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A Dehydration Epidemic

by Mary Beth Janssen

Lack of sufficient water intake can lead to serious consequences

By some estimates, as many as 75 percent of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration. Dehydration can adversely affect our cognitive abilities, digestion and physical stamina. One recent study found women performed worse on cognitive tests when just one percent dehydrated. Another study found that two percent dehydration impacted blood vessels similarly to smoking cigarettes. Preliminary research also suggests that chronic, low- grade dehydration can be a major cause behind obesity, diabetes, hypertension and Alzheimer’s. And the effects of dehydration can mimic a number of serious health issues—heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, anxiety, poor concentration/ confusion and even seizures.

Integrative physician, Dana Cohen, MD, and cultural anthropologist Gina Bria explore multiple factors that contribute to chronic dehydration in their book, Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration. “Take a fresh look and see the environment that surrounds us,” Bria says. “Our lack of sunlight and fresh air, the diminished capacity of our foods, the level of social isolation, coupled with the anxiety and pressures we have in our culture. All of that requires more buoyancy to cope with. We need more efficient hydration than we used to.”

Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth and of us

After oxygen, water is the second most important substance to sustain life. Water is crucial for carrying out virtually every bodily function, including carrying nutrients and metabolic waste in and out of our cells. Water gives fluidity to our blood, enhances cognitive function, lubricates body tissues/joints, boosts metabolism, increases energy levels, and also plays a major role in regulating normal elimination, a vital form of detoxification. In Ayurveda we recommend a large glass of room-temperature water first thing in the morning—perhaps add a lemon wedge for nutrients/vitamins—to initiate peristalsis (wave-like movements in intestines), which begins the process of moving metabolic wastes out of the body.

A changing world of hydration guidance

The National Academy of Medicine recommends that adult women and men drink at least 91 and 125 ounces of water a day, respectively. (For context, one gallon is 128 fluid ounces.)* But pounding large quantities of water morning, noon and night may not be the best or most efficient way to meet the body’s hydration requirements. We think we’re replenishing, but we may indeed be flushing out electrolytes and nutrients that facilitate hydration.

“If you’re guzzling lots of water and your urine output is really high and is clear, that means the water is not staying in well,” says David Nieman, a professor of public health at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus. Nieman says plain water has a tendency to slip right through the human digestive system when not accompanied by food or nutrients. This is especially true when people drink large volumes of water on an empty stomach. “There’s no virtue to that kind of consumption,” he says. In fact, clear urine is a sign of “overhydration.” And it can actually be dangerous.

* Please know that some health conditions require fluid restrictions—so check with your physician if you have questions regarding this.

A hydration revolution

The source of your water for optimal hydration is everything. What improves our hydration—and importantly, what works best for our body to take up and retain more H2O—is to sip water intermittently throughout the day, keeping body tissues lubricated, and cleansing processes/metabolism humming along. And importantly, combine with some form of food or nutrients. Infuse water with hydrating plants—fruits, veggies, herbs. Try adding in cucumber, kiwi, berries, mint, any form of citrus, an organic tea bag like chamomile, ginger, tulsi, etc. These nutrients help to further hydration uptake into our cells. And also know that your intake of beverages like various milks, fresh orange and “green” juices, smoothies and herbal teas, as well as water-packed foods, are all inclusive in these totals.

Structured water

Hydration is not necessarily about the amount of liquids you consume, but rather how well your body tissues absorb it. When we increase our consumption of high-water content juicy plants, we are greatly enhancing hydration uptake into our cells. Plant fiber helps moisture retention and organic plants come purified, alkaline and nutrient/mineral rich—qualities for optimizing absorption into our cells.

Scientists call plant water “structured water” due to its crystalline molecular structure, i.e. semi-gelatinous state. Aloe, chia seeds, melons, lettuce, cucumbers, citrus, celery and so many others are but only some of the excellent sources for structured water.

Your body needs to move

Movement is absolutely essential for improving hydration. Water is optimally delivered to our cells through regular movement. Of course, blood and lymph transport liquids through our body. However, it is the body’s connective tissue called fascia, a web-like network covering everything inside the body, that has superpower status. Fascia moves water and conducts electricity throughout our body. When our fascia is tight, hard and stagnant, hydration has a hard time moving through the body. Gentle stretches, gentle dancing, shaking, jiggling, and actually any form of micromovements (coupled with yogic breathing) help to keep fluids and energy or prana moving through your body. Any movement counts!

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