When we are talking about water and health there are three things that are super important to us as human beings.
One is the fact that water is a moving medium that carries things from one place to another and enables chemical reactions to take place. “It’s all about flow, it’s all about fluidity” is what I say to my clients when talking about water and its importance in the body. The thing that distinguishes us between something that is alive and something that is dead, is movement. We flow, we move, we dance, we are alive! Water is the embodiment of this, there is nothing that seems more alive than a river in full flow. We are just a reflection of what is going on in nature. When flow of water is restricted in nature we describe it as stagnant. When flow of water in the body is restricted or stops we also become stagnant. You can literally smell people who don’t have enough flow and fluidity in their body!
This brings me nicely onto the second important thing – water needs to be readily available to us because we need plenty of it. When you look at the body on a cellular level, those cells are made up of 70% water in the body and in the brain this figure is around 80%. The need for us to be hydrated is paramount! If we are continuously dehydrated by things such as stress, lack of water intake and dehydrating foods and drinks such as salty foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, glutinous grains (we need alot of water to push the sticky proteins in these grains through our intestine) and high protein intake (see hydrolysis below – it takes alot of water to digest protein), the body will go into a state of panic. Barbara Wren refers to this as “dehydration alert” whereby cells will take action to preserve themselves by holding onto water.
Combine this with a lack of essential fatty acids (in particular omega 3), which are fundamental in keeping cell membranes open, and you have a cell that is stagnant which is contrary the ideal environment required for that cell to function optimally i.e. where water can flow in and out easily. It’s about flow, it’s about fluidity, it really is!!!!
In the body, water is used in the breakdown of food during digestion (hydrolysis). It acts as a medium for these broken down nutrients and enables the blood to flow smoothly to deliver them to the cells. Water carries the toxic by-products of metabolism out of the cells which are then dumped into our lymphatic system. The fluidity of our lymph depends on the presence of enough water. This lymph, as long as it is fluid enough, is moved by our musculo-skeletal pump and a series of one way valves which take it to the main lymph duct known as the thoracic duct. From here the lymph drips into the left subclavian vein into the blood. The blood then carries the toxic lymph to our liver which then extracts them and converts them into less toxic substances for removal from the body mostly through the bile. To produce good quality bile you need about 1.5 litres of water a day before you even start thinking about other water requirements in the body. This bile then eventually finds its way into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) where it also assists with the digestion of food and the movement of undigested material through the intestines so that it can be eliminated.
Water too assists with the process of elimination as it is absorbed by soluble fibre which makes your stools soft, well formed and easy to pass. Flesh fruits, root vegetables and cooked grains all contain soluble fibre. This process is essential because if we don’t eliminate quickly enough toxins will be reabsorbed which defeats the object of the whole elimination cycle – cell to lymph to blood to liver to intestines to exit.
Some substances produced during the breakdown of proteins are eliminated via a different route. Urea is produced when the liver removes the nitrogenous part of amino acids (incidentally, the more proteins we ingest the more urea we produce) and uric acid which is the result of the nucleus of old cells being broken down. Both of these substances are removed from the blood by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. Water is again a key requirement for this process to work well. If there is enough water flowing through the kidneys you might think that any old water will do, which brings us to the third thing – the water that we take into the body should be clean and pure. Why? Well, if that water is carrying toxic substances then these will be carried into the body and contribute to it’s already toxic load including toxins that we ingest through the air that we breath, the food that we eat and even what comes into contact with the skin.
Tap water for example has been treated using aluminium sulphate (used as a coagulant during the water treatment process) and contains chlorine (used as an antibacterial agent) both of which are toxic to the body. Add to this possible lead contamination from old water pipes, herbicides, pesticides and nitrates that find their way into water sources and in some areas fluoride (a by-product from the aluminium smelting industry and known toxin) which is actually put into the water by certain water authorities in the UK. Even bottled water contains impurities including xenoestrogens that act as endocrine disruptors in the body.
The easiest way to get clean water is to install a water filter in your home that includes activated carbon which will remove the majority of heavy metals and chlorine from your water. The ultimate in filtration would be a reverse osmosis system which has a 95% plus removal rate depending on the substance being removed.
Don’t be rushing off thinking that you have to start drinking gallons of water. In fact, drinking too much water can be dangerous as it can dilute your electrolytes. Here are some simple steps you can take to start rehydrating your body:
Start your day by having about a pint of warm water with the juice of one organic lemon – it will immediately hydrate you, act as a tonic for your liver, balance your blood sugar and prepare your digestive juices for your breakfast – allow about half an hour before you eat
- Also drink warm water half an hour before your lunch and dinner to prepare your digestive juices
- Don’t drink with meals, it dilutes your digestive juices – it’s like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted!
- Drink water little and often during the day in between meals – don’t guzzle water, it will just make you pee like a racehorse (ok, that’s my last horse reference).
- Aim to drink about 2 to 3 litres of water spaced out over the day – this won’t happen overnight just work up to it. Your requirement for water will increase depending on how stressed you are and how much exercise you get.
- Reduce dehydrating food/drink – have less tea, coffee, sugary drinks, animal protein and glutinous grains (wheat being the worst)
- Eat more hydrating foods. Dead simple, just eat more fresh fruit and veg!
- Start to increase the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet which allow your cells to hold water appropriately. Preferably get them from a vegan source such as flax, chia and hemp seeds, winter squash, leafy greens and berries – if a nutritionist identifies that your omega 3 levels are really low then you may need to supplement with a fish oil or vegan alternative but make sure that you find a good quality source such as Viridian.