Water is a fundamental and fascinating substance. The word “water” conjures up different images for different people, from ocean scenes to glasses of clear ice water and everything in between. Some people look at water with revulsion, and can't imagine drinking a big glass of it. Others relish drinking water, and sometimes flavor it with lemon or drink powders. But no matter how you take it (and some ways are much better than others), you have to have it.
Now science has gotten in on the act, telling us how important it is to drink 8 to 10 glasses a day. Where did that measurement come from, anyway? No one really knows! It’s an odd blurring of science and myth. Eight to 10 glasses a day may be too much for some people, and not enough for others. And why do some experts say you need distilled water, while others point to the importance of mineral-rich spring water? And what are all those other variously-labeled jugs on store shelves? There is a lot of conflicting information out there about water, a substance that seems so simple on the surface but is actually quite complex. All water is not the same.
Did You Know…
Water is anything but boring. Here are some fun and fascinating facts about this ubiquitous substance.
- Drinking water helps heartburn by diluting your stomach acid.
- Some types of headaches can be relieved by drinking water.
- Newborn babies are about 80% water, whereas adults are around 70% (any parent who has changed diapers all night can relate to just how much water is in a baby!).
- Most healthy, average-weight people can drink up to 3 gallons of water a day without any ill effects.
- There is such a thing as water poisoning, although it’s very rare – forcing yourself to drink too much water too fast (such as in a water-drinking contest) can result in hyponatremia, which is when your electrolyte balance gets thrown off and your cells swell with water. When brain cells swell, hyponatremia can be fatal.
- Your body gets water from many of the foods you eat, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Water is a “universal solvent,” meaning it dissolves just about anything eventually. This means that water is nearly always carrying something along with it.
- Earth’s atmosphere keeps water from escaping, so the same water that was around millions of years ago is still here. Talk about recycling!
- The earth is composed of about 75% water (much like our bodies!), and of that water, approximately 97% is salt water.
- Only about 1% of the world’s entire water supply is drinkable.
- In 1832, the first municipal water filtration system opened in Paisley, Scotland.
- Forty years later, in 1872, the first water filtration plant was built in Poughkeepsie, New York.
- The earth’s total water mass is 326 million cubic miles.
- In the United States, people use about 90 gallons of water each per day…much of this use is from flushing the toilet.
- Water is fun, interesting, and everyone can relate to its use. Whether we lack it or enjoy an abundance of it, we’ve all experienced water.
Water in Literature
In various literary works throughout history, water has factored prominently. “Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink,” cries the desperate Mariner in Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Certainly this literary character understood only too well that not all water is the same!
Water has symbolic meaning in some literature. Ancient legends tell of the Fountain of Youth; the River Styx is a passage to the underworld in Greek mythology; The Epic of Gilgamesh tells of an enormous flood not unlike the one described in the Bible. Water serves as an archetype in some works, representing purity or a quest for it (remember Macbeth's wife washing her hands over and over in water, trying to remove the stain of murder?).
Water runs through the world of books and poems and other forms of literature precisely because it is such a vital component of our being. Every reader can relate to water because water – and the need for it – are universal. Next time you read a classic work, pay attention to the use of water in the text.
When you think about it, water is the common thread that unites all life. Every living being needs it, without exception.
Giver of Life…and Death
There’s no denying that great irony of water – it gives life, but it also causes death. Floods can wipe out entire communities, tsunamis and tidal waves can cause widespread death and destruction, and drinking dirty water can cause deadly diseases and parasites. Another ironic twist to water’s story: modern tap water – the “clean water” of developed countries – can also cause disease and ill health.
As I wrote in The Missing Link, various inorganic materials are added to tap water (and some bottled waters). Probably the best-known of these inorganic elements is fluoride. Fluoride ingestion has been linked to hip fractures and kidney and liver damage in children. Combined with aluminum, which is also often added to municipal water systems to clarify it, fluoride may cause Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. In fact, more than 80 references link fluoride with cancer, including a 1990 study by the National Cancer Institute Toxicology Program that found fluoride to be a carcinogen.
It’s also worth pointing out that fluoride is not removed when tap water is run through a typical charcoal filter system.
And let’s not forget chlorine, that swimming-pool chemical with the distinctive smell. Remember what it does to your hair and eyes when you spend long summer days in the pool? Chlorine is at the least an irritant – hence the red eyes that come with swimming in a chlorinated pool, and the skin irritation associated with using chlorine bleach in the home without wearing gloves. Chlorine reacts with organic elements already present in water to create a host of new (and toxic) chemicals. These are called disinfection byproducts, or DBPs, and they are not bone-friendly! DBPs acidify your body, as do the medication residues found in many municipal water systems. Drinking tap water can be detrimental to your health on many levels.
On an extreme scale, water saturated with minerals can be almost immediately deadly. An example of this would be sea water, or salt water.
It’s the same way with fresh water. It may also contain all kinds of toxic elements as discussed above as well as minerals, either added in by human beings or occurring naturally in spring and well water. As I said in my report, The Missing Link, “If our drinking water would only be H2O, I wouldn’t be writing this report.”
In addition to all the DBPs and residue from medications and pesticides, the presence of inorganic minerals in water is of particular concern. Lacking an ionic bond that allows the body to break them down and use them, inorganic minerals end up accumulating in the body since they can’t be processed.
Think about it – if water is essential to life, and it’s fundamental for our survival, and our bodies are at least 70% water…then anything added to that water would affect us on a fundamental level. In fact, some say that water is affected by the energies we add to it as well.
Does Water Respond?
Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto has presented some intriguing evidence as to the way water “responds” to negative and positive energy and vibration. His method is to freeze water and study the structure of the frozen water crystals, and his findings have been fascinating. For example, polluted water produces no recognizable crystal structure when frozen. A frozen, untreated, polluted water sample from a dam in Japan produced a blob-like shape with no pattern or symmetry. But after the same water was prayed over for an hour by a Buddhist priest, the water produced beautiful crystal shapes when frozen.
Emoto studies the effects of positive and negative words and energy on water as well. When exposed to heavy metal music, for instance, distilled water produces odd, non-crystalline, “chaotic” shapes. But when positive words are spoken over water or even printed words taped to the side of a bottle of distilled water, the crystals form in lovely, distinctive shapes. Negative phrases induce the blobby, chaotic shapes found in polluted water. Perhaps even more intriguing is the similarity between the odd crystal shapes produced when distilled water was exposed to the negative phrase “you fool,” and when it was exposed to heavy metal music. Emoto conjectured that perhaps heavy metal musicians think of others as fools.
All this may sound like mumbo-jumbo, and while some dismiss Emoto's findings because his studies were not performed in a double-blind fashion, it is certainly food (and drink!) for thought. After all, if water does indeed “respond” to energies in its environment, what does that say about how our bodies, which are mostly water, may respond to energies in our environment?
Does Water Remember?
Water is not a living substance, of course. But as Emoto’s research pointed out, it does seem to absorb and react to outside forces. You can see this in the way water is so easily poured out, squirted, tossed, frozen, converted to steam, and so forth. But does water react on a molecular level that’s too subtle and microscopic for us to see? Does water’s obvious ability to change shape, direction and form when acted upon by environmental factors such as wind, cold and heat have a counterpart in the molecular realm? Perhaps water’s ability to change shape and form is an indication of how it acts microscopically.
Practitioners of homeopathy believe so. Homeopathic remedies do not contain any discernible molecule of the original substance put into it – they are diluted down by a specific process so that there is no measurable substance remaining. For example, arnica flower, a popular homeopathic remedy for swelling and inflammation, does not contain any actual arnica. But the water itself is said to retain a “memory” of the arnica, so that it triggers the body’s own anti-inflammatory response.
There’s no doubt that homeopathy is controversial. Scientists seem frustrated that they cannot pin down a specific mechanism by which homeopathic remedies produce their healing effects. But the fact that homeopathy continues to produce sometimes astounding results cannot be denied. In fact, the Swiss government has officially recognized the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies in a report released in 2011, and has embraced the practice of homeopathy as a cost-effective and viable medical treatment for its citizens. In this report, researchers verified the ability of homeopathic remedies to enact change on a cellular level.
Some doctors and even studies ascribe homeopathy’s apparent (and undeniable) effectiveness to the “placebo effect.” But wouldn’t that simply be the effect homeopathy is intended to produce? Remember Emoto and his research on water, and the homeopathic philosophy of the memory of water. The placebo effect relies on patient expectations and beliefs to be effective, and that would make absolute sense for a water-based remedy!
In other words, the placebo effect is a real effect that has been shown in all kinds of studies (that’s why scientists use the phrase with such alacrity). But for some reason, the medical community chalks this sort of response by the body as invalid.
But my question is, if the body heals as a result of a homeopathic treatment, how is that an invalid response? It’s not invalid if your body experiences healing!
The good thing about homeopathic remedies is that they are quite safe, so if the controversy remains unresolved, people are unlikely to be harmed by experimentation with them.
A Little is a Lot
One of the things you’re probably beginning to see is the way water can be changed significantly by very tiny amounts of material and energy. It doesn’t take much to cause a change in basic H2O; after all, adding just one more oxygen molecule to that formula gives you hydrogen peroxide, an entirely different substance! So let’s apply that concept to the toxins found in so many municipal water systems.
In a 5-year investigative study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), tap water from more than 39,000 U.S. communities was analyzed and found to contain 260 contaminants. Included in the toxic chemicals were industrial and agricultural pollutants. Consider this information in light of the concept of water memory (homeopathy), or water response (Emoto). The FDA regulates the amount of harmful substances allowed in drinking water to so many parts per million. At a certain dilution, the FDA considers even poisons like arsenic to be at a “harmless” level as long as it is diluted enough. But as we have seen, there may be no such thing as a “harmless” amount of a harmful substance in water.
So all of this philosophy and analysis come down to some very basic truths. You need to drink water, and it needs to be pure. It’s that simple. But questions remain: How does one come by truly pure water? How much are you supposed to drink, and how do you know if you’re getting enough? What does it do for your body?
Health Benefits of Drinking Water
Let’s begin with a frank discussion of why drinking pure water is healthy.
Your body is set up to work on a “water level,” so to speak. Because so much of your body is composed of water, it is involved in most body processes. It is necessary for delivering nutrients into cells, such as water-soluble vitamins. Organs and body systems benefit from drinking water, such as…
Your kidneys are the superstars of water regulation, automatically decreasing or increasing the amount of urine you produce according to the amount of water you’ve drunk and other factors. It’s important to recognize something here – if the kidneys are so fine-tuned as to regulate your body’s water levels, then keeping those levels in balance must be crucial to health. Otherwise, our bodies would not have that mechanism in place.
If you’ve ever suffered from a kidney stone, you know how excruciating they can be. There are four basic types of kidney stones:
These kidney stones are formed from calcium as it passes through the kidney. It’s passing through the kidney because it did not get used by the bones and muscles, which is all the more reason to be sure you take a calcium supplement that is bioavailable. This means it’s absorbed where it is supposed to be absorbed, and is less likely to end up in the kidneys being filtered as a waste product.
Magnesium or Struvite stones
Like calcium, the kidneys filter out magnesium that is not used elsewhere in the body. Struvite stones are formed from magnesium and ammonia together, and tend to follow a urinary tract infection.
Uric acid stones
Highly acidic urine may form uric acid stones, not unlike the process of gout, where uric acid crystals accumulate in the joints (usually the big toe). The Osteoporosis Reversal Program goes to great lengths to explain the acid-forming characteristics of various foods, and how to balance them with alkaline foods.
These are pretty rare, and are usually the result of heredity. Cystine is a fundamental protein that acts as a building block for muscle and nerve tissue. In some people, this important substance builds up in the kidneys to produce stones.
Drinking plenty of water helps the kidneys do their job, flushing out waste products and helping them move out of the body before they can accumulate and form a stone.
While we tend to slather moisturizers on our skin when it’s dry or wrinkled, we sometimes forget what the intentions of those moisturizers really are: to provide water to the skin and prevent the skin from losing water. They act as a moisture barrier, protecting the skin from the air’s drying effects. But what about hydrating the skin from the inside-out? After all, as we’ll discuss in more detail below, one of the symptoms of dehydration is dry skin. In severe dehydration, the skin lacks elasticity and does not bounce back after being pinched up. Thus, we can conclude that your water intake affects your skin. Drinking plenty of water can help skin’s elasticity and may even help with clearing up acne.
Remember that your skin is an elimination organ. It helps remove toxins from your body by sweating, and if there’s not enough moisture to produce sufficient sweat, metabolic waste may accumulate in the liver. Interestingly, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, acne is considered a sign of a congested liver. Drinking water helps your skin do its job of toxin elimination, so your liver doesn’t get dumped on.
When it comes to dry skin, remember that the ultimate moisturizer is not an oil of any kind – the oils simply act as a moisture barrier to provide your skin with what it really needs: water.
An interesting study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed a correlation between water intake and fatal coronary heart disease. Those participants who drank more than 3 glasses of water a day were less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack than those who drank only 2 to 3 glasses of water a day. What’s more, the researchers discovered that the risk of cardiovascular disease was increased in those participants who drank fluids other than water. The researchers conjectured that this may be due to multiple factors, particularly the diuretic effect of caffeinated drinks that could raise blood viscosity (thickness).1 Once again, water is the drink!
Another point to be made here is the possible connection between drinking “hard” water from the tap and an increase in the risk of heart disease. Researchers compared approximately 30 epidemiological studies from around the world that were published between 1957 to 2000, and discovered a link between the rate of cardiovascular disease and the hardness of the drinking water.2 Hard water is full of inorganic minerals such as lime, magnesium, and calcium that accumulate in the cardiovascular system, forming plaques.
The first four letters of the word “liver” indicate its importance to your life! The liver and kidneys work together to keep things balanced, and when water intake drops to the point of dehydration, the kidneys can no longer function. That’s when the liver steps in. Because this is the body’s “emergency back-up,” the liver has to stop or decrease some of its other important functions to help with the lack of water. This means it won’t metabolize fat properly, and will retain water in your tissues for later use. This slowing down of the liver’s function means your whole body’s metabolism slows down. It’s the body’s conservation and survival system, but it’s bad news for your health if it is chronic. Drinking plenty of water helps the kidneys to their job, thus freeing up the liver to do its job without having to take over for the kidneys.
Consider this information in light of losing weight. We could help our bodies to get out of conservation and survival mode by drinking more water.
Your immune system also benefits from drinking pure water. As discussed above, water helps the body get rid of toxins via the kidneys, skin, and liver. This is one of the first steps toward a healthy immune system – elimination of toxins. But water also helps immunity in a more direct way. For example, your lymphatic system is dependent on water to produce its miracle fluid, lymph. Lymph carries white blood cells from your thymus and bone marrow, and circulates them throughout your body. Lymph carries water and nutrients to and through the blood as well. This vital fluid depends on water for its formation.
Drinking water also helps keep your digestive system in good shape, and your digestive system plays a significant role in your immune response. Speaking of digestion…
The Digestive System
If you’ve ever been dehydrated or gone for a long time without drinking, then you know the effect it can have on your bowels. When you don’t get enough water, your intestines hold on to waste, making it difficult for you to pass. Drinking plenty of water helps dissolve soluble fiber and increase the volume of waste matter, which stimulates the colon to contract. Constipation is just one of the digestive problems that water can help correct.
As noted above, heartburn can be relieved by drinking water. Also, if you experience the opposite of constipation – diarrhea – then extra water intake is crucial to replace what has been lost.
The Skeletal System – Your Bones
As I wrote in The Missing Link, drinking distilled water creates an alkaline environment in the body. This is one of the major keys toward promoting bone health. And water, since it is involved in all cellular processes, assists the bone loss/rebuilding cycle. Water is necessary to carry calcium, magnesium, and other bone-building nutrients to where they’re needed: your skeleton. Toxin build-up in any system is bad news, and in the bones it can result in inflammatory conditions and bone degeneration. Drinking water helps flush toxins from the body, including the bones.
When it comes to bone health, drinking water that’s pure is of particular importance. The inorganic minerals found in most tap water – particularly fluoride – can be detrimental to bones.
While it’s not a body system, your energy levels can be negatively affected by insufficient water intake. The principle is simple: if your body is functioning properly, you feel better. Drinking water helps promote the proper functioning of all body systems, so it stands to reason that drinking water helps your energy levels.
Dehydration makes you very tired, and as we discussed above regarding the liver, your whole metabolism slows down when you experience a lack of water. Drinking a big glass of water in the afternoon might be just the thing to perk you up!
When a Little is Not Enough
We’ve seen how a little can be a lot…but sometimes, a little is not enough. That brings us to the subject of dehydration.
Symptoms of Dehydration
One of the things we’ll discuss is how much water you need to drink, and a major point is that it varies from individual to individual. Therefore, knowing the signs that your body needs water is one of the keys to getting enough. It’s important to note that you don’t have to experience all of these symptoms to be dehydrated; you may only experience one or two, and thirst may not be one of them! If you learn to listen to your body’s thirst signals, you’re well on your way to consuming the right amount of water for you.
Signs of dehydration:
- Dry mouth
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Decreased urine output; dark, scanty urine (watch for this in babies and children)
More extreme dehydration may produce the following symptoms:
- Extreme thirst
- Lack of sweat
- Crying without tears (especially notable in babies)
- Loose, shriveled skin that holds its shape when pinched
- Very dark urine
- Sunken eyes
- Low blood pressure
These symptoms are just a guide. You might have only a headache and wonder why, only to find that it goes away when you drink plenty of pure water. Or you may find that drinking water relieves fatigue and “brain fog.” Another possible effect of dehydration is depression.
Feeling Sad About Your Lack of Water?
We’ve discussed how your body is about 70% water, but did you know your brain tissue is about 85% water? This explains, in part, why headaches are a symptom of dehydration. Your brain needs water, too.
Your brain is where emotional responses and reactions are generated. And it stands to reason that water is as essential to proper brain functioning as it is for every other body system. Neurotransmitters need water to do their jobs, and in fact, a lack of water may indirectly decrease serotonin. Depression is often linked to low serotonin levels, and without water, the essential amino acid tryptophan cannot be properly converted into serotonin. This is because dehydration prevents tryptophan from getting past the blood-brain barrier and into the brain where it belongs. Also, in a state of dehydration, the liver uses tryptophan as an antioxidant to detoxify the body when there is not enough water to do the job. If the liver is using it, that’s less tryptophan for the brain.
Depression has been connected to stress as well. The more stressed you are, the more vulnerable you are to depression. When you are dehydrated, your body is undergoing quite a bit of stress, and that stress may produce symptoms of depression. De-stress with plenty of water!
Of course, to get all the true benefits of drinking water, it must be pure H2O. If tap water is full of dubious substances, bottled water is just as suspect, and typical faucet and pitcher filters do not filter out all the harmful materials, how does one get pure water? Remember that you get water from foods you eat, so when you consume fresh fruits and vegetables and even meat, you are obtaining moisture from that food. But when you drink water between meals, what’s best?
Distilled Water – Pure H2O
The purest form of water is distilled water, or as a second choice, water that’s been purified via reverse osmosis. I always recommend adding a few drops of fresh lemon juice to your glass of water – the flavor it imparts isn’t really enough to give it a sour or lemony taste, but it does make the water taste more refreshing and promotes alkalinity (yes, lemons are alkaline foods!).
How Much is Enough?
Now that we know what kind of water is best, it’s only natural to wonder how much of it we should drink. Chances are you’ve heard the adage, “Everyone should drink 8 glasses of water a day.” But this hardly takes individual needs and variations into account. For example, if you’ve spent the day indoors eating a lot of hydrating foods with your meals, you are going to need fewer glasses of water than, for example, a pregnant woman who is outside walking on a hot day. Just drinking when you are thirsty is not always practical, either; as we saw above, thirst can be a sign of dehydration.
The Osteoporosis Reversal Program is always about balance, and that is true for water consumption, too. Forcing yourself to drink massive amounts of water is not a good idea, and neither is neglecting to bring water along while running errands or spending time outdoors.
As a general guideline, consuming half your body weight in ounces of water is a good goal. That would mean that a 150-pound adult would aim for 75 ounces of water daily. Of course, it’s a good idea to vary this amount according to activity level, overall fitness, watery food consumption, and lifestyle. Again, a general guideline is to vary this amount by 20% less or more water depending on various factors. And of course, any time you feel thirsty, by all means, drink! But hopefully, drinking pure water will become second-nature so that you won’t feel thirsty.
Getting into the Habit
Making water-drinking a habit can be a bit of a challenge at first. If you are not used to drinking water regularly, it can be hard to remember to drink it during the day. Here are some tips to help you reach your water consumption goals during the day.
Set an alarm or timer for every hour to help you remember. If you’re out and about, you can use your digital watch or online calendar (if you have a mobile device). At home, you can use a kitchen timer or your computer’s calendar with pop-up reminders.
Make a list each day with a box you can check for each glass of water you drink. To reduce paper waste, you might want to print such a list and laminate it, so you can use a dry-erase marker and wipe it clean at the end of the day. Or just write the list on a dry-erase board daily.
Leave notes to yourself on your water pitcher, kitchen counter, or anywhere that you see often throughout the day.
Substitute water for other beverages. Make changes slowly if this is hard for you – maybe swap out one soda a day for a glass of water if you’re used to drinking nothing but soda. Then make it two, then three, and so forth. Or try drinking hot water with lemon juice and honey or stevia instead of tea. Make it a challenge to see how many ways you can substitute water for other beverages. If you’re at a party, who will suspect that your tumbler of clear, iced liquid with a lemon wedge is actually just distilled ice water?
Use glasses and cups that you really like – get out the fine china and crystal if you wish – to help inspire you. It may sound silly, but sometimes it’s a fun motivation to drink more water when you get to use your great-grandmother’s crystal that never gets used! Or buy yourself a special glass that really reflects your personal taste.
Keep your water handy so you don’t have to go through a lot of rigmarole to get your daily drinks.
There you have it. Water holds many secrets to wellness, yet it’s one of the simplest substances on earth. It’s been unnecessarily complicated, so I hope this article has helped you clarify and simplify your water drinking habits.
Let me know your thoughts about water by leaving a comment below, and stay tuned for more as ‘Water Week' continues!
1 Chan, Jacqueline, et al. Oxford Journals Medicine American Journal of Epidemiology Volume 155, Issue 9 Pp. 827-833 Jan 11 2002 http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/155/9/827.full
2 Sauvant, MD and Pepin, D. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002 Oct;40(10):1311-25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12387296