Apart from body’s need for air and breathing, water is possibly the second most important catalyst in keeping us alive. We all know stories of how, in extreme circumstances, some people have survived for weeks without food as long as they had water. It feels almost strange to be compelled to write about water, such basic human need and what can be more written about it in the first place? Yet, so many I work with struggle with drinking enough. There are so many strategies that can help us develop a habit of drinking enough, however, it was a very smart friend of mine who suggested I find an information on WHY we need to drink water to help our mutual friend, and HOW will, perhaps, sort itself out. I then remembered an article I read over decade ago that still echoes in my mind and I often use the information to help my own clients, which seems to be quite effective at the time, until they need to be reminded again.
So, let’s not underestimate the benefits of water:
- It regulates the appetite. Research shows that thirst and hunger sensation are triggered together. If there is an even slight dehydration in the body, the thirst mechanism can be mistaken for hunger when body is actually craving fluids. You can only imagine how important this is for weight management as more food than we need, instead of fluids, can only mean weight gain.
- It helps body metabolise fat. Here is another link with an effective weight management. Studies show that optimum water intake can help reduce fat deposits. We forget sometimes that kidneys, that help extract waste from the blood, simply can not function properly without enough water. In those circumstances, some of the load is passed on to the liver. The primary role of our liver is to break down and metabolise stored fat into usable energy for the body, however, if it needs to do some of the kidney’s work, it can not operate its primary function to its full capacity. As a result, liver metabolises less fat, which in turn, causes more fat to be stored in the body. This stops weight loss and can even cause weight gain. Retained water can show as excess weight too.
- Maintains the function of the kidneys, reducing the risk of kidney stones. Leading from the previous point, as already demonstrated, water is essential for normal kidney function.
- Helps reduce water retention. Drinking enough water is the very best treatment for water retention. Body that does not get enough fluids sees this as a threat to its survival and it then starts to hold water. Water is then stored outside of the cell in extra cellulite spaces, which manifests itself in swollen legs, feet, hands.
- Helps with mental performance. Even slight dehydration can cause headaches, dizziness, tiredness as well as our reduced alertness and ability to concentrate. It is said that thirst is felt at only 2% dehydration, which can reduce our mental performance by 10-20%. Can you imagine what this means for an athlete? Dehydration between 3-5% can reduce aerobic exercise performance noticeably and impairs reaction time, judgement, concentration and decision-making, which are all vital elements in all sports, whilst a particular issue for boxers is that dehydration increases risk of brain injury. Remember, when you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated! Also, with less water in your system, your blood volume decreases, meaning your heart has to work harder to pump it round. Your blood vessels also constrict, so don’t be surprised when dehydration headaches strike.
- Boosts energy levels. Water also means more oxygen. It helps body’s pH factor and more oxygen means more energy as foods containing oxygen, like plants do, also mean life! Of course, water in itself has no energy, as it has no calories, however, by helping regulate body temperature and by keeping you hydrated, water enables the body to derive energy from ingested nutrients.
- Aids healthy digestion. There used to be a concern that water will dilute the digestive juices or interfere with digestion. Research shows, in fact, that drinking water during or after a meal actually aids digestion. Water and other liquids help break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also softens stool, which helps prevent constipation. If body gets too little water – it gets it from internal sources and colon is its primary source, which results in constipation. There are other reasons for constipation, like inadequate amount of fibre in a diet, but, water, apart from fibre, is one of the primary reasons for a regular bowel function.
- Aids with elimination of harmful substances and toxic products. Leading from the previous point of influence of water on healthy digestion, water, of course, also helps to flush out the waste and toxins, essential function for our health and disease prevention.
- Reduces the risk of cancer. There are a few studies that support the beneficial effect of water drinking on cancer prevention in addition to other lifestyle factors, such as smoking avoidance or cessation, moderation of alcohol consumption, and treatment or prevention of obesity. Future clinical and epidemiologic studies might help to further define the role of water intake for cancer prevention, but what we know so far is that water plays a substantial role in cancer prevention, including bowel cancer.
- Helps maintaining moisture in skin. Skin is our largest organ and water keeps skin cells stay hydrated, working well and it helps keep wrinkles away as it plumps the skin cells up making them look less wrinkled. Also it flushes impurities and toxins out of the system keeping your face fresh and clean and thus aid in reducing the breakouts and acne.
- Helps keep blood pressure in check. Dehydration is a potential cause of low blood pressure (hypotension) due to decreased blood volume leading to reduced pressure against artery walls. However, when you do not drink adequate water the body will compensate by retaining sodium and consistent dehydration will lead the body to gradually ‘close’ some of the capillary beds, which leads to increased pressure places on arteries and a rise in blood pressure.
The above are just some of the benefits and many have not been mentioned such as that water helps to regulate body temperature and that it helps to keep joints lubricated and eases pain in them, etc. So, water plays a monumental role in our health and its benefits supercede its benefits just for weight loss alone. We all need a different amount of water depending on our body composition. 2 litres per day is a good guide, however, overweight person will need more water, especially as it is key to fat metabolism. I advise my clients around 3 litres of water daily, but no more than 4 litres.
The key is to drink little but more often, one glass of 250ml every hour, as an example. I drink water on its own, infused with fruit and veg, through green tea, with some aloe added. I do not suggest coffee and caffeinated teas as those are slight diuretics, meaning they make body produce more urine, which in turn leads to dehydration.
Tips how to increase water intake:
- Drink one glass of water after each visit to the toilet. An ideal time to check your urine colour – pale or see-through urine is a sign of good hydration.
- Carry a bottle with you at all times to increase access to water
- Add taste to water by adding some lemon juice or infuse it with fruit.
- Set goal for number of glasses each day and track it; you can also set water reminders throughout the day on your smart phone!
- Buy 2 litre bottle of water and make sure you finish it by the end of the day; have some more if your aim is 3 litres a day.
- Every time you drink tea or coffee, have a glass of water with it
- Have water as soon as you get up, with every meal and between each meal/ snack
- Avoid alcohol as it also aids to dehydration
Remember that natural thirst is lost if there is no habit to drink enough water. By developing a habit of hydrating regularly, natural thirst will return within few days. Every time we slip, we will need another breakthrough.