To so many people, water is just that natural drink that quenches their thirst. But water does more than just quench your thirst.
Water is colourless and tasteless. It does not contain sugar or flavor, like other drinks, yet the World Health Organisation (WHO) describes it as a basic nutrient of the human body, which is critical to life. This may not be unconnected with its many benefits to the human body.
Medical experts say the human body cannot function without water. This is so because, depending on its size, the human body contains from 55 per cent to 78 per cent water – 55 per cent for some adults and 78 per cent for children.
According to United States Geological Survey (USGS), the cells in the body are full of water. The brain and heart, for example, are composed of 73 per cent water. The lungs have about 83 per cent water.
The skin contains 64 per cent water. Muscles and kidneys are 79 per cent. The bones are 31 per cent water. The excellent ability of water to dissolve substances allows our cells to use valuable nutrients, minerals, and chemicals in biological processes.
Water is, therefore, not just another drink. Its unique qualities and properties are what make it so important and basic to life.
The USGS said water serves a number of essential functions to keep us all going, which include: a vital nutrient to the life of every cell, acts first as a building material, regulates our internal body temperature
by sweating and respiration, the carbohydrates and proteins that the body use
as food are metabolised and transported by water in the bloodstream. It assists in flushing waste mainly through urination; acts as a shock absorber for brain, spinal cord, and fetus, forms saliva and lubricates joints.
Benefits of water
Aside the above listed benefits, drinking adequate quantity of water also helps prevent, cure or reduce some ailments. Just like other medications, water is a therapy of its kind. Although it may not be found on the same counter where drugs are found in a pharmacy, experts and studies have proved that drinking clean, safe and adequate amount of water could help in the following ways.
Tiredness and cramps: Studies have shown that drinking water before, during and after physical activity helps you stay alert and have extra energy. Since healthy and hydrated muscle tissue is around 79 per cent water, drinking adequate quantity of water every day can help prevent tiredness and cramps.
Weight control: For those who may want to control their weight, drinking water is one of the best ways to achieve it as experts have said that feelings of hunger are sometimes actually caused by thirst. They advised that rather than eat a handful of snacks or other carbonated drinks, a glass of water will do as water contains no fat, calories or sugar and is a great choice when compared to high calorie drinks.
Better memory: A research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that one of the most reliable predictors of decline in memory and mental performance is dehydration. The human brain tissue is said to be 73 per cent water, thus, drinking water not only helps you have better memory and concentration, results have also shown that academic and creative performances are increased when you drink adequate amount of water throughout your day.
Good skin: The skin is around 64 per cent water, so staying hydrated daily helps you have soft, firm, glowing skin. And it can help prevent the appearance of fine lines and spot, resulting in a more youthful looking appearance.
Despite its benefits to human body, humans continue to lose water every time they breathe. During breathing, humidified air leaves the body. Sweat, urination or bowel movement also take out water from the body. When the body is short of the required amount of fluid needed for optimal functioning without a replacement, it is said to be dehydrated.
From experts’ point of view, dehydration is a condition that can occur when the loss of body fluid, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in so that the body begins to lose its ability to function normally and begins to produce symptoms related to the fluid loss. Infants and the elderly are said to have higher risk.
Aside the natural way by which humans lose water, other conditions, such as fever, heat exposure, too much exercise, diarrhea, vomiting, increased urination due to infection, diabetes and lack of access to clean water and injuries, such as burns or mouth sores, and severe skin diseases, are the main causes of dehydration.
Dehydration could be mild, moderate or severe, and its general signs and symptoms are: mild to excessive thirst, fatigue, headache, dry mouth and skin, little or yellowish than normal urination, muscle weakness, dizziness, few or no tears or lightheadedness; and when treated, they seldom result in complications.
However, the severe cases can be life-threatening, especially in the very young and the elderly. Its symptoms include: severe decreased urine or no urine output, dizziness or lightheadedness that does not allow the person to stand or walk normally, rapid heart rate, fever, low blood pressure, poor skin elasticity, confusion or coma, seizure or shock.
Therefore, the benefits of drinking safe water are inestimable, which explains why there have been constant calls for humans to step up their water intake.
Right quantity of water per day
Controversies have continued to trail the amount of water a healthy individual is required to take per day. While some experts advice between two to three litres of water in a typical day, others say it has no scientific basis.
Although it is believed that the recommendation for eight glasses of water per day was got from the 1945 American Food and Nutrition Board recommendation, Prof. Aaron Carroll, a professor of Paediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, has, however, stressed that the promoters ignored the sentence that followed closely behind the recommendation, which specifically read: “Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”
Enlightening on this, Prof. Carroll, in a recent report published in New York Times, said although he recommends water as the best beverage to consume, it is certainly not the only source of hydration.
He stressed that most water is present in most of the foods and fruits humans consume and they contribute to the recommended quantity of water intake.
Said he: “You don’t have to consume all the water you need through drinks. You also don’t need to worry so much about never feeling thirsty. The human body is finely tuned to signal you.
“Water is present in fruits and vegetables. It’s in juice, beer, it’s even in tea and coffee. Before anyone writes me to tell me that coffee is going to dehydrate you, research shows that that’s not true either.”
Foods rich in water
According to experts in the field of nutrition, fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cucumber, strawberries, lettuce, peach, orange, and your skimmed milk and soup contain lots of water and add to your water intake for the day.
Joan Nwokoma, a Lagos based nutritionist said, the “watermelon is one of the most hydrating foods you can eat, as it contains 92 per cent water. Its 154-gram serving contains over a half cup 118 ml of water. Cucumber is 95 per cent water, and Lettuce is 96 per cent, just as 72 grams of lettuce provides more than a quarter cup of water.
She said: “The Strawberry is another fruit that can add to your water intake. It contains 91per cent water, while Peach and Orange contain 89 per cent and 88 per cent of water respectively. There is almost a half cup (118 ml) of water in one orange. Tomatoes contain 94 per cent – one medium tomato alone provides about a half cup of water; Cabbage is 92 per cent; Grapefruit is 88%, there is close to a half cup (118 grams) of water in half a grapefruit (123 grams); while coconut water is 95 per cent water.
“Away from fruits and vegetables, if you are the type that takes skim milk, note that it contains 91 per cent water; Broths and soups are usually water-based; they are 92 per cent water and have the potential to be very hydrating and nutritious. One cup – 240 grams of chicken broth – is made almost entirely of water, which contributes a decent amount to your daily hydration needs.”
The nutritionist thus advised that the next time you want to measure your water intake, you ought to consider all other foods that contain water you took, not forgetting other drinks.
Having learnt that most of the other drinks, foods, fruits and vegetables we take contain some amount of water, which also adds to the required amount needed, how then does an individual know if they are properly hydrated?
Doing justice to this, Prof. Carroll said you almost do not need to worry so much about never feeling thirsty as the human body is finely tuned to signal you.
Aside the thirst mechanism signalling you that you need to top up your water level, experts have advised that water should be taken at certain times to get the system running optimally.
According to them, it is beneficial to kick-off your day with water as it has the power to rid the body of free radicals and residue from burned calories used during the night’s metabolism; drinking water before eating helps a person feel fuller, thus reducing the amount of food to be consumed.
It is also advised to first drink water when you are hungry, with this, you will be able to detect it is truly hunger or just thirst and also help keep calorie intake in check. Water is also to be taken before and after a workout.
“When you are exercising, water also helps to regulate your body temperature. If you do not drink enough water during your exercise session, you are putting yourself at greater risk for dehydration and further complications. If you become dehydrated during exercise, your muscles will begin to fatigue. You may experience cramps, weakness and loss of coordination. In a state of dehydration, your body is unable to cool itself, which can lead to serious consequences such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. To avoid dehydration, you need to be aware of the amount of water you drink not only while you are exercising but also before and after your workout,” noted Livingstrong.com.
It is also good to drink more water when you are exposed to germs. This will help wash away the germs. Drink more water when you are ill, and when you are tired.
Is all water good?
When advised to drink water, it is not just any kind of water. Ensure the water you are taking into your system is pure and clean, devoid of any contaminants. Drinking unsafe water can cause gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses like nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Well or ground water may be safe as it might contain pollutants from farm runoff, industrial landfills and other sources of contamination.
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) stressed that bottled water remains the best. However, for those who cannot afford that, you can get a filter for your kitchen faucet that will remove up to 99 per cent of contaminants to purify your drinking water or you can as well boil your water.