By Dr. Mara Karpel
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” ~ Loran Eisley
One of the reasons that we might enjoy a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, or a cup of tea is the ritual that surrounds drinking them, including the emotional and social aspects. Perhaps you appreciate sharing a vintage bottle of wine with good friends. I often look forward to meeting a good friend to enjoy catching up over a cup of coffee at a favorite coffee house. Can you imagine similarly enjoying water? Given that water is essential to life, it would seem that we might have a basic instinctual emotional attachment to it and because of that, we might also want to create rituals around it.
Water is Essential for Life
Without water, we wouldn’t survive for more than a few days. The human body is made up of approximately 60% water. More specifically, our brains are actually 95% water, our blood 82% water, and our lungs 90%. As little as a 2% drop in our body’s water content will cause symptoms of mild dehydration, which includes difficulties with short-term memory, with solving basic mathematical problems, and with visual focus. Mild dehydration can also cause decreased coordination, fatigue, dry skin, dry nose and mouth, changes in blood pressure, and, even, impairment in judgment. Chronic, on-going, dehydration can lead to increased stress, depression, back pain, headaches, allergies, asthma, hypertension, and several degenerative disorders. Every cell and every organ in our body relies on water in order to be able to perform their functions correctly. Without the proper amount of water, our organs gradually shut down.
10 Benefits of Drinking Enough Water:
- Helps with weight loss. Adequate hydration is necessary for the process of burning calories. When, even mildly dehydrated, the burning of calories is much slower. Additionally, drinking water prior to a meal will help create a feeling of fullness more quickly so that we don’t eat as much.
- Gives us energy while dehydration causes muscle fatigue.
- Clears the skin. A build-up of toxins in the body will cause inflammation in the skin, clogging the pores and creating acne. Water flushes out these toxins.
- Decreases mid-day fatigue.
- Increases concentration.
- Relieves muscle cramps.
- Reduces constipation and bloating.
- Alleviates congestion from a cold. In addition, while it’s necessary to be properly hydrated for our body to fight off bacteria and viruses, having an infection causes dehydration. (Mom was right about drinking plenty of fluid when we’re sick!)
- Boosts our immune system, helping to prevent colds and flu.
- Prevents headaches because headaches are frequently the result of dehydration.
For Older Adults, Even Mild Dehydration Can Be Dangerous
Surprisingly, over 75% of Americans suffer from chronic mild dehydration. This is the biggest culprit for fatigue during the course of the day. A dry mouth is a sign of dehydration and, if you’re feeling thirsty, then you’re already, at least, mildly dehydrated. Older adults are at a greater risk for becoming dehydrated because thirst sensation tends to decrease as we age. In addition, many of the medications that are more likely to be taken by seniors cause dehydration. For older adults, even mild dehydration can be dangerous. It causes fatigue and weakness, which leads to an increased risk for falling. The biggest culprit of a urinary tract infection in an older person is dehydration, putting them at risk for kidney infection and sepsis (a potentially life-threatening infection). Dehydration in an older adult is likely to cause more pronounced impairments in cognitive functioning, as well.
Other beverages may not replace water
It’s a common belief that, if you drink plenty of other beverages, you don’t need to be concerned about drinking water. However, you need to be careful when using other drinks to replace water. Many of these drinks can actually cause increased dehydration. For example, a nice cool Margarita while sitting by the pool might taste great and feel good going down, but alcohol is a diuretic, causing cells to shrink and squeeze out the water. That’s why, when you drink any alcohol-containing drink, you have a frequent need to urinate. Many doctors and nutritionists recommend drinking a glass of plain water with every alcoholic drink consumed. In addition, the sugar in this sweet drink is also a diuretic. The body reacts to the increase of sugar in the blood stream by attempting to flush it out. That’s also the reason that soft drinks and, even fruit juice, can cause dehydration. Apple juice has approximately 39 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to 10 teaspoons of sugar. Good-ol’ orange juice has about 33 grams of sugar, equivalent to 8 teaspoons of sugar.
I live in Texas, where everyone drinks iced-tea by the gallon to stay hydrated. However, it turns out that caffeine is also a natural diuretic. Therefore, these drinks can’t be relied on to for hydration. While tea and coffee can be consumed in small amounts without running the risk of dehydration because their water content balances out the diuretic affect of the caffeine, overdoing caffeinated drinks will cause the dehydrating effects of the caffeine to outweigh the benefits of the water contained in them. And diet sodas? Don’t drink them at all. Even if they’re caffeine free, soda is one of the worst things you can ingest for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, the dehydrating effects.
How much is enough?
The Institutes of Medicine recommend thirteen cups of water per day for men and about nine for women. Do we really need to drink all of that water? When I attended a one-day workshop with Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of the best-seller, Eat to Live, and a former guest on my radio show, he was asked that very question. His answer to this was that, if you’re eating a plant-based diet, which includes plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, you actually don’t have to be as vigilant about drinking water all day because these foods have high contents of water. Therefore, to increase hydration, you add more raw fruits and vegetables to your meals and throughout the day. Another reason to eat those fruits and veggies! Dr. Fuhrman told us that it’s still a good idea to drink water, even when plenty of fresh fruits and veggies are part of our diet, but, when eating these foods, we don’t have to be as vigilant about drinking the recommended amount of water.
Enjoying “Fine Waters” as a Hobby
During his interview on my radio show, Dr. Michael Mascha who holds a Ph.D. in Food and Visual Anthropology from the University of Vienna, spoke about turning drinking water into a passion, a hobby, or a just plain more enjoyable event. Mascha explained that about twelve years ago, he was told by his doctor that he could no longer drink alcohol. His time of enjoying wine and all of the fun that goes with tasting all types of wine from around the world was over. At that point, he took his “epicurean” curiosity, which he had toward wine, and he applied it to water, discovering a whole new world. According to Mascha, appreciating water from different sources from around the world can replace wine drinking, especially for people who may not be able to drink alcohol for a variety of reasons.
Bad-tasting Tap Water
Many of my clients have told me that they don’t drink much water because they don’t like the taste of water. I, myself, have often felt that drinking water was just something that I have to do, not necessarily something that I like to do, because I don’t always enjoy the taste. In many places, the tap water may have a bad taste and these cases, Mascha recommended a reverse-osmosis water filter for the tap, which will greatly improve the taste of the tap water.
Other Benefits of Enjoying Water
The benefits of enjoying water, aside from the benefits of hydration, include drinking less alcohol, soda, and other drinks that may not be good for our health. “There’s a huge health benefit just alone from out-crowding other drinks that are not good for you,” said Mascha, who is author of Fine Waters: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Most Distinctive Bottled Waters, “Water can be a very good vector for minerals and trace elements. Europeans have known this for a long time. They like water with mineral water because it’s healthy for you.” Dr. Mascha’s book and website, FineWaters.com, inform about incorporating water into meals, pairing the different sources of water with different foods as one might do with wine, the correct temperatures at which to best serve the different waters, and the differences in the water from different sources.
“When you drink the water, remember the spring.”
~ Chinese Proverb
What would Masha say to people who don’t drink enough water? “Start enjoying drinking water. Don’t consider it a chore that you have to do. Engage with the water. Enjoy that this water is from an iceberg while that other water is from a remote spring in a high altitude mountain,” says Mascha. “Emotionally engage with it, and you will enjoy it much more and, by default, you will drink more of the water.”
Emotional Engagement to the Source of the Water
In writing this blog, I found a very joyful memory about drinking water. I was five years old when my family began spending a week every summer at a lodge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a kid, all year long, I looked forward to those days every summer, when we left the heat of NYC to spend time in this magical place. One of my favorite activities was to hike through the forest, filled with sweet-smelling pines and trees whose leaves were already changing to bright gold, orange, and red, to the lake, where we would swim and row in boats. It was extremely quiet and peaceful by the lake. The only sounds were the sounds of the wind in the trees, the lapping of the water on the boats, and the calling of the loons. When swimming in this lake, the water felt like velvet. And the water that we drank at the lodge was actually pumped from that lake. It was the sweetest water I had ever tasted. At our meals, I never wanted anything else to drink. I loved everything about that water. That water really did, objectively, have a good taste. It probably had many minerals and trace elements that gave it it’s sweet flavor. But, I know that my enjoyment of the water went deeper. I was emotionally engaged with that water. I knew the source of that drinking water, and I had happy experiences around that source of water.
An “Aha” Moment for Me
Recently, I noticed another emotionally engaging ritual around water while I was evaluating a veteran for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. During these evaluations, there are times when the discussion becomes very emotional. Some veterans are overwhelmed when talking about their experiences. One response that I’ve had since I began conducting these evaluations is to offer a short break when emotions are high, and I bring them a cup of cool drinking water. This feels like a way of demonstrating compassion, since water is life-giving, and it seems to be soothing in this situation.
Becoming a Connoisseur of Water
In our interview, Mascha suggested reading the label of a bottle of water to see if it tells you where the water has come from, such as an iceberg, a particular natural spring, and so on. Keep in mind that, if it has “purified” on the label, then the water is not straight from an original clean water source. Identify the water source to learn more about the region and the history of the water, Mascha recommended. You can also look up the mineral and trace element content of the water from that source. Try water from different sources to start comparing the flavor profiles. Soon, you’ll be on your way to becoming a water connoisseur!
Let’s drink to our health! Cheers!
[For more information, and interviews with expert guests, be sure to join me LIVE every Sunday, 5-7pm CT/6-8pm ET for “Dr. Mara Karpel & Your Golden Years.” Join the conversation by calling in, e-mailing, or tweeting, or you can listen any time on podcast.]