Let me ask you something. What is your relationship with water?
Suppose I told you that water is fundamental to human health – perhaps in ways you do not yet recognize or acknowledge. Here in this place, we may take for granted the widespread accessibility of clean water. As a result, perhaps we discount its importance.
For starters, what is the preferred (and only) drink of practically all living organisms besides human beings? Probably not an accident of nature.
Next, did you happen to realize that your body is 60 percent comprised of water. When you consider vital organs like the brain and heart, it is closer to 70 percent.
So, what about the relationship between water and disease? There are the obvious examples like exercise in heat without adequate water to hydrate and cool, which can lead to heat stroke. Or consider that a recurrence of kidney stones is less likely if you maintain adequate hydration. Perhaps you might be influenced by the recognition that poor hydration thickens the blood, making you more susceptible to blood clots such as those causing venous thrombosis, heart attack and stroke.
Why does the doctor (or your mom) tell you to drink plenty of fluids when you have a cold? Well, it turns out that water is a key defense mechanism that the body uses to combat viral illness. Why do you think that you have congestion and runny nose? Which is easier to deal with: thick (dehydrated) or thin (well-hydrated) mucus production?
Of course, thirst is our natural mechanism that stimulates our desire to drink. Following your thirst is a good idea. That said, what if you are distracted or too busy, such as during a hectic work day? How will your body react?
The physical and mental consequences of dehydration are not up for debate. The dehydrated state results in some common and predictable symptoms. Does this sound familiar: tiredness, sleepiness, irritability, lack of energy? Perhaps your daily fatigue is attributable to a lack of water. Imagine if a more proactive approach to water consumption could cure this all-too-common set of complaints.
While controversial, some experts have identified the concept of mistaking thirst for hunger. Less controversial is the relationship between health and certain other libations.
Consider the alternatives to water as a beverage. In one category are the mind-altering, mood-altering, circadian-rhythm disrupting drinks that, paradoxically, reduce hydration status by promoting diuresis (urination). Think caffeinated and alcohol-containing beverages.
Perhaps more nefarious are the high-calorie, high-glycemic-index, high-sugar-content juices, soda pop and other sugar-sweetened beverages that trap us in the cycle of thirst, the sugar high, the insulin low and hunger. Also known as “liquid candy,” these waistline-busting, pro-inflammatory, glucose-stress-inducing mediators of first-world bad health are the low-hanging fruit of health promotion and disease prevention. Simply eliminating juice, pop and energy drinks can hugely affect health in a positive way. But what to replace them with?
Hmmm – maybe water.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.