It would surprise most teetotalers to hear someone say: “Drink-up – it’s good for your health!”. Of course, we’re not talking alcoholic beverages here. Instead, we’re talking water, the source of all life – especially human beings. And while most of us believe we’re consuming enough of that liquid life; the truth of the matter is…we’re not!
So, why is water such an important part of a balanced nutritional plan; and how much of it should we drink each day? Well, we’ll answer those questions and others as we explore the subject in detail.
Chemically speaking, water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom bonded together. Chemists express the molecular formula, for what’s created during this bonding process – water – as H2O. Such a simple expression to describe what’s unarguably the source of all life here on earth. For many living organisms, water accounts for more than 90% of their body weight. In adult humans, that percentage is up to 60%.
The Importance of Water
Water is essential for us because it:
- Regulates body temperature through sweat and respiration
- Helps in transporting nutrients that our body extracts from the foods we eat – carbs and proteins – to vital parts of our bodies through the bloodstream
- Expels harmful liquids from the body through urination
- Produces saliva
- Lubricates our joints
- Acts as a shock-absorbing fluid for our joints, brains, and spinal cords
Water does more for the human body than just quenches thirst. In effect, without proper amounts of water, many of our bodily functions might cease to perform as intended.
How Much is Enough?
The daily requirement of water is a function of our body weight. Other factors, such as age, gender, pre-existing medical conditions, and where you live, also influence the amount of water required to stay healthy. Lifestyle choices too may have an impact on how much water you should consume. For instance, if you are frequently participating in fitness and sports activities, your water requirements might be higher than a less active individual of similar age, height, and weight as you.
Generally, adult males and females require about 3 liters (3.2 quarts) and 2.2 liters (2.3 quarts) of water daily. Two signs that you are getting enough water include:
- Colorless urine
- Not feeling thirsty too frequently
Water, in its clear “liquid” form, as we know it, isn’t the only source of liquids for our body. There are other sources of nutrition that may provide the body with enough water to make up for any deficiencies in your daily liquid intake requirements. For instance, fruits like watermelon and vegetables like spinach store nearly 100% of their weight as water. Supplementing “regular” water with such nutritional components in a balanced diet may be one way to ensure you meet your stipulated minimum water intake.
Other liquids, including coffee, tea, sodas, and shakes may also contribute to your daily water intake. However, excessive dependence on sugary drinks for your water “fix”, including pops and sports drinks, may do more harm than good. Some of these water alternates may even add to the number of calories you consume, causing other issues such as obesity.
Signs of Insufficient Water Intake
It’s often not easy (or convenient) to go by a chart to tell if you are consuming enough water. Watch for these telltale signs to know if your water intake is below what your body needs:
- Rough and dry skin, cracked lips, skin that’s flaky and cold to the touch
- Your tongue, throat, and mouth constantly feel dry and parched
- You pass urine that’s shades of dark yellow to amber
- You often feel constipated
- Your blood pressure is erratic due to dehydration
- You are forever feeling tired and lethargic – even without strenuous activity
- You suffer from water-loss caused headaches
- Because our brain is 70% water, low water levels may cause a lack of concentration and alertness
Other symptoms of potential insufficient water intake include having mood swings and feeling anxious, tense, and depressed. Our brains may also become more sensitive to pain as a result of insufficient water intake. Loss of water is a major cause of low blood pressure, which leads to a pounding heart and rapid breathing caused by severe dehydration.
Quick Tests to Check Water Deficiency
Do you suspect you might be suffering from water deficiency? Are you curious to learn if you are drinking enough water? Well, here are two simple tests that might tell you the answer to those questions:
- Nail Capillary Refill Test
Hold your hand above your heart and apply pressure to the nail bed of one finger until it turns white. This process is called blanching and indicates blood has been forced from the tissue beneath the nail. Upon reaching the blanching point, release pressure from the nail and observe what happens.
Make a note of how long it takes for blood to flow back to the nail, and for the nail bed to return to its original (pink) color. Typically, it should take approximately two seconds for the area to return to its original shade. If it takes longer, it may indicate you are dehydrated and require more water intake.
- Skin Turgor Test
Hold the back of one hand towards you (palm-side down) and pinch the skin just below your wrist until it forms a tent. Release the skin and watch what happens.
If the “tent” flattens back to its original form in one to three seconds, it means your water intake is sufficient. However, delayed de-tenting could be an indication of dehydration.
Dangers of Excessive Water Intake
Based on everything we’ve said above, there’s no doubt that water is good for our bodies and our mental and physical health. Now that you know the importance of water for your body, and how much you should drink up each day, and how you might determine if you are getting enough of it, the next logical question might be: Is there a risk of drinking too much of the good stuff?
Typically, that risk is slim to none in otherwise well-nourished, healthy adults. However, individuals involved in strenuous physical activity, intense workouts, or those participating in competitive sports, sometimes tend to drink a lot of water in the hope of improving performance by preventing dehydration – and that can sometimes be a challenge.
Our kidneys are like sump pumps rated to expel excess liquids from our bodies at regulated levels. When you overwhelm the kidney with an excessive inflow of water, it may not expel harmful fluids adequately, causing a dilution of blood sodium levels. This is a condition called hyponatremia, which can be life-threatening.