Health & Fitness

These people who carry bottles of water everywhere amuse me. Can’t they sit through a movie or buy some groceries without drinking water – especially warm water? Many of us go half a day between drinks of water, and many Europeans almost never drink the stuff. Who’s right, the trendy people who carry our most ubiquitous commodity everywhere they go, or the ones who drink the stuff only when they’re actually … TaDa … thirsty?

Well, if carrying water to a mall full of water fountains gets us drinking an absolute minimum of eight 8-oz glasses a day, the hydraulically encumbered are right. Two excellent reasons to schlep it around are 1) knowing for a measured fact that we actually drink four pints of water each day, and 2) forming a habit of doing so. Probably the simplest, cheapest, and most effective way to improve our health is drinking at least those two quarts of non-caffeinated fluids every day, more if it’s warm or if we do more than sit all day.

We’re 60% -- 60 to 120 pounds or so of -- water. Our brain function is measurably diminished by being low by just one percent … a cup to a pint, half a pound to a pound. Yet we don’t feel thirst until we’re a quart low … two pounds … two to four times the level of dehydration that measurably impairs brain functions.

Maybe you don’t take an IQ test every day, but are these other established effects of drinking insufficient water acceptable to you? Joint pain. Headaches. Poor body temperature regulation, including potentially fatal heatstroke. Poor nutrition. Constipation. Calf cramps. Indigestion. Immune system problems. Colon cancer. Concentration of toxins in your body. High cholesterol. Chronic fatigue.

This isn’t a list of remotely possible side effects like we see with every medication we buy (but experienced only by some hypochondriac in Keokuck). Most of these are often caused by inadequate fluid intake via known processes; the others are strongly suspected to be caused by, and strongly statistically associated with, inadequate fluid intake.

For example, chronic mild dehydration is strongly suspected as a cause of chronic fatigue in some 10 million U.S. citizens alone. It produces mitral valve prolapse syndrome in 2% to 10% of us, in which the valve that separates the intake and output chambers of the heart fails to seat properly. It’s thought to be associated with low blood volume due to inadequate water intake. Water … WATER … often cures it.

There’s growing evidence that mild dehydration raises blood cholesterol and deposits more of it in blood vessel walls, from where it often breaks loose and clogs arteries. One of cholesterol’s primary functions is sealing blood vessel walls against leakage. It increases significantly when dehydrated adjacent cells try to suck water from blood already thickened by chronic mild dehydration. This correlation isn’t just statistical; the cellular mechanism of this process is well defined.

Statistically, drinking more than -- versus fewer than -- four glasses a day is right up there with eating five servings of fruit and vegetables in reducing the incidence of colon cancer. One university study showed a whopping 80% lower incidence of urinary tract cancer among proper water drinkers. And both correlations are supported by cause and effect theories still being examined.

Drinking more water often helps overweight people lose weight. Many people mistake thirst for hunger, and many studies have shown that overweight people shed pounds gradually when they drink more water. The body hoards water if we drink too little just as it hoards fat if we eat too little food.

Water is vital to the circulation, metabolism, and excretion of every molecule of nutrition and waste and to the regulation of every function our bodies perform. It’s no accident that 99% of the molecules in our body are water; neither our maker nor Ford builds useless parts (unless you count the appendix or the Pinto). Our bodies can run without drinking water about as long as a Ford Expedition can run without drinking gasoline. (Hint: that ain’t far!)

Headaches are very often dehydration-induced, and hangovers are primarily alcohol-induced dehydration. Coffee just increases the dehydration and exacerbates the hangover.

Think you’re an unlikely candidate for dehydration? Think again; the most noted researcher of hydration in the U.S. is convinced half of us are chronically mildly dehydrated. After all, a sedentary, healthy (there’s an classic oxymoron) person in a cool home loses a measurable eight glasses a day of water simply by existing. Any extra activity or warmth increases that loss, and caffeine or extra protein increases it much more. Eight glasses a day is just the bare minimum requirement, but it does include the juices and fluid content of our food.

Isn’t going without water macho? Of course! After all, isn’t “macho” Spanish for “stupid”? It’s also harmful and sometimes downright dangerous, so it’s time to create a new habit.

Once middle-aged people get what I’ve dubbed the Mason jar syndrome, developing this vital habit is a nuisance. In our 50s our bladders lose most of their elasticity, and start behaving like a Mason jar being filled by a trickle of water. A capped jar is quite happy and non-stressed when it’s one teaspoonful short of full, but will not hold one teaspoonful more than it was designed for because it will not stretch. When our middle-aged, inelastic, closed bladder receives that last teaspoonful, we go from “I think I could go to the bathroom” to a full-blown peemergency in mere minutes. There’s none of this, “I gotta go; I’d better plan on a pit stop within the next coupla hours.” (Admit it; you talk that way to yourself.) Instead, it’s, “I’m in pain. I have fewer than five minutes, wedding or no wedding.”

So why, at any age, let alone >50, should we start drinking all that extra water, knowing it’s just going to through us anyway, often within an hour? Again: probably the simplest, cheapest, and most effective thing we can do to improve our health is making a habit of drinking a half gallon of non-caffeinated fluids every day. Besides, within six weeks of consistent increased water intake our bodies adjust and we can again get more than 100 yards from a bathroom without having panic (or choose your own p-word) attacks.

It’s obvious now that most of us need to drink much more water. But 1) how do we do it, 2) how do we make ourselves do it, and 3) how do we do it without constant pit stops? By the numbers …

Chug a pint when you get up. Wash down your pills with a glass. Drink a glass 30 minutes before each meal (this dramatically aids digestion and metabolism), and another with your meals. Keep tasty, low-calorie, low-caffeine drinks handy to entice you to drink more. Drink an extra quart on hot days or on the day before exercising a lot (more if both apply) and an extra pint a couple of hours before exercising. Carry that silly water bottle everywhere (psst … it’s not silly, OK?). Drink a glass of water to offset each drink of alcohol or caffeine. Never wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Never walk past a water fountain without taking a drink. And the very last thing your body needs after prolonged play is that beer.

Just do it. In six weeks it should be a habit and you should feel better and be healthier.

You don’t, initially. But within six weeks your body will adapt and the hassle will subside, just as it did when you added lots of beans to your diet. For fewer middle-of-the-night trips down the hall, we of the Mason-jar-bladder set should drink nothing within three hours of bedtime.

For more details from hydration’s greatest promoter, Dr. Batmanghelidj, check out I don’t know how widely his book described there is accepted yet, but some very well-respected health researchers are starting to pay serious attention to his research and claims. His book does provide extensive scientific explanation for them.

Well, I’m not thirsty, so it’s time for a drink. But I hate warm water, or even ice water when I’m not thirsty, so it’s time for a drink of icy Kool-aid. Whatever it takes to get through this habit-forming period is worth it.