Hydration: Fact vs. Fiction

Water plays a variety of vital roles in the human body. To shed some more light on its importance, let’s look at some of water’s top functions
  1. Cellular structure – Water provides the very substance that makes up cells. It is quite literally the mass that inflates cells to provide the environment in which they operate. Additionally, water provides the lubrication and cushioning for organs and tissues.
  2. Chemical and metabolic function – Virtually all chemical reactions in living cells occur in what is essentially water. Without water providing the environment, countless chemicals in the body would not be capable of fueling metabolic function.
  3. Transportation of nutrients – Water facilitates the biochemical breakdown of foods consumed and then provides the mode of transportation for nutrients to arrive into the cells
  4. Regulation of body temperature – Water has a great capacity to regulate body temperature by absorbing heat and moving it to our skin and respiratory system. Acting as a coolant, water ensures that the other functions of water are sustained.
  5. Elimination of cellular waste – All living cells utilize nutrients and have active metabolic function. There are always by-products from these reactions, and water is essential to mobilize the removal of this cellular waste.
Hydration is defined by maintaining the functions of water in the body – not by water simply being present in the body by some volume. Water can exist in the body without being optimized in its functions. A pervasive cliché today is that people should drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water a day. Every person’s body is different, so there is no magical standard number for the right amount of water to drink to maintain the function of hydration. The amount of water needed for each individual is best determined by the individual – their size, overall health profile, time under exertion and numerous other factors. What’s true for everyone is that the benefits of drinking water are universal. Drinking water in appropriate volumes for the individual helps the body function properly, optimizing physical performance and maintaining cognitive mental capacity. Contrary to common belief, preemptive consumption of excessive volumes of water does not serve as proper hydration strategy. Whereas, over consumption of water in some cases can lead to worse health impairment than that of low water reserves. Drinking excessive amounts of water can cause a low concentration of sodium in the blood – a serious medical emergency called hyponatremia, also called water intoxication. The early warning signs of hyponatremia are often subtle and may be similar to that of dehydration and include nausea, muscle cramps, disorientation, slurred speech, and confusion. Another misconception in the area of hydration surrounds the use of sports drinks, which are popular with many consumers. They can contain ingredients such as sugars, stimulants and artificial additives. These ingredients may make these products more visually appealing or taste better, which encourages individuals to drink more of them.  The drawback, however, is that these products may yield compounded problems when used as a primary part of hydration strategy. Added ingredients such as sugars, caffeine and proteins all require active digestion, and can actually hinder the maintenance of hydration and interfere with the body’s signaling of thirst. Bottom line: taking the time to educate yourself about hydration and listening to your body’s specific needs will help you define the hydration strategy that is right for you.