Water – a molecule formed by the combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom – is one of the most important requirements for living beings. Close to 60 percent of a human’s body weight is made up of water and all the organ systems require water for their functioning. With just a 2 percent loss of this compound from our body, our energy level drops by 20 percent! A person may live without food for around 20 days, but without water, he will not survive beyond three days. Therefore, before we speak of the health benefits of water, we ought to understand how vital water is to our survival.
Major Health benefits of water
Water has several roles in the body some of the most important ones are:
- It serves as a solvent for certain chemical compounds. It is the major component of blood and other body fluids such as lymph and the cerebrospinal fluid.
- It transports nutrients and other materials within the body, in and out of cells.
- It serves as the medium for several metabolic reactions and is itself a reactant in some of them.
- The view that drinking water helps with weight loss is correct in the sense that when you substitute water for high-calorie foods or beverages, it cuts down your calorie consumption, paving the way for weight loss.
- Water helps to move waste products out of the body in the form of urine and feces. It is used by kidneys and liver to remove waste from body. It is also helpful to intestine in removal of solid waste by avoiding constipation.
- Water has a high specific heat and therefore, helps to regulate body temperature to levels that are optimum for biochemical reactions.
- The right proportion of water in the body is important to maintain the balance of electrolytes that play an important role in the functioning of important body systems and also decide your energy levels.
- Water helps in digestion by providing much needed moisture to intestines. It also helps in avoiding constipation.
The health benefits of water are most obvious when the levels of water in the body drop; this leads to dehydration which initially causes tiredness and later, seriously affects the functioning of the body.
How much water we need to drink?
The amount of water a person needs depends on several factors such as age, sex, level of physical activity, humidity and temperature of the surrounding environment and physiological condition of the body. The body loses water through urine, feces and perspiration and it is important to replenish this water through food, water and other beverages. The US Institute of Medicine specifies an adequate intake of 2.2 liters of total beverages per day for women and 3 liters for men.
Generally, infants and children require a greater water requirement as compared to adults. This is because they lose more water from their skin and also through urine because their kidneys are not able to concentrate the urine. In old age, the thirst sensation as well as the urine concentrating power of the kidneys grows weak; therefore, the elderly also require paying attention to consume more water. Men tend to need more water because they expend more energy than women and also have greater fat-free mass.
Water Requirements in Special Conditions
Certain conditions cause the body to lose more water than usual and at such times, you need to drink more water to compensate for this loss. For example, if you do some exercise that does not cause too much sweating, around 500 milliliters of extra water will suffice, but in case of intense exercise for prolonged periods of time, you need to drink much more. People living in places where the weather is hot and humid also need to drink more water.
The health benefits of water are most apparent in health conditions such as diarrhea, vomiting or fever, when you need to drink more water to replace the quantity that has been lost. In other conditions affecting the urinary tract such as stones or infections of the bladder too your doctor will advise an increased intake of water. However, in diseases such as kidney or liver problems where the body is unable to excrete the water, you will need to restrict the amount of fluids you consume.
Pregnant women and mothers who breast-feed their babies need to drink much more water than they usually consume.
When to Drink Water
Although you should drink a little water at regular intervals throughout the day, there are times when you should particularly increase your consumption. For example, in relation to exercise, it is best to drink water before and after exercise, as well as in between because this helps your body to remain hydrated. It is also good to drink more water before going to bed because the body loses water when we are sleeping. Similarly, the viscosity or thickness of the blood increases early in the morning, creating a higher risk of a stroke and it is therefore a good thing to drink water immediately after waking.
Types of Drinking Water
There are several types of drinking water and the health benefits of water depend on the difference in their composition of minerals and microorganisms. Tap water is water you obtain from the tap through the municipal water supply and this has been treated with chlorine to ensure it does not contain any disease-causing microorganisms. The term drinking water refers to bottled water that is meant for drinking by humans and contains some disinfectants to make it safe for use. Another type of water is natural mineral water that is obtained directly from an artesian well, spring or well with dissolved salts. Water that is purified using special techniques such as reverse osmosis, demineralization or distillation is called purified water.
Myths about Health Benefits of Water
Although there has been a lot of publicity to the cause of drinking more water – 8 glasses a day, to be precise – there is no definite scientific basis to this.3 For all the studies that show drinking more water is beneficial, there are an equal number that show there is no significant benefit from consuming excess of water. However, one point on which all researchers agree is that a very low water intake is harmful to the body.
Another common myth is that drinking more water helps to keep skin young and vibrant. The condition of skin depends on several factors other than water such as the number of oil glands in the skin, the kind of weather to which the skin is exposed and use of cleansing agents. Of course, the skin tends to dry in a person with severe dehydration, but that does not automatically imply that drinking more water will keep skin moist.
The best way to allow your body to reap the health benefits of water is to drink the recommended quantity and take necessary precautions to avoid dehydration.