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Our Need For Water
by Betsy Thomason

The subject of water is a lot like garbage; until the mass becomes critical, we human beings take the easy way out. In New Jersey, we’re recycling garbage only because there are no more landfills.  Now, take water. When we become thirsty, we remember to drink. By that time, it’s too late. The body already has been stressed and has to work hard to overcome the deficit of moisture.

Each day, the human body needs a minimum of two quarts of water (don’t count coffee, tea, milk, or juice) for optimal performance. When you exercise, you need more. In the dry, winter months and the hot, summer months, you need more. If you live or work in a controlled environment, you need more. And, if you sweat a lot, if you’re on medication, if you are elderly, or if you’re male, you need more.

Why two quarts? Isn’t that a lot of water?

Only if you’re not used to drinking that much. John Bullock, a physiologist at New Jersey’s University of Medicine and Dentistry, surmises that the suggested minimum daily intake of water is based on the amount that the average person excretes daily.  Think about this: Water is the body’s main transportation system. It conveys nutrients, waster products, hormones, oxygen, heat, even tastes.  Also consider that the human body is two-thirds water and that the brain, the master control center, is 85 percent water. Deprive them of water and nothing works.

This is exemplified in the case of hypothermia, the lowering of the body’s core temperature. When hypothermia occurs, whether while hiking or sitting in an underheated home, it is the result of a number of factors including fatigue, amount of physical activity, wet clothes, and diminished water intake. This last factor is critical, because water is key in maintaining optimum body temperature. Without adequate water, the body’s thermostat goes haywire. (In hot weather, heat exhaustion is the result.)

With hypothermia, cognitive brain function goes first. As the victim’s body temperature dips two degrees or three degrees below 98.6 degrees, the victim can’t think to put on a hat or a sweater because the brain is concentrating on survival of the vital organs in the torso. The result is that many folks have died from hypothermia because they could not think about how to improve their condition.

Not all water-deprivation symptoms are as dramatic or life-threatening as hypothermia. None the less, they can be debilitating. Headaches, constipation, dry skin, chapped lips, and rashes are a few of the everyday symptoms of dehydration.

How do you increase your water intake without feeling like a blimp?

FIRST, do it gradually, by increasing the size of the container from which you drink. A tea cup holds six ounces; a coffee mug, ten ounces; while a beer mug holds twelve ounces. I suggested this to a diabetic who for months had suffered from unhealed cuts on her leg. Within a week, the sores developed healthy scabs and healed. (There is little research information on the role water plays in healing.)

SECOND, drink water immediately upon waking up and an hour before or after a meal. The water will be absorbed better and won’t dilute the food.

THIRD, put a slice of lemon in a quart bottle of water in the refrigerator. The lemon make the water inviting and the measure size lets you keep track easily. Although cold water is absorbed more readily than warm, it is certainly more pleasing to drink warm water in the cold months.

MORE TIPS: Before and after eating out, drink extra water to flush out the added salt and sugar you’ve consumed. When doing anything vigorous outdoors, even gardening, drink extra water before and afterwards. When at work, let your bladder signal a needed time-out! What a way to conquer stress!

Article by Betsy Thomason originally published in Executive Business Magazine, February 1989

Betsy Thomason is a registered respiratory therapist and is currently researching a book on the human need for water.

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