How Low Can You Go? – Water and the Body

I’ve mentioned it before as part of other topics but I wanted to take some time this week to about water. Water is such a common thing in our lives that we tend not to think about it but I would go so far as to say that it is the single most important nutrient in our diet. All the processes in our body, from copying DNA for cell replication to contracting a muscle to walk forward, are chemical reactions and all of these chemical reactions take place in water. In chemistry terms water is acting as the “solvent”.

In this way water plays a passive role in every single thing that happens inside of us. Water is also actively used in many different tasks throughout the body such as filtration of the blood through the kidneys. Water is pumped out of the arteries into the kidneys and then, depending on the needs of the body, a certain amount is brought back into the veins so that it is not wasted. For example, if we have a high concentration of sodium in our blood we will push more water out and reabsorb less back in so that we can excrete that sodium. If we are dehydrated then our body will try to retain as much water it can as the sacrifice of threes filtration processes. This means that if we do not have enough water in the day then we end up keeping some chemicals in our blood that should be filtered out and some that should be kept end up being lost. Good hydration will ensure proper filtration of our blood and avoid build-up of chemicals that can lead to problems later on.

The liver, as most people know, is the processing plan of the entire body. It detoxifies us, creates essential hormones and chemicals, and manages the level of fat in our blood. It is a very busy place. Every cell of the liver is continually working to make our body perfect. This means that the liver cells have a lot of chemical reactions going on all the time and that means they need water. In a dehydrated state these chemical reactions will slow down (not drastically but still some) and just like a factory that is working at only part of its potential, the liver will not be able to keep up with the demand placed upon it. This is not to say that simple dehydration will lead to jaundice but hormones will be slower to respond, blood toxicity will increase slightly, and fat levels in our blood will be higher than appropriate. None of these will cause immediate signs or symptoms but over time they will cause problems. Regular water breaks will help to keep our body functioning at peak performance.

Water and our level of hydration is directly related to our energy levels as well. This is because of our blood. The volume of our blood is dependent on our level of hydration as water is needed throughout the body and does not stay concentrated in our cardiovascular system. We are not talking about changes like the tides here, just minor fluctuations in the overall system, but these fluctuations are enough to make a noticeable difference. Our oxygen is carried throughout the body in the blood and its transference from the lungs to the blood and from the blood to the tissues is based on concentration. So when there is a decrease in blood volume the amount of oxygen needed to reach maximum concentration decreases as well. This means that there is less oxygen that is making it to our muscles and brain. Again, this is not a drastic decrease but definitely enough to make us feel drained and tired and decreases our mental focus. Also, it increases the likelihood of getting a headaches and sore muscles. Staying hydrated can save us a lot of pain in the end and make being active much easier without as many aches and pains.

Probably the most commonly thought of use of water in the body is sweating. Sweat is designed to help us maintain an appropriate core temperature by releasing heat. It is one of the very few water based processes in our body that is not cut back on when we are dehydrated. This makes it even more important to stay hydrated on hot days when we are sweating more. Drinking good amounts of water throughout the day will help to ensure that we don’t become dehydrated through the regular functions of our own body.

Water also plays several important roles in our digestion. First of all it moistens the food and allows it to be chewed and squished into the soft ball it needs to be to reach the stomach where the acids can digest it. As the food reaches the intestines water is very important as it allows the digested particles to move around and get absorbed by the intestinal walls. In the large intestine water is absorbed into the body as we need it. So in a dehydrated state we will absorb more water from our feces. This leads to hard and dry poop which is much harder to pass and can make you strain just to get some relief. Drinking water regularly can help to alleviate some constipation and make those uncomfortable moments much easier.

Drinking water throughout the day will also keep our stomach walls stretched which will trigger the release of the hormone called “ghrelin” (the “I’m full” signal) which will help to decrease the amount that we snack on during the day. So water can even help us to lose weight!

Many people struggle for a “hydrated” look to their skin and so try all kinds of creams and ointments to achieve it but they generally ignore one big factor. Skin is an organ of our body just like any other but in the grand scheme of things it is significantly less important than any of the other ones. So long as the skin is intact and keeping the outside world out then it’s fine. This means that the body will shunt resources away from the skin to keep other organs working. So really to have a “hydrated” look on the outside we need to be hydrated on the inside. Always having a glass of water on hand (not just sitting there but actually drinking it) will go a long way towards the look we all want of healthy skin.

So you don’t have to remember all of these details and mechanisms that we’ve been talking about today. All you really need to know is that your body doesn’t work without water. So drink up! It’s one of the best things we can do for our health.

Making sure that there is always a glass of water within reach is a good way to start getting enough water in our day. If it is there we will think about it more and drink more. As a rule of thumb it is a good idea to drink enough water that your urine is consistently a very light yellow colour or clear.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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