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The body's most neglected nutrient

With a Starbucks on every corner and vending machines in every office building and school, it seems that coffee and soda is the predominant source of liquid nourishment in today's society. It is not a surprise then that the majority of the people in the US don't get enough water. Chances are, you are dehydrated right now, and you don't even know it! Now put down your double latte and find out why drinking water is perhaps the most important element in a healthy lifestyle.

Are you hydrated?

Most people that are dehydrated do not even know it. What are some of the symptoms of dehydration? Fatigue, moodiness, a "drained" feeling, and thirst. That's right, if you are thirsty, you are actually dehydrated! What's even more surprising than that, many people have such a weak feeling for thirst, that often it not even apparent to them that they are thirsty. 

Just how dehydrated do you have to get before you start feeling deleterious effects? As little as a 1% loss of water can translate to an increase in core temperature during exercise. A 3-5% loss of water can put a strain on the cardiovascular system and further impair the ability of the body to dissipate heat. When the body loses 7% of it's water, the result is most likely collapse. 

45-75% of a human's weight is from water, and the muscles of the body are 75% water. 

How do I get hydrated?

Keeping hydrated is as simple as drinking your daily requirement of water for the day, but just what is your daily requirement? Well, the "average" person, in a normally humid environment, without unusual physical exertion, loses the following amounts of water: Approx. 2 cups per day from normal perspiration, another 2 cups from breathing, and a total of 6 cups from the intestines and kidneys. That equals about 10 cups, or 2.5 quarts. Remember, this is all without heavy exercise of dry environments. If you weigh more than average, exercise, live in a hot or dry environment, you will definitely use more water. 

The good news is, you won't need to down multiple quarts of water just to replenish what you lose each day. You can get several cups of water from your food. However, it is recommended that you still take in around 6-8 cups of water each day. More specifically, your weight divided by 2 for the number of ounces you should drink each day (there are eight ounces in a cup, so divide by eight to get the number of cups).

Most importantly, when I say drink 6-8 cups of water a day, I mean WATER, not juice or milk or coffee or tea. Only pure water counts towards your 6-8 cups. The body can distinguish between pure water and a solution, like Gatorade. Pure water is quickly absorbed and put to good use. A solution sits in the digestive system and is slowly assimilated as the solute (the substance dissolved in the solvent, the solvent usually being water) are broken down and digested. The process of digesting the solute often requires more water than what is actually gained from the solvent. This is on top of whatever diuretic (dehydrating) effect from any caffeine in the drink. It's still OK to drink coffee or juice or milk>, but do not count it towards your total water intake.

Now that we know how much to drink and what to drink, we need to know when to drink it, and how to drink it. First off, the absolute worst thing to do is to drink a very large amount of water all at once. The body will respond to a sudden sharp increase in water by releasing diuretic hormones to excrete as much of the excess water as possible, further dehydrating you. This can actually be deadly. Hypernatremia is the condition of drinking an extremely large amount of water in a short amount of time. The amounts of water needed to induce hypernatremia is beyond what most people can tolerate, but large spikes of water in the body are still undesirable. Sip water throughout the day. Bring a water bottle with you to work to make it easier. 

The other big mistake you can make is to drink lots of water with your meals. This dilutes stomach acid at the time when you need it most, and keeps your food from digesting properly. Optimally, give yourself 15 minutes before and 30-60 minutes after the meal before you start drinking water normally. Milk is an acceptable liquid to drink with meals because the casein (a slow digesting protein) in milk will form a semi-solid in the stomach, allowing for slower more efficient digestion than water will. Red wine, baring any contraindications, is also acceptable because it assists in breaking down fats. 

Helpful Reminders<

Bring a water bottle with you everywhere, and fill it as often as necessary.

Sip water slowly throughout the day.

Don't judge your need for water by thirst, drink weather you're thirsty or not.

Drink more when you exercise, when it is hot, or when you are in a dry, stuffy environment.

Cut back on caffeine containing beverages if possible.

Don't drink water with meals, drink red wine or milk instead.

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