We are living in a modern era where we are used to advanced technologies, advanced health care models and sophisticated lifestyles. Irrespective of these advances, we are in the midst of deadly diseases which are threatening and detrimental to our life. In the run for modernisation we have forgotten many traditional practices which helped us in keeping fit and healthy.
One such practice is drinking water which has a greater role to play in keeping us healthy. Water comprises 75% of body weight in infants, to 55% in elderly, and is essential for cellular homeostasis and life. Without water, humans can survive only for a few days. Water is undoubtedly the most important nutrient for the body. Humans usually drink water for diverse reasons. However, it is water deficiency which triggers the physiological thirst. The maintenance of fluid balance in the body is very important to achieve homoeostasis, a state of perfect water and mineral balance.
Why do we drink water?
When water is lost from the body through urine, sweat, faeces etc,, there is an increase in the ionic concentration in the body which induces thirst and forces us to drink water.
When we don’t drink adequate amount of water, the following activities get affected:
Physical activity: Decreased water intake affects the physical performance of the body. It can lead to hyperthermia (excess body heat), reduced stroke volume and cardiac output, lower blood pressure, and reduced blood flow to muscle. It can also induce dryness of skin as well as oxidative stress.
Cognitive function: Cognition means the ability to think, reason and intellectually function. Poor water consumption can affect the mood and cognition. Research suggests that poor hydration can alter a number of important aspects of cognitive function such as concentration, alertness and short-term memory in children.
Mental status: Poor water intake is a risk factor for delirium and delirium presenting as dementia in the elderly and in the very ill. Usually elderly people do not drink enough water, owing to reduced thirst. However, this can result in mental confusion, poor memory etc.
Digestive functions: Poor water intake is termed as basic cause for constipation, which is a common disorder across the globe. Constipation can lead to various complications like piles, fistulas etc. Other than this, all the digestive functions are influenced by the water intake.
Kidney functions: The role of kidneys is crucial in regulating water balance and blood pressure as well as removing waste from the body. In addition to regulating fluid balance, the kidneys require water for the filtration of waste from the blood stream and excretion via urine. Inadequate water drinking can result in many complications like kidney stones, urinary tract infections, hypertension, chronic or acute kidney failure etc.
Heart function: Water intake and the functions of the heart are closely related. Blood volume is normally tightly regulated by matching water intake and water output, any alteration in this can reduce the blood volume, which leads to increased heart rate, a fall in blood pressure and syncope (sudden fainting) etc.
Skin functions: The skin contains approximately 30% water, which contributes to plumpness, elasticity, and resiliency. Poor intake of water can lead to skin dryness, acne (pimples) and scaly as well as itchy skin.
How much water should we drink?
This is a million-dollar question. There cannot be a daily recommended allowance for water intake like other nutrients. Nevertheless, it is always on a need basis induced by thirst. But in our busy schedule, we hardly sense the thirst signals from the body; hence it is wise to have one glass (200 ml approx.) of water every half an hour or three litres of water for the whole day. We often confuse our water drinking with other beverage consumption. This includes water replacement for a range of caloric and diet beverages, including sugar-sweetened beverages, juice, milk, and diet beverages. It is always essential to remember that water drinking is a standalone affair which differs from other beverage intake.
Health benefits of drinking water
Drinking water confers an array of health benefits and protection to humans. Water intake prevents many life threatening diseases like cancer, metabolic syndromes, improved immunity, bone health etc. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a person should drink every hour, a glass of water stored in a mud pot. This helps in reducing hunger and also prevents acidosis during dieting. Proper water intake helps in detoxifying the body. The best water is one which is boiled and cooled and stored in mud vessels to be consumed on an empty stomach.
Drinking water can be an answer for many health related issues – from simple pimples to dangerous cancers. There was a concept called ‘Usha Paanam’ in Indian tradition, which is almost forgotten or ignored. The health benefits of this practice are immense. It is advised that the first refreshing beverage immediately after one gets up from bed in the morning is water (two glasses, slow drinking). It prepares the body to fight against the illness by giving a trouble free defecation, instant rehydration after an eight-hour long sleep, it also refreshes the internal cells. Such practices should be reinstated in to our daily regimen as ‘water is indeed the elixir of life’.