April 21, 2014

HEALTH & WELLNESS: Water—a misunderstood and neglected nutrient

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By Dr. Stuart Offer

 

Do you know what nutrient will make you look younger, help you lose weight, build muscle, make you smarter, reduce back and joint pain? This nutrient is needed for every life function and has been reported to be chronically insufficient in 75 percent of Americans. Next in line to oxygen, this is the most important substance you can put into your body. The answer is water.

If you are complaining about back or joint pain, or are worried about memory lapses, being properly hydrated might not be the cure-all but it probably can help. Water is the main constituent of the human body. Your muscles and brain are about 75 percent water, and your blood is about 82 percent water. It is no wonder that water is so vital for every cell from head to toe.

Some functions of water are: aiding digestion; cushioning and lubricating the brain and joints; transporting nutrients and carrying waste away from our bodies’ cells. It also helps regulate body temperature by redistributing heat from active tissues to the skin and cooling the body through perspiration.

We lose water continuously from skin evaporation, breathing, urine and stools. As we get older, the body slowly loses the ability to conserve water. Older adults are at higher risk of dehydration because they are less likely to sense that they are thirsty and may not eat or drink enough, especially if living alone. Illnesses, disabilities and certain medications can also contribute to dehydration.

So, how much water should you drink each day? It’s a simple question with no easy answer. Studies have produced varying recommendations over the years, but in truth, your water needs depend on many factors including your health, your activity level, where you live and how you eat.

It is easy to determine if you are hydrated or dehydrated. With a simple urine analysis, you will get all the info you need. No need to go the doctor’s office, just pee into the bowl and look at the color of your urine. If your urine is colorless or light yellow you are good to go. If your urine is dark yellow, you are probably not taking enough fluid. Medications can alter the color, so if you have any doubt, you can always consult with your doctor.

That being said, I don’t want to avoid the question of how much water you should drink. Most people have heard the advice, “drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.” The “8 by 8” rule isn’t supported by hard evidence—it continues to be a popular recommendation because it is easy to remember. The best way to reframe the rule is to “drink at least eight 8-ounces glasses of fluid a day.” Make sure to drink water before, during and after exercise.

You may be wondering if there are other ways to hydrate besides drinking water. The answer is yes. Without getting into the debate about the good, bad and ugly of other drinks, here are some guidelines. Beverages such as milk, juice, beer, wine, sports drinks and caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea or soda are mostly made up of water and contribute to hydration, but these should not be a major portion of your daily total fluid intake. Water is your best bet because it hydrates best and is calorie-free, inexpensive and readily available.

While drinking water is the best source of hydration, many foods contain water and can help replenish lost fluids. Choose foods like lettuce (95 percent water), watermelon (92 percent water), and broccoli (91 percent water). Soups and yogurt are also good choices for high water content foods.

Here is more support for staying hydrated: drinking plenty of water keeps your skin moisturized and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles; water suppresses your appetite so you won’t eat as much; water carries oxygen, nutrients and electrolytes to your muscles making them stronger. Drinking plenty of water ensures that your brain gets all the oxygen and nutrients it needs. Water will also keep your joints strong, healthy, flexible and lubricated.

Now stop what you are doing and go get a big glass of water. Better yet, pour it into a glass you love and make it more fun to drink. Add a wedge of lemon or lime to jazz it up!

Stuart Offer, DC, CSCS, CLC, is a Wellness Coach & Educator with Hickok & Boardman Group Benefits. He lives in Williston.

 
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