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Wake Up To Water

By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

Newport Natural Health Letter, November 2011

If you've ever fainted you know what a frightening experience it can be. One minute you're fine, the next minute you're feeling cold, clammy, lightheaded -- and then everything goes dark. Before you know it, you're on the floor trying to figure out what's going on.

That's what happened to Leslie, a patient who came to see me after just such an episode. Leslie was in her forties and planning her second wedding. It was a thrilling time, but one tempered by the usual doubts over such a life-changing event. So Leslie was alternating between "It's going to be wonderful," and "I must be crazy to do this again."

On top of everything else, Leslie was concerned about her weight. She'd chosen a lovely dress but opted for a size smaller than she probably should have, convincing herself it was an incentive to lose a few pounds. To do that, Leslie hit the gym every day for a strenuous spinning class (good!), then spent 30 minutes in the steam room, attempting to sweat away even more pounds (not so good!).

In the midst of it all, Leslie fainted and ended up in my office. We ran the necessary tests but found nothing out of the ordinary. As I talked with Leslie, it became apparent that she was putting weight reduction ahead of her health. I asked if she was drinking plenty of water to replace what was being lost by working out and sweating in the steam room. "No! I'm trying to lose pounds. Water is just going to make me blow up like a balloon again."

She also confessed that she was only sleeping a few hours each night and drank six-to-eight caffeinated drinks throughout the day to make up for lost sleep. That pattern, combined with her reluctance to drink water and too much time spent in the steam room, convinced me that Leslie was probably dehydrated. Convincing her was another matter.

"How can I be dehydrated?" she asked. "I go to the bathroom practically every ten minutes from all the coffee and lattes I'm drinking!"

It took a few minutes, but soon Leslie understood the importance of water. We came up with a much healthier way for her to lose the extra pounds (more on that topic in a later newsletter), while staying thoroughly hydrated. And I'm happy to say Leslie was a vision of loveliness for her wedding -- and still is two years later.

No Water, No Life

Human life cannot exist without water. We can survive for weeks, even months, without food, but we can only live for a few days without water. Our bodies are more than half water (the exact figure is a matter of some debate), but our brains are approximately 80 percent water. Clearly, water is an essential nutrient -- and one we too often take for granted.

We need water to digest food and remove waste through the kidneys and skin. Water provides cushioning and lubrication for our joints, keeps our skin cells plump, assists delivery of nutrients via the bloodstream, and protects the intestinal tract lining from damage by enzymes that digest food. Water plays a role in breathing, body temperature management, brain functions, and a long list of other processes. In short, we need water -- and plenty of it -- to maintain good health.

Conventional wisdom says that we should drink eight glasses of water daily. Unfortunately, this is another one-size-fits-all recommendation that doesn't address individual needs. I prefer to tell patients that they should be drinking the equivalent of half their weight in ounces of water daily. In other words, if you weigh 160 pounds, half of that is 80 -- the number of ounces of water you should be drinking. Eighty ounces is 10 eight ounce glasses. Anything less short-changes your entire body of a vitally important nutrient.

That said, it's also important to consider factors that may make a difference in your personal water intake. Certain medications, such as antihistamines, for example, can be dehydrating, as can hot, dry weather, intense workouts, beverages containing alcohol or caffeine, and a high-salt diet. Clearly, the "eight glasses a day" notion needs to be adapted for each individual's lifestyle.

Clearing Up Controversies

"Thank you so much for the info on the flu shot. I had my shot last year in October and in February I contacted GBS and ended up in the hospital for 5 weeks! Thanks for the info."
—Kelly, Wyoming

Every now and then, an article or news story appears featuring an expert who thinks eight glasses of water a day is unnecessary, wasteful, and possibly even dangerous. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But this is my take on the issue: medicine and nutrition are evolving sciences. There are many unanswered questions about the human body, and results of clinical trials are sometimes open to interpretation. But in my more than twenty years of experience treating thousands of patients, not one of them has had a bad reaction or experienced negative side effects from drinking the recommended amounts of clean, fresh water.

Another controversial area is whether or not other liquids can replace water. Here again, experts do not agree. One school of thought holds that coffee, tea, wine, beer, soda and similar beverages count toward the "eight glasses a day." I happen to disagree. Caffeinated and carbonated beverages, for example, have a diuretic effect, increasing urination by irritating the bladder and creating the sensation that one needs to urinate. (And, yes, even the issue of certain liquids having a diuretic effect is still debated, but I happen to think that's true.) Furthermore, sodas and coffee increase the body's acidity, posing additional health risks that I’ll address in a later issue.

Wake Up To Water

Being well hydrated means your body's organs have the water they need to function properly. That's why I encourage my patients to start each day by drinking 22 ounces of fresh water first thing in the morning. Think about it -- you've just spent seven or eight hours sleeping, and, during that time, your body has lost water due to respiration (breathing) and perspiration. Plus, your body has been undergoing a detoxification process while you were sleeping. Grabbing a cup of coffee may help you wake up, but it won't do much to rehydrate you. Drinking water first helps replace what was lost during sleep and helps remove toxins from the nighttime purification process, making water the "solution to pollution" that accumulates during the night. As an added bonus, many patients tell me they have much more energy during the day when they wake up to water. I know I certainly do.

In addition, drinking plenty of water can significantly reduce the risk of a healthy individual having a fatal heart attack, according to a study of more than 20,000 men and women. Researchers found that drinking five or more glasses of plain water daily is as important as a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and not smoking when it comes to preventing a fatal heart attack. Dehydration increases blood's "stickiness," and raises levels of several heart-disease risk factors. You know how hard you have to squeeze to get honey out of a plastic bottle. That's an image of how hard your heart has to work to pump blood when you're not drinking enough water. Now, contrast that image with a squeeze bottle filled with a free-flowing liquid like water. No comparison, right? So simply staying hydrated protects the heart by making it easier to do its job.

Don't Risk Dehydration

Often, patients tell me they use thirst as a guide to drinking water. Red flag time! Thirst is a sign of dehydration, and you definitely don’t want to go there. First of all, many people misinterpret thirst as hunger, so, instead of water, they reach for a snack. In addition, our sense of thirst diminishes as we age, so thirst is not a very good indicator of the need for water.

Symptoms of dehydration cover a wide range and may include: achy, painful joints, constipation, irritability, difficulties with ordinary mental tasks, wrinkles, fatigue, faster-than-normal heart rate, decreased urine output and, of course, thirst or dry mouth. If you think you may be dehydrated, lightly pinch the skin on your forearm. If it stays "pinched" for more than a second or two before returning to normal, you probably need more water. And that means you need to make a decision about where to get that water.

Water, Water Everywhere

Back in the day, drinking water was as easy as turning on the tap. But now, the quality of most tap water is questionable, since it is contaminated by everything from prescription drugs to toxic heavy metals (for example, zinc, copper, cadmium, and even lead from the solder used on older pipes all have been found in drinking water). And that's not all. Municipal water is dosed with chlorine to kill bacteria and parasites, while fluoride is used to protect against tooth decay. Both, however, are highly toxic themselves, especially in large amounts. Many commonly used water filters don't remove chlorine and fluoride.

Of course, we have an array of water choices these days, but sorting through them can be challenging. There are literally hundreds of types of bottled waters, some with added minerals or nutrients, flavorings, dyes, and other ingredients -- including calories!

Results of bottled water tests show that these products could be a big mistake. As much as 40 percent of bottled water is simply municipal tap water that has been filtered or treated with chemicals. Other water is obtained from aquifers or outdoor bodies of water. These sources can be contaminated by agricultural or industrial run-off, petroleum products, pesticides, and other toxins.

Even if bottled water was absolutely pristine, I am concerned about the plastic containers. Chemicals from the plastic can leach into water, as a study from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated. For one week, study participants drank water from standard, plastic (polycarbonate) bottles. At the end of the week, scientists found a shocking two-thirds increase in the concentration of a chemical known as bisphenol A (BPA) in the participants' urine.

BPA is not our friend. It has been linked to heart disease and diabetes, and it also increases levels of circulating estrogen in the body. That may not sound dangerous, but high levels of estrogen have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and they appear to obstruct development of reproductive organs in lab animals. Children, pregnant women, and anyone whose health is already compromised by chronic illness are especially vulnerable to these harmful substances.

Since the dangers of BPA have been widely publicized, manufacturers now are touting plastic that's BPA free. However, a recent study found that even plastic that does not contain BPA releases estrogenic chemicals -- and in some cases these plastics release even more dangerous substances than plastic made with BPA!

In my opinion, the best containers for water are the reusable glass or stainless-steel versions. They're durable, washable and do not leach dangerous chemicals into the water.

The Price of Pure Water

So, where do you get pure, clean water? For that, I strongly urge you to purchase a quality, in-home water filtration system, so you can be certain your water is free of contaminants. Quality water filters start at about $300. If that sounds like a lot, consider how much you're paying for bottled water every year.

Still not convinced? Recent studies estimate that there are millions of cases of waterborne illnesses per year in the United States. Researchers at the University of Arizona determined that "point-of-use" water purification systems (those that are attached directly to a faucet or shower) can be effective at limiting illnesses caused by water contamination. What a simple way to protect yourself and your family from something that can harm you!

When it comes to water filters in my home, quality is my number one concern. A product I wholeheartedly trust is the CWR countertop water filter. Here is a link to that product if you’re interested in learning more. After all, everyone deserves to be healthy, and healthy water is the first, most important step!

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