Water and Health FAQ
Why is water important for my health?
Water is considered to be the most vital of all the macronutrients. Our body weight is composed of 50-70% of water, and without adequate hydration, we cease to exist. While humans can survive for weeks without food, we can only survive days without water. Although unlike the other macronutrients, water contains no calories, it serves a myriad of necessary bodily functions, including everything from energy metabolism to cellular health to temperature regulation. Maintaining adequate hydration comes not only from drinking water, but also from other beverages, food itself, and the body’s metabolism from breakdown of food.
How much water do people need to drink?
Each and every individual is radically unique in their daily nutritional needs, and water consumption is no different. A variety of factors influence the amount of water a person needs to consume on a daily basis, including: age, weight, physical activity, climate, and health status. One obvious example in why different people have different needs for liquid consumption is their level of physical exertion: the more someone sweats, the more they perspire, and the more they need to rehydrate in order to replace lost liquids. One lesser known example of how water needs vary is that muscles tend to contain more water than fat tissue, so therefore people with greater percentages of muscle in their bodies –athletes and men for example- will need more water to maintain health.
The Institute of Medicine officially recommends: “[W]omen should get about 90 ounces (11 cups) of water daily in foods and drinks they consume. The recommended water intake for males is 125 ounces (16 cups).” Generally about 80% of this should come from beverages and 20% from food. Some liquids, such as alcohol and coffee, are diuretics, which increase water loss by increasing urination, and can actually cause you to dehydrate rather than rehydrate. Many drugs also act as diuretics.
Juice, tea, coconut water, dairy and non-dairy milks are all examples of other beverages that hydrate us. Fruit, vegetables, soup, salads, and sauces are examples of water-containing foods that add additional liquids into our diets. Fruits and vegetables are among the best food sources, as they typically contain about 75-95% water. Cooking evaporates liquid, so usually cooked food will contain less liquid than whole food forms.
Is all water the same?
Turn on any tap in the world and a different chemical make-up will emerge. In many developing countries, water can be full of disease-causing bacteria and be harmful to drink. Since so many substances are water soluble, chemical runoffs from industrial farming, dumps, and sewage can contaminate water sources. Much water in the United States is chemically treated to remove bacteria, which leaves chemicals, and fluoridation has been common practice now for decades.
Fluoridation is the practice of adding fluoride to public water supply in order to help promote dental health. Fluoride is a nonessential gaseous element, naturally occurring in much of the earth’s environment. Only now after years of fluoridation drinking water in communities countrywide, is evidence emerging that the industrial-grade fluoride we have been using – rather than food grade – may actually be harming people more than helping them. The moral of the story is to filter your tap water and become informed about what is in the water you and your family drink daily.
What about electrolytes?
Even if water is clean and safe for human consumption, we still need electrolytes in our water for our bodies to properly distribute it in our bodies. Electrolytes are several essential minerals, namely sodium, chloride, and potassium. Drinking water with these minerals in proper amounts allows us to properly utilize water and maintain fluid balance in cells, and easily move water across cell membranes. Without electrolytes we cannot properly rehydrate. Electrolytes are a hot selling point right now in fitness beverages, such as Gatorade or Powerade. While these drinks do have electrolytes in them, they generally also have a high concentration of added sugar or corn syrup. For natural electrolytes, coconut water has the highest known concentration found in nature.
What is dehydration?
We lose most of our water by urination, but also by normal bodily functions such as sweating, defecating, menstruating, or any bleeding. We even lose moisture by breathing! Because we are constantly losing water, we need to be conscious of constantly consuming water to make up for it. Some activities that are atypical of a healthy individual increase dehydration risk. These include diarrhea, vomiting, sweating to excess, or bleeding profusely. Infants and the elderly are at increased risk for dehydration since their bodies are not fully equipped to compensate for lost water. Athletes are at risk for dehydration not only from increased perspiration, but also from increased urination due to excess protein consumption.
Of our total 50-70% body weight composed of water, dehydration effects can be seen from losing as little as 2% of total body weight. When losing 3-4% the blood becomes thickened, stagnant, and slows body movements. At 6% loss we experience tingling in our arms, hands, and legs. At 8% there is dizziness and mental confusion. At 20% death occurs.
How much water do you need to drink?
- Consume at least 8 cups, or 64 oz, of pure, filtered water each day.
- Consume as much healthful forms of liquid as you can, such as coconut water, fresh squeezed juice, or iced herbal teas.
- For each cup of alcohol or coffee I consume, consume one additional cup of water.
- Consume more liquids if you live in high heat or sweat vigorously on a regular basis. If you do sweat vigorously make sure to supplement your water intake with electrolytes.
- Bartholomy, Paula (2015) Micronutrients and Water Whitethorn, CA: Hawthorn University’s Lecture Series
- Paul Connett, PhD, “Fluoride: A Statement of Concern” Waste Not #459 (January 2000)
- Lieberman, Shari & Bruning, Nancy (2007), The REAL Vitamin and Mineral Book, New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group
- McGuire, Michelle, Beerman, Kathy A (2013) Nutritional Sciences, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning