By: Dr. Brian Bernier, ND
Where there is life, there is water Adages like these are made popular not only because we repeat them over time, but because they contain profound wisdom that often withstands the test of time.
Note: This post contains some medical terminology. If you are unfamiliar with any terms, I highly suggest you look up the words, as reading words you do not know the meaning of leads to poorer reading comprehension and misunderstandings. Water is essential to life. In our basic science classes we learn that water exists in the 3 states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. We know us, this planet, and this universe is full of water. However, there are other facts about water that we never learned. Some of these include the fact that water has memory and plays an essential role in communication, or that water does not simply mean H20. The intricacies of water are rarely talked about, but there is plenty of information out there discussing molecular hydrogen, structured water, and other less commonly known topics. I will get into these topics on other blog posts because I believe in going in a logical, structured order before talking about topics that require more nuance. For this post, I want to get into the importance of water in us. One of my teachers in life once told me that we can determine the importance something has by the manner in which we are in-built to respond to it. For example, food is vital to our existence. Remove food from us and we can go days, weeks, or even a month or so. Remove water, and we can go only go a few days. Air of course supersedes both water and food as most of us can barely last a minute or so without it. Interestingly, we talk a lot about food cleanliness, but in my opinion, far too little attention is presented to our water and air cleanliness. In order to stress the importance of water, I want to present to you some of the almost illimitable roles water plays in our health. Fun Fact: By laying down on the sofa, not moving at all, all day, you still use about 2L of water to just live – this is where the 64oz or 8 cups of water per day recommendation originates from – 2L = ~67oz.
While it may not seem apparent to our eyes, the vast majority of our body is water. Up to approximately 75% of our body at birth is water, and this number decreases to about 65% as we age. The loss of water correlates with the increase in many disease processes and lack of proper hydration throughout life. Regardless, whether we are dehydrated or well hydrated, in both instances this means the overwhelming majority of our mass is water.
Many structures of the body are primarily aqueous, such as the eyeball – the vitreous body and aqueous humour. The nucleus pulposus between spinal vertebrae (the jelly inside the discs) which allows us to stand erect, bend, sit etc. are dependent upon water.
The fluid between synovial joints point permitting painless movement, cerebral spinal fluid, and of course our blood are other common examples of water in our physical anatomy. Of course, there are other examples of water in our anatomy, not matter what system we look at. Water is involved in the physical make up of us more than we truly comprehend. Physiology Beginning with the smallest unit of life, proper hydration allows for cells to maintain the correct ionic balance, resulting in the proper functioning of a cell. Of the approximate 75% of water that our body is comprised of, 2/3 of that is contained intracellularly. The principle of osmosis causes water to shift towards wherever the greater number of solutes are. Too little hydration can result in not enough water residing extracellularly which increases extracellular concentration of solutes, causing water from within the cell to leave via osmosis, resulting in cell shrinkage, also known as crenation. This decrease in cellular size will result in the disrupted function of the cell.
Similarly, too much hydration in a short time period will increase the extracellular water, causing the water to shift inwards to the cell where the concentration of solutes will appear greater than the extracellular concentration, causing the cell to swell and possibly burst. The swelling will disrupt cellular function, and the bursting can become fatal as the contents of the cell are toxic when inappropriately released into the extracellular environment.
If we zoom out slightly from the view of the effects of hydration on cells, we can see another major role water plays within the body and that is blood volume. The hypothalamus works in close correlation with the mineralocorticoids from the adrenal cortex to monitor the amount of water present in the body. The mineralocorticoids released from the adrenals directly impact the sodium concentration, which thereby directly impacts the amount of water filtered out by the urinary bladder. This has several important physiological impacts, but the one we’ll focus on at the moment is the effect on the heart. Too much or too little water can have drastic effects on the heart. Both arrhythmia and tachycardia can result from an imbalance of hydration.
As with most pathologies, we learn the impact of proper hydration from studying dehydration. In cases of burns, hydration loss is actually one of the greatest threats. Without the protective layers to retain moisture, hydration is lost and impairs the healing process. Another common effect we see in pathology resulting from a loss of hydration is impaired cognitive functioning. Due to the physiological processes we discussed earlier on how water effects cells, in a dehydrated state, brain cells are unable to function properly. Poor hydration of brain cells not only results in impaired cognitive functioning such as defects in the parahippocampal and hippocampal gyri, affecting short and long-term memory formation, but links have also been made to Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions. Furthermore, brain cells do not replicate as other cells within the body, therefore, impact on their functioning will result in permanent loss of function, save for slight adaptation that neuroanatomy teaches occurs due to neuroplasticity.
The electron transport chain (ETC) is the primary generator of energy in the human body. It functions by utilizing the remaining molecules of NADH and FADH2 produced from the TCA cycle, a biological cycle on which most other biological pathways depend. NADH is in a highly energized state and therefore will undergo oxidation. Following the oxidation of NADH into NAD+, H+, and 2 electron molecules, O2 in the body will be reduced into water. Without this reduction to occur, not only would we not see cellular respiration occur, but oxygen itself would function as a free radical within our bodies, cause metabolic damage.
The water formation lessens the formation of superoxide, a chemical associated with causing aging and cellular death.
Collagen is the most abundant protein within the human body. The formation of collagen, like all other proteins, is dependent entirely upon the structural arrangement of amino acids. Collagen itself is found within skin, bones, ligaments, blood vessel walls, cartilage and intervertebral discs. The primary amino acid of collagen is glycine, comprising 1/3 of all collagen within the body. In order for collagen to have tensile strength, its primary function, hydroxylation of prolyl structures must occur. Without proper hydration, these hydroxyl reactions cannot properly occur, causing a reduction in the tensile strength and function of collagen.
Three examples of being out of balance
Consuming too much water, not allowing your body to filter out the excess can be harmful and even deadly. That being said, the vast majority of people should not worry about over-hydrating! Around a gallon a day for most adults will not come close to reaching this level, and most people do not even come close to consuming that much.
Not consuming enough water can impede biological functions.
Just as important as drinking water is the type of water you choose. It is imperative to choose water from a safe drinking source as water is absorbed by nearly every part of the body, making it easy for harmful viruses and bacteria to quickly invade the body.
Symptoms indicative of imbalance Symptoms from improper water balance can range from feeling light headed, being unable to concentrate, muscle cramps, improper nutrient absorption, feeling extremely fatigued, irritable, being constipated, issues with hypovolemia and arrhythmias, and possibly even a coma and/or becoming brain dead.
Recommendations to restore balance
Half your bodyweight in ounces, 8 cups of water per day… There are many different recommendations about how much water on average one should be drinking. To keep it simple, I say – Convert your weight to kilograms and make that a daily goal. For example: 150lbs = 68kg. So, if you weigh 150lbs, try to drink 68oz of water per day.
Aside from drinking water, it is also possible to EAT YOUR WATER! Lots of foods such as iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cabbage, watermelon, and just about any other fruit are highly aqueous and provide you with a different manner of increasing your water intake.
Normally, many people unaccustomed to drinking water often say they do not like the taste. Purchasing a filter that removes added chemicals and hormones from water will actually reduce this taste found in water not masked by sugars and will make it more pleasant to drink water. If one is severely dehydrated, it is important to provide her or him with a saline solution as to adapt to the osmotic imbalance. If one is over-hydrated, which can and has occurred, usually due to extreme circumstances nonetheless, it is important to provide a diuretic and ensure there are enough solutes in the patient to avoid the harmful effects of being over-hydrated. There is a lot more to come on water. This was just one of many posts about this essential nutrient to life. Stay tuned for more!