By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
Water, the lifeblood of Mother Earth. That free flowing H20 is crucial for the survival of every organic species on the planet. Our earth is made up of 71% water – just a little more than the human brain which floats at 70%. In fact, water comprises up to 55-60% of our entire bodies. With over half our bodies composed of water, it’s clear to see why staying well hydrated is one of the most important (and easiest) things you can do for your health.
3 Common Hydration Myths Busted
Myth: Water Is The Best Way To Hydrate
The truth is, it depends. For most of the year, water on its own should be enough. However when we sweat on particularly hot days or after a lot of exertion, we don’t only sweat out water. We sweat out minerals such as sodium and potassium. These are electrolytes and are vital in keeping the body balance and hydrated, and the muscles working effectively.
Adding a pinch of Himalayan salt and a splash of apple or lemon juice to your water on days like these will go a long way towards replenishing your electrolytes, helping to prevent muscle cramps and other symptoms of electrolyte imbalance.
Myth: Store-Bought Electrolyte Drinks Are Healthy
Brightly coloured electrolyte sports drinks are readily available in every corner store, but what are you really drinking?
While over the past few years most brands of sports drinks have changed their ingredients to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO), an additive used to emulsify the ingredients which comes with a long list of unfortunate side effects, other problematic ingredients still remain. Always read the label and avoid drinks that have very long ingredient lists, are very high in sugar or contain artificial food dyes. Reach for coconut water as a naturally electrolyte-rich alternative.
Myth: Coffee & Tea Are Dehydrating.
Recent research shows that while the diuretic effects of drinking 1-2 cups of coffee minimally increase urine output for about three hours after consumption, exercise seems to negate those effects altogether.
If you’re a tea drinker, research shows that drinking 4-6 cups of tea can actually be more beneficial than water consumption alone as teas can provide antioxidant and herbal benefits as well.
This does not take into account caffeine’s effects on your adrenal glands however, so if you’re avoiding coffee in order to get a good night’s sleep, by all means keep it up!
Dehydration And Chronic Dehydration: Know the Signs
Dehydration happens when you don’t drink enough water for your body’s needs. Even being just a half litre under-hydrated can lead to an increase in cortisol levels – the stress hormone – which can put a real strain on your overall well-being. In the summer months, common culprits for dehydration include extreme temperatures, excessive physical activity in the heat, and let’s be honest, too much alcohol consumption. Fortunately, these triggers are all preventable by maintaining a healthy balance of water, rest and shade.
The Warning Signs Of Chronic Dehydration
When the body is constantly forced to function without enough water over days and weeks, chronic dehydration can begin to set in. Chronic dehydration can cause a variety of health complications from high blood pressure to kidney stones.
You may already be familiar with the most common signs of dehydration, which include:
● Extreme thirst
● Tired muscles
● Dizziness and disorientation
● Dark-coloured urine (deep yellow, brown or maroon)
However, chronic dehydration reacts a bit differently.
As the body kicks into survival mode, it gets creative by sucking moisture from other sources.
Chronic dehydration may present itself in a variety of ongoing symptoms, such as:
● Muscle weakness
● Dry or flaky skin
If you suspect you might be suffering from chronic dehydration, increasing your intake of water may not be enough to get you back on track. It is important to make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner so they can properly assess your concentrated blood volume, electrolyte levels, and kidney function to help get you back on the path to optimum health.
Beyond staying hydrated, how do we know what type of water is best? Must we wet our lips only with melted artisanal ice chipped by hand from Alpine glaciers — or are bottled brands no better than the backyard hose?
What’s In Your Tap Water And Is It Always Safe?
With upwards of 90,000 cases of illness and 90 deaths a year due to waterborne illnesses, it’s no surprise that we have become skeptical about the quality of our tap water. Who knows what variety of microorganisms, pollutants, and other foreign disruptors might be flowing from our faucets, or not? While municipal tap water is generally considered to be safe, and in areas with a modern water supply system tap water still remains better for you than allowing yourself to become dehydrated, there are a few potential contaminators that can, and sometimes do, leech their way into our water sources:
Bacteria and parasites can easily enter water sources such as private wells from human or animal fecal matter. Some of the most common bacterial gastrointestinal diseases transmitted through water include salmonella, shigella and in some parts of the world even cholera. While cholera may not be a current concern in North American waterways, parasites like cryptosporidium can be, causing diarrhea and leading to potentially fatal illness if not immediately treated.
Used in pesticides, glyphosate can enter our waterways from farmland runoff. It can also be found throughout our food chain and is regularly detected in human urine. Research suggests that glyphosate-based herbicides may be endocrine disruptors and can also have an impact on kidney and liver function.
Lead, Aluminum & Heavy metals
When plumbing pipes grow old and begin to corrode, lead, aluminum and other heavy metals can leak their way into our tap water. Lead consumption can lead to severe developmental challenges and learning disorders in children. Meanwhile, aluminum and other metals have been shown to cause nerve, brain and kidney damage.
Hormones & Pharmaceuticals
We now know that staying properly hydrated is necessary for helping to manage hormones like cortisol; however, tap water can also be responsible for causing hormone imbalances. This is due to a variety of hormone disruptors and pharmaceuticals found in many municipal water supplies such as birth control pills, antibiotics, painkillers, antidepressants, among a cocktail of other micropollutants. Even small amounts of hormones can shift our chemistry in unwanted ways.
A disinfectant used in water treatment facilities; chlorine is effective for killing microorganisms. Unfortunately, it also poses toxic effects to our bodies, destroying healthy gut bacteria, which can cause all kinds of issues. Chlorine has been identified as the number one cause of bladder cancer. It is also connected to rectal and breast cancers, as well as other conditions including asthma, birth defects and premature skin aging.
For years, our government has pumped fluoride into our water supplies, while many European countries have banned its use altogether. Current research suggests that fluoride in our tap water may do more harm than good. Some studies have linked fluoride suppressed immune system and thyroid function, disruption of the pineal gland, and an increased risk for fractures and even cancer. Furthermore, fluoride may contain arsenic and also leaches lead from piping at much greater rates.
Now, who wants any of that in their water?!
So, Is Bottled Water Any Better?
Sadly, bottled water comes with its own baggage. First of all, the bottled water (or rather the plastic bottle) industry is not sustainable. Much like the disposable plastic straws we hear so much about, the majority of plastic bottles do not get recycled and end up in landfills – or back into our oceans with heartbreaking irony. This doesn’t even take into consideration the energy it takes to produce and distribute bottled water to every corner store and hot dog stand around the world. When you add it all up, a lot of unnecessary pollution goes into every last drop.
As for the quality of water itself, a lot of bottled water is simply glorified tap water hiked to an exorbitant cost. Mold, microbes, benzenes, phthalates, trihalomethanes, and yes, even arsenic have all been found in bottled water. And then there are the harmful plastic chemicals from the bottle itself, such as BPA among other elements, that can also be found floating in your drink.
Overhyped and overpriced, simply put – bottled water is bad for the planet and not so great for you either. So, what’s a person to do?
What Is The Best Possible Water Source?
Your very best option for clean, pure water is to invest in a good quality filtration system for your kitchen. For an added vote of confidence, be sure your filtration system is certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association. And of course, you should set a reminder to change your filters on schedule to ensure your drinking and cooking water is always the best possible quality.
Are you always on the go? That’s easy solution. Get yourself a BPA-free reusable water bottle (look for glass water bottles) and keep it with you at all times. That way you are sure to keep your body healthy and hydrated, looking out for your own best interest and the health of our planet, which is in everyone’s best interest.
Not a huge fan of drinking water no matter where it comes from? You aren’t alone but there are options; try adding in cucumbers, mint, orange or lemon slices to flavour it up a bit and remember water is crucial to not just hydrate our bodies but also to flush out all the toxins we are exposed to.