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Healthy Hydration

Water is an essential component of both protoplasm and blood. Cells must be bathed in fluid at all times to do their work, so correct hydration is vitally important at cellular level. Cancer is thought by some researchers to be the result of continual dehydration at this basic cellular level.

The body relies on water to flush away waste products like urine. Without water to moisten the surface of the lungs, there can be no intake of oxygen or expulsion of carbon dioxide. For food to be digested, absorbed and carried to all parts of the body, water is needed every step of the way. In fact, even if you are eating sufficiently, dehydration (or a lack of sufficient water) can lead to malnutrition.

Water is essential for temperature maintenance, for many chemical reactions in the body, and for lubrication and protection of joint surfaces. It also helps to maintain the necessary pressure in certain parts of the body, such as the eyeballs. And, of course, it is responsible for maintaining comfortable levels of lubrication in the eyes and for producing tears.

Muscles consist of 75 per cent water and need this vital fluid to relax and contract efficiently, and to maintain strength and tone. Good muscle tone protects your body and muscle activity helps to strengthen your bones. Water is also necessary for keeping the skin supple and elastic – dehydration can contribute to the ageing process.

Water is vital for effective brain function. In fact, many courses on maximizing your brain capacity encourage you to drink a glass of water at least every hour, as dehydration can lead to mental confusion and emotional stress and is detrimental to retaining information (memory).

The endocrine or hormonal system, which influences every aspect of our health and well-being, is totally reliant on water for almost every chemical reaction. With adequate water, all the systems in your body work at optimum levels to the benefit of your health.

Correct Hydration
Dehydration can have a serious impact on your physical health and state of mental well-being. The central nervous system is the first to show functional changes when the body is not sufficiently hydrated. One of the very first signs is usually tiredness (constant yawning), followed by a headache and an inability to concentrate. Thirst and dryness of the mouth will alert you to the fact that you need to up your fluid intake, but if you ignore these messages other symptoms will soon manifest. These include uncooperative or sullen behaviour, weakness and lassitude, and at a later stage mental confusion. In severe cases the cheeks become pale and the lips dry and blue; the skin loses its elasticity; the eyeballs have a sunken appearance and dark circles appear under the eyes; and loss of weight is not uncommon. Dehydration during prolonged exercise (after more than one hour) encourages cardiovascular drift - a condition where the heart beats faster but less blood is pumped out. This obviously puts tremendous strain on the heart and should be avoided at all costs.

It is interesting that the first thing we reach for when we are tired is usually caffeine in some form or another - tea, coffee, colas or chocolate – but this just contributes to further dehydration because more fluid is needed to expel the toxins from the cells. For every glass of dehydrating fluid (and that includes that refreshing glass of beer on a hot summer’s day!) you need to drink one or two glasses of pure, clean water to ensure that your body remains hydrated at cellular level. A litre bottle of clean filtered water on your desk will help you to consume the minimum intake of water that you require in a day.

But learn to listen to your body – simply forcing water down your throat for the sake of it will put unnecessary strain on your kidneys. New research by Professor Tim Noakes of the Sport’s Science Institute (for which he has won an award) indicates that over hydration (or hyponatraemia) is no joke. It causes the body and brain to swell and this can lead to convulsions, heart failure and the cessation of breathing, as well as fluid retention. So drink only when you are thirsty and not because someone has told you that you need to down eight glasses of water a day.

How Much Water do we Need?
As water is so vital to our physical health and mental well-being it makes sense that our diet should contain a high percentage of water. We need at least five to six glasses of water every day to ensure that we meet the body’s basic fluid requirements. It is interesting to note that the more raw fruit and vegetables you consume the less water you will need to drink, but the more protein and processed foods you consume the more water you will need. People on a 70 to 80 per cent raw food diet (which is ideal for vibrant health) find that they tend to drink less water naturally, as their diet provides most of the fluid they need. Very few people manage this however, so you should aim at drinking between one and two litres of water daily.

There will be times when you need more water than others. We need to increase our water intake when we are sick (when we are running a temperature, or have excessive mucus discharge or if we are suffering from diarrhoea, for example). We also need more water when we are exercising or if we lose a lot of fluid through perspiration. If your diet is not as healthy as it should be, particularly if you eat animal protein more than once a day, your body will require more water to function properly.

Generally the best advice I can offer is that you should drink a glass of water if you are thirsty, and only then go on to a hot or cold beverage if you really feel like it. I am constantly amazed at parents who tell me that their children will not drink water. The only reason for this, I believe, is that these children were not given water right from the word go. If you are one of those people who hate water try adding some 100 per cent pure juices like Liquifruit or Ceres to flavour it. You can also use the juices to make ice cubes and add them to your water - children in particular will drink water with juice-coloured ice cubes more readily. Just make sure the juices are genuinely pure and contain no additives (like sugar or preservatives). I have personally checked out the LiquiFruit and Ceres factory from one end to the other and can recommend their juices wholeheartedly.

The body is designed to quench its thirst with water and this is what should always be offered first. I would go so far as to say that when you feel hungry, drink a glass of water before you reach for something to eat. Very often we confuse the signals for hunger and thirst and you might find that your hunger pangs are nothing more than plain thirst after all. Only once you have sipped a glass of water, decide if you still really need to eat. This will also help you to learn to interpret the body’s signals correctly.

What Water is Best?
Municipal tap water is contaminated with many harmful substances (for instance, it picks up heavy metals like lead in the piping system). It is chlorinated to kill bacteria and hopefully neutralise faecal matter, but the chlorine combines with naturally occurring organic substances forming highly carcinogenic trihalomethanes or chlorinated hydrocarbons. (For more detailed information on this subject, please refer to my book The Natural Way.)

Filtered water is a far better option, but it can still contain bacteria if the system is faulty. There are some very good filtration systems available which do prevent bacterial growth. I use Brita water filters for all my drinking and cooking water – they are good quality, reliable filters, available in the widest range at the best prices.

We are designed to deal comfortably with water that has a neutral pH level, as it neither leaches minerals from the body (as a more acid pH will do) nor leaves behind inorganic mineral deposits (as is the case with water that is too alkaline). Mineral loss can contribute to osteoporosis and heart disease, and inorganic mineral deposits are associated with kidney stones and have been linked to stiffening joints and even arthritis. Ideally water should have a pH not greater than 7.2 and not less than 6.8. You will find that water at this pH level actually tastes sweet and quenches your thirst adequately.

Tips for Healthy Hydration
Water is vital for your health. If you want to take full control of your physical and mental well-being it is important to include this precious fluid in your daily routine.
  • When you are thirsty, let your first choice be a glass of filtered water
  • At work keep a large bottle of fresh, clean water on your desk
  • At home keep a water filter jug (I recommend Brita filters) or bottle of natural spring water in your refrigerator
  • Carry a water bottle with you when you leave the house (Brita filters also come in a handy sports bottle that you can fill at any tap and be assured that you are getting pure filtered water at a fraction of the cost of bottled water.)
  • Avoid beverages containing caffeine (coffee and colas)
  • Drink herbal infusions instead of Ceylon tea
  • Avoid sodas and diet drinks (they contain many harmful additives and sweeteners)
  • Drink natural fruit juices instead, like Liquifruit and Ceres (diluted with sparkling mineral water is you miss the fizz)
  • For every caffeinated beverage you drink, have a glass of pure water too
  • Sip a glass of water slowly before eating meals and snacks
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol you consume – aim at eliminating it altogether
  • Order bottled water in restaurants
  • Add a slice of lemon or lime to your water or even a touch of pure fruit juice (like grape juice) if it helps you enjoy water more

by Mary-Ann Shearer, author of The Natural Way book series