in all body functions. It supports various systems of our body and aids in their efficient functioning. To meet the fluid intake required by the body, there is no substitute to drinking water. Remember, there is no hard and fast rule for the exact amount of water an individual should take. It is said that people who are physically active should drink more water. However, don’t be under the impression that if you are just sitting at home or office, you don’t need to drink water. In monsoons and winters, we don’t feel thirsty. That does not mean our body does not lose water in the form of urine, sweat and transpiration. At such times, we should take a conscious effort to check whether we are drinking enough water. Carry a bottle with their name on it and drink water from it only, throughout the day. This way you can keep a check on your water intake. In the summers, you should drink 50 per cent more water than what you drink in the other seasons.
Also stay away from excessively salty foods. Salt pulls the water from our body tissues and burden the kidneys. Most of us eat more salt than required and this can be dangerous to our wellbeing.
Another important advice would be—don’t jump from one extreme condition to another. For example, if you regularly drink only two glasses of water a day, don’t directly start drinking eight glasses simply because somebody told you to. The increase should be gradual. If you simply keep on gulping down water, you could land up with other severe complications like peripheral pooling [water retention] and electrolyte imbalance.
—Dr APARNA Santhanam, MD, is a Mumbai-based dermatologist.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!