"The single most important thing we can do to prevent and treat chronic illness or degenerative disease is to learn how to hydrate properly."
Over the course of a day in my clinic, I find myself telling nearly every patient about the importance of hydration. I often find that many of their symptoms--afternoon headaches, fatigue, brain fog, crankiness, etc--can be minimized or completely solved solely by managing hydration. This motivated me to learn about other benefits of hydration as well as methods to hydrate most efficiently. In my research, I came across the work of Dr. Dana Cohen MD, author of "Quench," a book based on groundbreaking science from the University of Washington's Pollack Water Lab.
Her book highlights not only the benefits of appropriate hydration that I discussed above but also new research that reveals that even low-grade subclinical dehydration is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, most notably diabetes. In this blog post, I'll also discuss methods for efficiently hydrating without flushing your body of vital nutrients.
Why is hydration so often overlooked?
While there are various physical exam maneuvers and lab tests available to assess for acute and severe, organ-damaging hydration, there are fortunately no options like this to test for the low-grade hydration that most of us experience regularly. The signs and symptoms are there though--we just need to become more attuned to our bodies.
What are the symptoms?
We often experience symptoms of dehydration and either don't pay attention to them or associate them with something else entirely. For instance, hydration is often the culprit responsible for the afternoon fatigue that many people attribute to their blood sugar dropping. Next time you experience this, try reaching for a glass of water instead of a carby snack from the vending machine or break room. Other symptoms of low-grade dehydration are muscle aches and cramps, headaches, and constipation. Although we are all different, one good rule of thumb regarding hydration is that we should be urinating about every 2-3 hours during the day and that urine should be straw-colored or pale yellow.
How much water should we be drinking?
Unfortunately, this question is impossible to answer, and the old "8 glasses of water a day" rule is not based on any particular research whatsoever. How can we say that a 100-pound sedentary person and a 200-pound muscular athlete both require the same fluid intake to fuel their bodies? Instead, we must take inventory of our bodies and lifestyles, paying close attention to the factors that affect hydration---how much we exercise and sweat, how much we weigh, our amount of muscle mass, the foods we eat, the medications we take, and the environments in which we work and live. Using these modifying factors, we can use the general rule of “Drink half your weight in ounces” and add or subtract from there.
What are some of these specific modifying factors?
Those who follow diets that are heavy in meat and sparse in vegetable like the keto diet are more likely to require closer to 75% of their weight in ounces of water per day.
Surprisingly, people are more likely to be more dehydrated during the winter rather than the typically hot summer months. This is likely due to the drying effects of heaters and furnaces in indoor environments as well as the perceived decrease in need for water.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around the fact that drinking alcohol drastically dehydrates your body. If you’re going to drink, make sure you’re hydrating in between drinks—have one glass of water in between every unit of alcohol imbibed.
Great news! New research shows that anything under 4 cups of coffee is NOT a dehydrating diuretic. So enjoy your coffee, taking advantage of its antioxidant benefits. Keep in mind that black coffee, without added sugar or artificial sweeteners, is best.
Let’s talk about water.
It’s up to you if and how you filter your water. Some people must filter their water because of the quality of water where they live, but this is not something my family routinely does at home. There is no general consensus on the best type or brand of water filter but www.ewg.org has a list of filters based on levels of affordability. If you’re unsure about the water quality in your area, there are lots of test kits for things like elad and excess fluoride online. If you’re drinking ONLY filtered water or very large quantities of it, you will need to remineralize your water in order to replenish your electrolytes. You can do this with over-the-counter electrolyte replacement capsules or just by adding a pinch of natural, celtic, or pink sea salt to a couple glass of your water a day.
What about sparkling water?
Reach for natural sparkling waters that are mineralized, like pellegrino, spindrift, etc. It’s best to stay away from the artificially flavored sparkling waters available in stores, but if these are your method to break your soda habit, then it’s still an improvement.
What about those special pH waters?
While there is definitely a benefit to alkalizing your body by eating more vegetables, particularly greens, the alkaline water has not been shown in research to provide any benefit. However, anecdotally, some patients have reported feeling better when switching to alkaline. Either way, it will not hurt anything.
It’s not just about DRINKING water; there are other ways to hydrate.
Best foods for hydration
Having one green smoothie a day is probably the most incredible thing you can do to hydrate yourself. Avoid added sugars and fats, and start with a recipe that includes a couple handfuls of blended spinach, some lemon, ginger, half an apple, and enough water to suit your texture preferences. The vegetable fibers in the smoothie act like a sponge to retain the hydrative properties. One green smoothie is said to result in the same amount of hydration as twice the amount of water you put in it.
Foods with cellulose like cucumbers or chia seeds are very good for hydration because their chemical structures hold onto water molecules. This is what explains the gelatinous layer of hydration surrounding cucumber seeds or soaked chia seeds.
General Guidelines for best results:
Front Load your hydration by consuming a large amount of water first thing every morning. You can effectively "soak" yourself by keeping 8-16 ounces of water with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sea salt at your bedside to drink first thing in the morning.
Drink a glass of water about half an hour before every meal.
Treat yourself to one hydrating green smoothie a day.
Pay attention to how much water you drink at the end of the day to prevent nighttime awakenings to urinate. Sleep is arguably just as important as hydration!
Lastly, call my office at 985-807-1937 to schedule an appointment to discuss other ways we can work together to optimize your health!
The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials is not a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.