What’s So Great About Water?
By Jonathan Wilson
It’s the ONE Element that doesn’t get the credit it deserves! Dive in for some amazing facts about this low-calorie libation…
If you count yourself among the health-conscious, you probably put in some exercise every day. Perhaps you also live on ‘health foods’, avoid smoking and never forget to brush your teeth. Top marks to you. But wait! Is there something that may be missing from your healthy routine? Do you remember to drink enough water?
Far too many of us don’t. In doing so, we unwittingly forego the wide-ranging benefits of one of the cheapest and most accessible aids to good health. Because water – just plain water – is what helps our bodies tick along smoothly, keeps our systems going and even relieves minor ailments.
Everybody knows that, without water, we’d die of thirst. But not many realize that water does much more than wet a dry mouth! That’s why we need around two to three liters (8-10 glasses) of fluid everyday. If you are currently getting by on a few sips here and there, you might wonder why such hefty amounts are needed. Here are some answers to some questions you might want to ask.
Q #1: I don’t feel very thirsty – why must I drink plenty of water?
Because water does more than quench your thirst. It works inside your body on a minute-to-minute basis. Water has a role to play in every vital function of the body.
We may be in the jet-age, but inside our body everything still works on “water-transport”! Vital supplies of food, oxygen and infection-fighting cells flow around the body through the blood, which is 83% water. Digesting food and absorbing it needs some water too, because digestive juices work better in a semi-fluid environment. Even breathing in and out needs moisture. In fact, it is possible to use up the equivalent of two glassfuls of water a day, just exhaling!
Again, many of the body ‘s waste products can be thrown out only if they are well-dissolved in water (as sweat and urine). If there is insufficient water to carry out this function, the body may retain toxins and end up being poisoned by its own waste products! Sounds far-fetched? Small proofs of this are not difficult to find. Forget to drink enough water and you may soon be suffering from constipation!
Water, when it leaves the body as sweat, is what keeps our body temperature constant even on the hottest summer day. Our body operates on delicate chemistry and it is water that maintains the internal balance. When every bodily process is using up water, imagine how vital it is to replace used-up fluids. A stray glassful can hardly do the job!
Q #2: Can’t we depend on our body to demand enough water, according to its needs?
By and large, YES. Thirst is the body’s signal that the system is “running dry”. But natural signals would be wholly dependable only if we led a wholly natural life! The farm labourer drinks water by the jugful, because he works up a powerful thirst that is hard to ignore. The average city worker, on the other hand, ends up drinking far too little water, often less than he should. The reasons are many: Sedentary work, especially in an air-conditioned room, produces only a mild thirst that is easily ignored. Fear of water-borne diseases prevents city-dwellers from drinking water away from home. People are equally finicky about using public toilets. So they play it safe by drinking as little water as possible!
And then there are umpteen myths about the “ill-effects” of drinking water. Here are some that we’ve heard – do you believe in any of them? Frequent drinking of water causes a sore throat… Cold water makes people fat… Water interferes with digestion… Drinking water aggravates a case of vomiting and diarrhoea… People with coughs and colds should avoid drinking water… Drinking water before exercise gives you cramps in the stomach…
These beliefs have no scientific basis and some of them can prove downright dangerous, say doctors. With so many misconceptions floating around, it is not surprising that the thirst signal often goes unanswered, or only nominally satisfied. A few sips of water will take the edge off your thirst, but that little amount cannot meet your needs.
Q #3: What happens if you don’t drink enough water?
If you drink sufficient water occasionally, your body adjusts: it secretes less urine and otherwise manages to function normally. But those who habitually drink too little water may develop problems. Healthy kidneys keep the body’s water at a safe level, but operating with insufficient fluid puts them under a strain. When You drink insufficient water, that fluid is used up for vital functions, leaving little for other processes. For example, hydration of the skin or digestion may be hampered, resulting in problems like dry-looking skin or constipation.
A certain amount of water should pass through the kidneys every day, otherwise bacteria which should be flushed out of the kidneys, bladder and urethra will lodge there. This give rise to urinary tract infections, with symptoms of burning while urinating, backache and so on.
Certain common drugs (including painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs) leave behind a residue in the kidneys, which must be washed out with plenty of water so that it does not accumulate and damage kidney tissue.
Insufficient water can also cause kidney stones in those predisposed to them. Regularly drinking plenty of water actually helps prevent kidney stones and infections. Provided the water is clean, of course.
In athletes and sportsperson, low fluid intake can contribute to muscle fatigue and poor performance. A lot of water is lost when you play and exercise. Interestingly enough, strenuous exercise temporarily depress your thirst, when in fact you should be replacing all that lost fluid!
So what it boils down to is simply this: While our body can ‘get by’ on insufficient water, it does no good to push it too hard!
Q #4: We consume so many other fluids… don’t they count?
Yes, they do. All the tea, coffee, juices, soups, milk, etc. that we drink do contribute to our fluid intake. And that’s precisely how most of us get by without actually drinking the large amounts of water we need. We derive some water even from solid food, especially fruits and vegetables. For example, Green beans are 89% water and lettuce 95% water! Incidentally even the adult human body holds 35 to 50 liters of water.
Q #5: Of other fluids do count, why is it important to drink plain water?
Water is not entirely replaceable, and has its own advantages. Unlike soft drinks, which are often used to quench thirst, plain water has no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. (You don’t have to worry about BVO (Brominated Vegetable Oil), for instance!). Unlike, coffee or tea, it has no caffeine and no sugar to damage your teeth. And, compared to alcoholic drinks… well, water is guaranteed not to make a monster out of you! Before or after sport or exercise, water is the best drink to have. Very sweet drinks, which are considered energy-giving can draw out water from your muscles into the intestinal tract (instead of it being the other way round), causing internal dehydration which can result in cramps during exercise. Even for non-athletes, plain water is the best thirst-quencher. Why make your body handle all those extra substances when water serves the purpose?
Of course, when little solid food is being consumed (as during illness), other beverages are preferable because they can provide nutrition as well as fluid. But if you’re in normal health, drink as much as you like – it’s zero-fat and calorie-free!
Q #6: How much water does one need?
Needs vary, depending on your size, diet, activity and the climate you live in. In the hot climate, much water is lost through perspiration. And even more is lost by a person who has fever (due to faster breathing, sweating) and also by a person with vomiting and diarrhoea. A 60-kg, moderately active man would need about 10 glasses of fluid a day, ideally much of it water. Slightly more or less is okay. The colour of urine is good indicator – dark-coloured urine suggests that you may need more water. While this casual check is good enough for most, there are also categories of people for whom it is vital to consume plenty of water. This group includes those who have chronic chest congestion – smokers with emphysema, for instance, would benefit from keeping their system well-hydrated.
On the other hand, there are those who may be asked by their doctor not to drink too much water. A person with renal failure, congestive heart failure and some cases of liver failure may not be permitted to overload their system with water. This is either because the kidneys are not eliminating water efficiently or because the heart is not strong enough to pump too much fluid.
Q #7: Water and overweight… is there a connection?
It has become fashionable (among a certain set) to say, “I look fat only because I retain water.” If the body retains excess water instead of eliminating it through the kidneys (as do some women due to hormonal ups and downs), the person may feel slightly bloated and the scales may even show a slight gain in weight. But usually this is small and temporary. Water retention is not responsible for actual fat. So, trying to achieve weight loss via water loss is not desirable, not safe and not permanent An obese person may quickly lose one or two kilos of “water weight” by profusely sweating in a steam-bath or through violent exercise. Or diuretic drugs may step up kidney function and cause a rapid loss of water. Such drastic attempts might be useful only to jockeys and wrestlers who must show a certain weight at the time of weighting-in. But as a method of weight-control, they are worse than useless. The little weight lost by such methods come back as soon as you take in fluids. Athlete or not, trying to dehydrate the body is dangerous. To control water retention and its effects, it is better to cut down salt intake rather than water intake.
- The human body can go 5 weeks without food.
- The human body can go without water for 5 days.
- The kidneys use 5 glasses of water daily.
- The human body loses 10 glasses of water daily.
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