Water for healthy life
What are the benefits of water for healthy life? Believe it or not, one of your most powerful tools for health is the basic substance made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom – better known as H2O or water.
The proper hydration of your body, primarily through the intake of pure water (versus the water content in foods and other liquids), is a vital factor for long and healthy life. When you drink more water and less of the dehydrating liquids of coffee, caffeinated tea, sodas, and alcohol, it supports your immune system, promotes healthy lubrication and ease of movement in all aspects of the body-mind, improves physical health and performance, and simply makes you feel better!
Yes, just being properly hydrated is powerful medicine.
The body is largely made up of water. In fact, when a baby is born they are at the optimal level of 78% water which gives them the beautiful elasticity and flexibility we note in their movements as well as the soft and supple skin.
Contrast this to the average person between the age of 50-60 whose body is less elastic, the skin is drier, the bones and tissues more brittle – who are measured as having only 50% water. This water loss is not something that happens overnight but rather is the result of long-term habits leading to chronic dehydration.
In Ayurveda, water for healthy life relates to two interconnected concepts.
The first has to do with the tissue layer called Rasa.
Rasa actually has many different meanings but one of them refers to the tissue connected to the body’s fluids. In western terminology, these body fluids are most closely connected with plasma and the lymph system.
The rasa tissue or dhatu is the foundational building block for the other tissue layers including the blood, muscle, fat, bones, nerves, and reproductive tissues. When you have a fluid or lymphatic imbalance, it directly affects the health and quality of all the other tissue layers in the body.
Not only that, but the lymphatic system is also intimately connected to your immunity via its role in collecting and removing waste from the tissues and organs. When lymphatic vessels become dry, constricted, and stagnate, you are more susceptible to illness.
Kapha water doshas
The second Ayurvedic water concept is around the dosha Kapha. Kapha is the life force made up of the elements of water and earth. Its earth aspect provides stability and structure. The water aspect promotes ease, lubrication, and protection. Protection in this sense refers to how the lubrication protects against the dryness of the Vata dosha and the heat of the pitta dosha.
When our membranes do not have the right levels of lubrication they become susceptible to dryness from Vata leading to dry skin, dry eyes, allergic reactions, constipation, muscle cramps and tightness, bone deterioration, and more. Likewise, lack of healthy mucous and lubrication means there is no buffer against the acids and heat of pitta leading to burning sensations in membranes, acid intestinal conditions, and inflammation. The Kapha water element also supports the digestive process, helping to break down sugars and proteins as well as move the food more smoothly through the process.
As you can see, lack of proper fluids not only leaves you feeling thirsty, they affect the entire system.
Though there are several external factors that contribute to excess dryness such as forced air heating, air conditioning, dry climates, and a diet heavy in dry, processed foods, one of the primary aspects today is lack of simple hydration.
The good news is that you have control over your hydration! This article will help you frame the importance of hydration as well as ways to begin to consciously incorporate more into your life.
To understand how hydration in the body works, you need to know a bit of science – a small amount, I promise!
Due to its chemical make-up, water has a slight electrical charge to it making it a polar molecule. This polarity attracts things to it, specifically other polar substances like salts, sugars, vinegar, alcohol, and many of the flavorings in food – all of which dissolve in water.
This sticky nature is what makes water good for solutions and to act as a solvent in the body. However, the sticky quality that attracts other substances can also make it not able to be absorbed in the body as well.
Point to consider: not all beverages are hydrating.
Water passes in and out of the cells throughout the body via special hydration channels in the cell membrane called aquaporins. These channels are small. When the water is bogged down with sticky hitchhikers like sugars in sodas (17 tsp. in a 20-oz can of cola!) or juice, the molecules become too big to go through the small channels, which are designed to absorb just H2O.
What happens is that the water passes over the cells rather than being able to go into them. This means the cells are not receiving the hydration they need. It also means you are drinking a lot and it goes right out the other end. You can be drinking fluids but still, feel thirsty.
Certain substances make this problem even worse. Sodas and their sugars, flavors, and preservatives are too clumpy to smoothly fit through the small aquaporins. So while in theory there is a certain amount of water in all beverages, the other ingredients can prevent the body’s ability to pull out and use that pure water aspect.
In addition, caffeine is also a diuretic which means it increases urine output so even more water is lost out the urinary channel. Most soft drinks also have an astringent taste which in Ayurveda is drying or contracting and amplifies the dehydrating effect.
Any caffeinated beverage – tea, coffee, colas – will have this dehydrating effect because of the diuretic action and astringent taste. Though not astringent in taste, alcohol is also a strong diuretic.
With the vast array of beverages now loaded on the store shelves, you need to make conscious choices of whether your liquids are serving your hydration needs – or not. And it’s not just choosing between loaded liquids versus pure water, you need to consider your source of water as well.
Just as sugars and additives can add to a load of water preventing absorption, so too can chemicals in water create issues. The quality of water does make a difference. Though there is not space here to go into detail about water filtration and the different effects of water, these books can provide additional resources:
Water, The Ultimate Cure by Steve Meyerowitz
Your Water and Your Health by Allen Bank
A simple way to support better absorption is to use an inexpensive carbon filter (like the Brita water pitchers) and boil your water for 10-15 minutes. In Ayurveda, the boiling is seen to help make the water lighter and more refined to be effectively assimilated by the body. It has the added benefits of removing undesirable hitchhikers like excess chemicals, bacteria, heavy metals, and minerals.
You will be pleasantly surprised with the results you get when you do these hydration recommendations– reducing alcohol, sodas, and other caffeine substances, particularly at night. There is less disrupted sleep from trips to the bathroom, less leg cramping, and restless leg issues because the muscles and nerves are not constricting from the dryness and fewer hot flashes.
With better sleep, they feel so good in the morning that they do not need coffee to jump-start their day. Instead, a cup of warm water with lime or lemon hydrates the body while gently waking up the digestive fire. Suddenly their bowels are flowing better, energy is higher, muscles are looser (remember babies and elasticity), and they feel much better overall.
It’s no wonder you feel better when you consider these basic functions of water for healthy life:
- Hydrates the cells
- Keeps mucous membranes moist
- Lubricates the joints and cushions bones and joints
- Acts as a medium for transporting nutrients, including oxygen, to the cells
- Is the medium for the removal of waste products and free radicals
- Regulates body temperature and maintains the basal metabolic rate
- Supports the immune system
- Is a key ingredient in digestive juices
- It even supports the DNA and the body’s ability to manufacture proteins for tissue growth and repair
Yes, it’s true – water has a magical, miraculous effect on many of your uncomfortable symptoms!
On the other hand, when you are dehydrated, not only are you affecting the core functioning and well-being of the body, but you get to experience the following symptoms:
- Anxiety, irritability, and depression
- Muscle cramps
- Headaches and migraines
- Constipation, heartburn, and colitis
- Joint and muscle pain as well as fibromyalgia
If you continue this pattern over the long term, you will end up with chronic emergency dehydration which shows up as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, psoriasis, lupus, and eczema as well as asthma and allergies.
Asthma and allergies are triggered by dry tissues and the resulting histamine response which creates reactive mucous in an attempt to counter the dryness. Similarly, there are mucous layers in the stomach that protect against acids.
Lack of hydration can create basic stomachaches from the histamine response of excess mucous as well as more serious acid conditions like the heartburn and colitis listed above if the dryness persists.
How do you know if you are getting enough water for healthy life?
In addition to the absence of the above symptoms, you should be urinating at least six times a day and the color of the urine will be pale or light yellow. If the urine is dark-colored or less frequent, it is a sign of mild hydration. Note that your first urination of the morning will be a little darker as you have been asleep for 6-9 hours or more. Feeling thirsty is also a sign of early dehydration.
There is no exact amount of water you should be drinking as there are many factors that come in to play – body size, types of food you’re eating, activity level, season, and heat – but a general rule has been to divide your body weight in pounds by 2 and that is the number of ounces of pure water to drink.
If you are exercising or exposed to heat, you will need to drink more to replace fluids lost. In terms of constitutions in Ayurveda, typically Vata needs a bit more water, pitta a moderate amount, and Kapha a little less than average. Because there are many variables, it is ideal to pay attention to how you feel and use your body cues.
In addition, pay attention not just to the incoming hydrating liquids but also dehydrating beverages, which you can read about in my earlier post on the hydration equation balance.
Tips to maintain normal body water for healthy life
Drink a full cup of water, ideally warm, first thing in the morning, and about an hour before bed. Your body loses water at night during its normal detoxification processes and you are not taking anything in, so fill up before and after.
Keep water bottles, insulated teacups, or thermos bottles by your work area throughout the day to remind you to drink. It is better to sip throughout the day than to consume large amounts at once. These tools not only act as visual reminders but can help you assess the quantity you are drinking.
Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Get in the habit of drinking regularly. If you are just starting out, it may help to set reminders on electronic devices in addition to using the visual cues above.
Choose water or herbal tea most often instead of other beverage choices. Use caffeinated beverages and alcohol as treats rather than daily habits. Also keep in mind that while most herbal teas are hydrating like pure water, any tea that refers to cleansing or detoxifying will typically have a diuretic element and should not be used for regular hydration.
When drinking alcohol, alternate with a cup of water. This helps counter the dehydrating effect.
Drink room temperature or warm water rather than iced water. Because cold creates constriction, your body is not able to absorb the iced drink as well.
Drink a half-hour before a meal or a couple of hours after a meal but sip sparingly during the meal. If you drink too much at mealtime, it puts out your digestive fire and interferes with digestion.
I hope that this inspires you to think of water as your friend and bring more of it into your life!
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