Water Won’t Cure You (but you should still drink it)
CW: discussion of bodies/body processes, discussion of implementing changes
Chances are that you have seen some article or another spouting that water is the secret to healing everything that’s wrong with you. If you’re a disabled person, the chances that this has been pushed on you are even higher. You are probably really sick of hearing about it. You probably roll your eyes and/or experience anger when you see it. And you should. It’s ridiculous. Water doesn’t cure anything besides dehydration (unless you’ve found a magical well, in which case hit me up.)
I am multiply disabled, and I drink a ton of water. You know what I use to manage my mental illness? Psych meds. And for my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome? I use a complicated regimen of supplements and foods that’s too long to list here. But the point is, drinking water doesn’t fix these things. But you should still drink it. A lot.
If all those articles were just making the claim that drinking water is super important then we could all get behind them. Because that’s actually true. “Drink more water” is basically the first thing I tell every client that comes into my office. Pretty much everyone doesn’t drink enough water. You probably don’t drink enough water.
Why is it so important? I’m sure you learned in elementary school that the human body is about 60% water, so there’s the shortest possible answer. Longer answers get into biology and chemistry—every part of your body is dependent on water. Hydrolysis and dehydration synthesis are key players in our ability to use the nutrients from our food. Blood viscosity is directly impacted by how hydrated you are. Often, chronic constipation can be resolved just by beginning to drink enough water. Water flushes the waste from our bodies. It helps us access and use nutrients.
Studies show that even slight dehydration causes headaches, irritability, and general fatigue/not feeling well. Long term dehydration can really screw up your kidneys. We can’t go more than 3 days without water without dying.
Okay, so, it’s important. But why water and not*, like, soda? Or coffee, or beer, or La Croix? (gasp! not La Croix?!)
*You can still drink these things. I just mean don’t drink them for hydration purposes. (I drink so much La Croix.)
Caffeine is a diuretic and so moves your water through your body more quickly, meaning you absorb less. So while caffeinated drinks do hydrate you to some extent, it’s not the same as drinking water. Soda and coffee also lack electrolytes (we’ll get to electrolytes in a sec), which are important to water absorption. Alcohol is the same, and additionally breaks down into a toxic compound in your liver, which is later flushed out in your urine. Acidic drinks are less hydrating than other drinks—and soda, coffee, sparkling water and alcohol are all acidic.
Another thing that I often encounter is that folks who are drinking heavily filtered water (not like, Britta filtered, but reverse osmosis filtered and the like, which includes most bottled and sparkling waters) are pretty consistently dehydrated, even while drinking water. The issue, again, is electrolytes: the filters remove the minerals from the water in addition to the impurities, meaning it’s not able to hydrate you as well as it should. Some RO systems include remineralizers, but for folks who are drinking water that hasn’t been remineralized I have them add some salt or trace mineral drops to their water (or La Croix). The results are consistently good. (I even notice this with my plants: in my office I have several plants, and one time I forgot to add minerals to my water dispenser when I changed it. The plants immediately got sad after I watered them with the “empty” water.)
So, electrolytes. You know about them from gatorade and other similar drinks, yes? They help you get hydrated. But I bet you didn’t know that you can just use salt to up the electrolyte content of your water. At A-camp I told a friend who was nursing a hangover with a La Croix to switch to water with a little salt sprinkled in, and they came back to me later with effusive thanks, and informed me that they had told everyone they encountered about how well the suggestion worked. The best part is that a pinch of salt is so much cheaper and less disgusting than gatorade! How much salt to use? Just a teensy bit. You shouldn’t be able to taste it, but it should make your reaction to your water shift to “oh wow I am so excited to drink this!” The amount to get to that feeling is different for everyone.
Okay, Lark, I get it. So how much water am I supposed to drink? The formula put forth by my program is that you should take your body weight, divide it in half, and that’s the number of ounces of water you need a day. For every alcoholic/caffeinated beverage you drink you need to drink an equal amount of water. There are actually a few things besides water that count towards your water content: bone broth, non-alcoholic fermented drinks like kombucha and kvass, and herbal teas that are not diuretics.
The results: when my clients start drinking the amount of water I recommend, they notice enormous changes in their health—less headaches, less pain, less fatigue, all the things you’d expect from being more hydrated. Even if they were drinking enough liquids previously, but as soda or whatever. Sometimes that’s the only step they are comfortable implementing at first, and they come back reporting that they already feel better. Consistently they report that after a week of drinking the amount of water I recommend, they notice an enormous difference on days that they don’t reach their goal.
So no, water is not going to cure you. But it is pretty heckin important.