The Importance of Water
Drink more water! We hear this advice from all types of health advocates. It’s hard to argue that we should drink more water, but why? And what if your water is causing you health problems?
Water makes up 60-75% of human body weight. A loss of just 4% of total body water can lead to dehydration, and a loss of 15% can be fatal. It is pretty incredible that a person could survive a month without food but wouldn’t survive 3 days without water. It is clear that water is vital for survival, but what is it exactly that makes it so essential?
Let’s dive into the main ways that water supports the body. Because sometimes, the biggest motivator to change is understanding the “why” behind the claim. More importantly, understanding that clean water is essential to good health.
With water making up such a large portion of body composition, it is absolutely critical to keeping the fluids of the body functioning properly. This includes blood flow and circulation throughout the body, especially to the brain and heart.
Research shows that dehydration can lead to inflammation, reduce blood vessel function, and affect the health of your arteries. These effects can impact the function of the heart, brain, and blood pressure.
In fact, this is why dehydration can lead to headaches. Dehydration lowers blood flow and oxygen to the brain which leads to dilated blood vessels in the brain that increase swelling and inflammation.
Water and other liquids help break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also softens the stool and helps keep food moving through the digestive tract to prevent constipation. Without adequate water,
While some express concern that water will dilute digestive juices or interfere with digestion if you drink with a meal, this is not the case. In fact, drinking water during or after a meal actually aids digestion. Unless your own provider has told you to avoid water with meals for a specific health reason, drink up!
Water helps to thin the mucus lining your airways and lungs. Therefore, an insufficient amount of water can cause the mucus lining to thicken and get sticky, which slows down overall respiration. Slowed respiration negatively impacts a number of respiratory issues, like susceptibility to illness and allergies and increased risk for other respiratory problems.
Water’s role in respiration is also underscored by its increased need during physical activity. Research shows that the amount of exhaled water is approximately four times higher during activity that raises the heart rate to 140 beats per minute than during the rest.
I’m not talking about a juice cleanse here. I’m talking about supporting the natural detoxification pathways that your body already has – the lungs, skin, digestive system, liver, and kidneys. Through these organs and systems, your body filters out what it doesn’t need and excretes it through sweat, urine, and bowel movements.
Your body requires water to effectively carry out these functions. Sweat regulates body temperature and water is essential to replenish the lost fluid from sweat. Adequate water intake helps your kidneys work more efficiently to excrete unnecessary material from urine, and it also helps move waste through your bowels. Without sufficient water intake, your body will pull water from the colon and bowels become harder and more difficult to pass.
Water helps to lubricate and cushion your joints, spinal cord, and tissues. Lubricated joints are essential for comfortable movement, safe physical activity, and prevention of certain related conditions like arthritis.
How Gluten Can Damage These Same Functions
For as critical as water is to these systems and functions, gluten can actually damage or hinder the function of blood flow, digestion, respiration, detox, and joints. Here’s a quick look at how:
- Blood flow: When it comes to blood flow, gluten can be an underlying cause contributing to many of the same symptoms as dehydration. Gluten in sensitive individuals can lead to headaches, high blood pressure, and compromised brain function.
- Digestion: Digestion is the poster child of gluten sensitivity, and the common symptom of diarrhea can easily lead to dehydration. In addition to an inflamed gut, both gluten and hydration have a strong link to digestive health.
- Respiration: Many respiratory problems stem back to inflammation in the pathways of the lungs and respiratory systems. There is compelling evidence for a link between gluten sensitivity and asthma, which can influence respiration similar to hydration.
- Detox: Gluten can influence all of the natural detox pathways in the body. For example, gluten is tied to skin disturbances, liver damage and disease, and kidney disease.
- Joints: For some, consuming a diet rich in gluten and grains causes inflammation. It starts in the gut, where gluten as well as chemicals and contaminants in grains irritate the lining of your small intestine. This irritation triggers your immune system, which uses inflammation to respond. So for those with gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten and grains on a daily basis can create a chronic state of inflammation. And for many, this inflammation causes pain because it can damage muscle and joint tissue.
Water contamination concerns
Unfortunately, as critical as water is to our health, our water supply is inherently contaminated and the regulatory system meant to ensure the safety of America’s drinking water is ineffective and motivated by factors other than the health of the people drinking the water.
While recent years have introduced a number of new toxic chemicals into our water supply, the EPA has not added any new contaminants to the toxic chemicals covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Furthermore, there are no legal limits for more than 160 unregulated contaminants in U.S. tap water. For some other chemicals, the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs, haven’t been updated in almost 50 years.
These toxins come from groundwater contamination of pesticides and other environmental chemicals that disrupt hormones, as well as common toxins added to water like fluoride, chlorine, chloramines, and bromine. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides more information on the risks of these chemicals and the current state of water in America.
There are a number of water filtration options available and they range significantly in price and quality. The EWG is a great resource to evaluate different systems and also to search your zip code to see what contaminants exist in your water supply.
I am personally in favor of three types in particular: granular activated carbon, KDF, and reverse osmosis filtration symptoms.
- Granular Activated Carbon: Granular activated carbon (GAC) filters are made of tiny, loose granules of carbon. Carbon filters remove contaminants through adsorption, a process in which contaminants are attracted to the surface of the activated carbon and held to it. Carbon filters also act as a catalyst to change the chemical composition of some contaminants. Activated carbon is ideal for removing chlorine, organic chemicals such as pesticides, THMs like chloroform, and many VOCs that are components of gasoline, solvents and industrial cleaners. GAC filters are particularly effective at removing chemicals that give foul odors or tastes to water such as hydrogen sulfide or chlorine.
- Kinetic Degradation Fluxion: Kinetic Degradation Fluxion (KDF) process media are high-purity copper-zinc granules that reduce contaminants in water using an oxidation/reduction reaction. They are often used in pretreatment, primary treatment and wastewater treatment applications in order to extend system life and to reduce heavy metal contamination, chlorine and hydrogen sulfide.
- Reverse Osmosis: Reverse osmosis (RO) systems typically include one or more activated carbon and sediment filters. The first step in the system is that activated carbon treatment captures and removes chlorine, trihalomethanes, and VOCs. Next, during the reverse osmosis filtration, tap water passes through a semipermeable membrane that blocks any particles larger than water molecules. RO systems are highly effective at removing many contaminants, such as arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrates and perchlorate. However, they do come with the concern of water waste. In addition, because RO water has been extensively purified, it can also remove many good minerals along with unwanted impurities. If you drink exclusively or primarily RO water, you may miss out on some of these good minerals. I recommend adding electrolytes back into RO filtered water.
How Much Should You Drink?
The general guideline for water consumption from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is 15.5 cups per day for men and 11.5 cups per day for women. This recommendation refers to all fluids which can come from water, other unsweetened beverages like herbal tea, coconut water, and bone broth, and whole foods with high water content, like fruits and vegetables.
However, these are general guidelines that group all men and women into one category. Clearly, needs are higher for some populations than others. This may include those who are physically active, live in warm or dry climates or at high altitude, and pregnant women.
You can also gauge your intake and needs by tuning into your own thirst cues. We often misread thirst for hunger, so try water first before reaching for a snack next time. You can also pay attention to the color of your urine to get personalized feedback on how hydrated you are.
If the color of your urine is very pale yellow to light yellow, you’re well hydrated. Darker yellow urine is a sign of dehydration.
Now that you understand why water is so important and how it supports so many critical functions in the body, go grab a glass!
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