8 MYTHS ABOUT DEHYDRATION THAT CAN IMPACT YOUR HEALTH SIGNIFICANTLY

Sep 13, 2023

SOMETHING WORTH CONSIDERING…

Here at Living With Sense, we encourage all health-motivated people to return to the simple pleasures of structured water in the same way that many have discovered the benefits of eating a Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) diet over heavily processed and aggressively marketed industrial fare. It’s time to get back to the basics of water, and Nature is always our most excellent teacher.

MYTH NO. 1: DEHYDRATION IS RELATIVELY RARE AND OCCURS ONLY WHEN THE BODY IS DEPRIVED OF WATER FOR DAYS.

Reality:

Low-grade dehydration (versus acute and clinical dehydration) is a chronic, widespread problem that impacts well-being, energy, appearance and resiliency. Christopher Vasey, ND, a Swiss naturopath and author of The Water Prescription (Healing Arts Press, 2006), believes that most people regularly suffer from chronic dehydration due to poor eating and drinking habits.

Chronic dehydration can cause digestive disorders because our bodies need water to produce the digestive juices that aid the digestive process. If we don’t get that water, we don’t secrete enough digestive juices, and a variety of problems – such as gas, bloating, nausea, poor digestion and loss of appetite – can ensue.

Bottom line:

Suppose you’re not actively focusing on hydrating throughout the day. In that case, there’s a good chance you could be at least somewhat dehydrated, which could be negatively affecting your energy and vitality – as well as your appearance—experiment with drinking more water throughout the day. You may observe an almost immediate difference in your well-being, and even if you don’t, establishing good hydration habits now will do many good things for your cellular health over the long haul.

MYTH NO. 2: YOUR BODY NEEDS EIGHT 8-OUNCE GLASSES OF WATER DAILY.

Reality:

Your body does need a steady supply of water to operate efficiently and perform the many routine housekeeping tasks that keep you healthy and energetic.

That said, no scientific evidence supports the concrete and well-worn advice that you must drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily (a.k.a. the 8 x 8 rule). In 2002, Heinz Valtin, MD, a retired physiology professor from Dartmouth Medical School and author of two textbooks on kidney function, published the definitive paper on the subject in the American Journal of Physiology. He spent ten months searching medical literature for scientific evidence of the 8 x 8 rule only to come up empty-handed.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the National Academy of Sciences, actually set the adequate total daily water intake at higher than 64 ounces – 3.7 litres (125 fluid ounces) for men and 2.7 litres (91 fluid ounces) for women. But those numbers refer to total water intake, meaning all beverages and water-containing foods count toward your daily quota. Fruits and veggies, for example, pack the lightest punch, with watermelon and cucumbers topping the list.

But the “it all counts” dynamic cuts both ways. Vasey believes many people suffer from low-grade, chronic dehydration because of what they eat and drink. The “I don’t like water” crowd could probably make up their water deficits by eating the right kinds of foods, he asserts, “but most don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. So instead, they eat meat, cereals, and bread, which don’t have much water and contain, in many cases, a lot of salt.”

Animal proteins require much more moisture than they contain to break down, assimilate, and flush from the body. For example, many processed foods, such as chips and crackers, are nearly devoid of moisture, so – like dry sponges – they soak up water as they proceed through the digestive system.

The body requires only 3 to 5 grams of salt daily to stay healthy, but most people gobble up 12 to 15 grams daily. As a result, the body requires copious amounts of liquid to rid itself of the overload.

Bottom line:

Eating plenty of water-containing foods and drinking water throughout the day is a good idea to stay optimally healthy, hydrated and energetic. And when in doubt, it’s probably not a bad idea to drink a little more water rather than a little less. But that doesn’t mean you need to down eight glasses exactly or that if you run a little shy of 64 ounces, something awful will happen. Instead, just be aware that the fewer vegetables, fruits and legumes you eat, and the more dried, processed or chemical-laced foods you include in your diet, the more water you’ll need to consume to compensate. Please note that the level of hydration depends as well on your direct environment (heat) and physical labour/exercise),

MYTH NO. 3: REGARDING HYDRATING, ALL BEVERAGES ARE CREATED EQUAL.

Reality:

Not so. In principle, the 90 to 125 (or so) ounces recommended by the Institute of Medicine would include your morning coffee, the soda you drink with lunch and even a glass of wine at dinner. Practically speaking, however, caffeinated, sweetened and alcoholic drinks pack chemical cargoes (or trigger chemical reactions) that demand significant amounts of fluid to process and filter properly. As a result, nonwater beverages can set you back, water-wise, many experts suggest. “They can dehydrate the body,” says Haas.

For example, says Vasey, drinks like coffee, black tea and cocoa are very high in purines, toxins that must be diluted in large quantities of water to be flushed from the body.

Artificially sweetened drinks add to the body’s toxic burden. Sugar and coffee also create an acidic environment in the body, impeding enzyme function and taxing the kidneys, which must rid the body of excess acid.

Moreover, says Vasey, caffeine found in coffee, black tea and soft drinks adversely affects your body’s water stores because it is a diuretic that elevates blood pressure, increasing the rate of both the production and elimination of urine. “The water in these drinks travels through the body too quickly,” says Vasey. “Hardly has the water entered the bloodstream than the kidneys remove a portion of the liquid and eliminate it before the water has time to make its way into the intracellular environment.” (For more on the importance of intracellular hydration, see “Myth No. 5.”)

Bottom line:

Moderate consumption of beverages like coffee and tea is acceptable, but be aware that while some of the fluids in nonwater beverages may be helping you, certain ingredients may be siphoning your body’s water stores. So, when you’re drinking to hydrate, stick primarily with water. And, if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, try sparkling water with a squeeze of citrus (to alkalise it).

MYTH NO. 4: WHEN YOU GET THIRSTY, YOU’RE ALREADY DEHYDRATED.

Reality:

Again, it depends on what you mean by “dehydrated.” Experts like Vasey posit that while those walking around in a state of subclinical dehydration may not feel thirst, their bodies send other signals of inadequate hydration – from headaches and stomachaches to low energy to dry skin.

But when avoiding the more widely accepted definition of clinical dehydration, thirst is a good indicator of when to swig. Here’s the deal: As water levels in the body drop, the blood gets thicker. When the concentration of solids in the blood rises by 2 per cent, the thirst mechanism is triggered. A 1 per cent rise in blood solids could be called “mild dehydration,” but it could also be considered a normal fluctuation in bodily fluids.

Feeling thirsty indicates that you need water in your body soon. Severe symptoms of dehydration don’t arise until blood solids rise by 5 per cent – long after you feel thirsty. But you don’t want to wait that long. Even mild, subclinical levels of dehydration come with sacrifices in optimal vitality, metabolism and appearance. Like an underwatered plant, the body can survive on less water than it wants, but it’s unlikely to thrive.

Bottom line:

Drinking water only when thirsty often relegates you to less than optimally hydrated, undermining your energy and vitality. On the other hand, constantly sipping or gulping calorie- or chemical-laden beverages for entertainment is a bad idea. So, if you tend to keep a bottle of soda on your desk all day, or if you’re never seen without your coffee cup, rethink your approach. Instead, drink two big glasses of structured water first thing in the morning and a few more glasses throughout the day. Also, drink proactively (especially important during strenuous exercise, long aeroplane flights and in hot weather).

MYTH NO. 5: HYDRATING IS ALL ABOUT WATER.

Reality:

Nope. It takes a delicate balance of minerals, electrolytes and essential fatty acids to get and keep water where it needs to be – properly hydrating your bloodstream, tissues and cells.

“You can drink lots of water and still be dehydrated on a cellular level,” says Haas. The water you drink is absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream by tiny blood vessels (capillaries). Of the moisture in food and beverages, 95 per cent ends up in the blood. From the blood, water moves into the fluid surrounding the cells, called extracellular fluid. That’s important, but it’s not the end of the line. Water needs to get inside cells for you to maintain optimal health.

Haas says a person’s vitality is affected by how well their body gets water into and out of cells. He notes that various unhealthy lifestyle habits and health conditions can inhibit this cellular capacity. But naturally, as the body ages, the water inside cells (intracellular) tends to diminish, and outside water cells (extracellular or interstitial fluid) tend to accumulate. Haas calls this gradual drying out of cells a “biomarker of ageing.”

Minerals, especially electrolytes and trace minerals are essential to maintaining cellular equilibrium. Minerals help transport water into the cells, where they also activate enzymes. Enzymes are the basis of every biological process in the body, from digestion to hormone secretion to cognition. Without minerals, says Haas, enzymes get sluggish, and the body suffers.

Without essential fatty acids – the basis for cellular membranes – cells can’t properly absorb, hold and stabilize the water and other nutrients they’re supposed to contain.

Bottom line:

Take in plenty of minerals by eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – ideally from produce grown according to biodynamic farming practices, meaning the farmer is supporting (rather than depleting) nutrients in the soil. Another way to boost minerals in the diet is by cooking with high-quality sea salt. Natural, unrefined sea salt will deliver up to 80+ trace minerals your body needs to manage water flow. Also, try to include whole foods high in essential fatty acids, such as walnuts and flax seeds, critical to maintaining healthy cell membranes that retain moisture. 

MYTH NO. 6: HEALTHY URINE IS ALWAYS EVIDENT.

Reality:

Urine colour is directly linked to hydration status because the yellow tint measures how many solid particles, such as sodium, chloride, nitrogen and potassium, are excreted. The colour intensity depends on how much water the kidneys mix with the solids. Less water equals darker urine. More water equals lighter urine. Medium to dark or rank-smelling urine is a sign. Your body needs more water. But light urine is fine. A total clear urine may signal that your kidneys are taxed by the amount of fluid moving through them and that the minerals in your body are being too diluted.

Also note that some so-called vitamins, such as riboflavin or B2, can turn urine bright yellow, so don’t be alarmed if your urine is a funny colour after swallowing a multivitamin or eating certain foods, like nutritional yeast, which is high in B vitamins.

Note: The best practice is eating various WFPB foods and leaving the supplements on the shelf.

Bottom line:

Drink enough water to make light yellow (lemonade-coloured) urine. The volume depends on your activity level and metabolism. Increase your water intake and monitor changes if your urine is moderately cloudy, dark, or foul-smelling. If you don’t see a positive change, consult a health professional.

MYTH NO. 7: DRINKING TOO MUCH WATER LEADS TO WATER RETENTION.

Reality:

The body retains water in response to biochemical and hormonal imbalances, toxicity, poor cardiovascular and cellular health, and dehydration. “If you’re not drinking enough liquid, your body may retain water to compensate,” says Vasey, adding that a general lack of energy is the most common symptom of this type of water retention. “Paradoxically, you can sometimes eliminate fluid retention by drinking more water, not less, because if you ingest enough water, the kidneys do not try and retain water by cutting back on elimination,” he explains.

Bottom line:

Drinking less water than you need does not do you any good. If you have water retention problems, seek professional counsel to help you identify the root cause (food intolerances, for example, are a common culprit in otherwise healthy people). Do not depend on diuretics or water avoidance to solve your problems since both strategies tend to worsen the underlying nutritional challenges, not better.

MYTH NO. 8: YOU CAN’T DRINK TOO MUCH WATER.

Reality:

Under normal conditions, the body flushes the water it doesn’t need. But it is possible – generally under extreme conditions when drinking more than 12 litres in 24 hours or exercising heavily – to disrupt the body’s osmotic balance by diluting and flushing too much sodium. This electrolyte helps balance the pressure of fluids inside and outside of cells. Unfortunately, that means cells bloat from the influx and may even burst.

While the condition, called hyponatremia, is rare, it happens. Long-distance runners are at the highest risk for acute hyponatremia (meaning the imbalance occurs in less than 48 hours). Still, anyone can get in trouble if they drink water to excess without replacing essential electrolytes and minerals. Extreme overconsumption of water can also strain the kidneys and interfere with proper digestion if drunk with meals.

Chronic hyponatremia, meaning sodium levels gradually taper off over days or weeks, is less dangerous because the brain can slowly adjust to the deficit. However, the condition should still be treated by a doctor. Chronic hyponatremia is often seen in adults with illnesses that leach sodium from the body, such as kidney disease and congestive heart failure. But even a bad case of diarrhoea, especially in children, can set the stage for hyponatremia. Look for symptoms such as headache, confusion, lethargy and appetite loss.

Bottom line:

Never force yourself to drink past a feeling of fullness. If you are drinking copious amounts of water and still experiencing frequent thirst, seek help from a health professional. If you’re drinking lots of fluids to fuel an exercise regimen that lasts longer than one hour, be sure to accompany your water with adequate salts and electrolytes.

We recommend that you read the following information (click here) about what kind of water is best to drink.

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