Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How do we Manage the Water Needs of our Body?, Part 1

Contrary to popular belief, the body is not a composite of solid organs in which fluids circulate but rather a composite of fluids in which solids can be found. The adult human body consists of 70% water; a newborn is 80% water; and a 4-month-old fetus is 93% water. Most of our organs are composed of about 75% water, the brain with the highest percentage at 83%. The skeleton on the other hand holds the least at 22%. The fluids in the body are held separately and distributed throughout different chambers or layers situated more or less deep within. The fluid that is closest to the surface is the blood. It circulates inside vessels and represents approximately 5% of body weight. Directly beneath the blood is the extracellular fluid, of which the lymph is a part. As its name indicates, it is found outside and bathes the cells, filling the tiny interstices that separate them. Its volume is equivalent to 15% of the body’s weight. The deepest chamber holds the intracellular fluid, which is found inside the cells. Although each cell is extremely small in volume, added together they constitute a very large volume: the intracellular fluid represents 50% of body weight. The liquid components of our body are the connecting link between our cells and the outside of the body. They carry nutrients and oxygen to the cells and in turn take away the toxins that these produce. Without water, our body could not function. The organism’s water needs
We eliminate approximately 2.5 litres (L) of water daily: 1.5L of urine, 0.5L of perspiration, 0.5L through the lungs (in the form of vapor) and through the intestines.

It is imperative that this considerable fluid loss be compensated with an equivalent intake in order for the body to continue functioning. The law of equilibrium, which governs every physiological phenomenon, demands it. Just as periods of activity must be balanced with rest periods, burning energy with equivalent nourishment, and so on, so too, must fluid elimination be compensated through water intake.

Where does our organism find the 2.5L daily water needs? Some water is contained in food (approximately 1 litre), the rest in drinks (1.5 litres). These numbers correspond with eating generous portions of fruit and vegetables due to their rich water content. However today, in general, our nourishment consists mainly of foods poor in water content: grains and meat. Also, they contain too much salt and are filled with toxins, which only increase the need for water. In fact, the more waste there is to eliminate, the more liquid support is necessary for the elimination.

Taking the different factors into account, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends an average daily intake of 2 litres of water.

How does our personal fluid intake compare with the 2 litres? Is it less or more? Or does it correspond with this figure?

In order to know one must measure each volume of fluid intake during the day. The intake can vary from one day to the next, therefore it is a good idea to take these measures over three or four consecutive days. An important point: water and herbal teas (unsweetened) count for a full measure but it is not the same for coffee, tea, chocolate and commercial drinks, as well as wine and beer, which count as only half measures. These latter drinks are not as hydrating as the first set due to their high content of sugar, alcohol and other substances. A portion of the liquid they contain is used to neutralise and eliminate the undesirable contents.
Because man, at least in the Western world, has abundant water always at his disposal, he does not realise how brief is the time that can elapse between not drinking and dehydration and death.
It is calculated that grave dehydration problems arise after 3 days of total deprivation and death results 3 or 4 days later. People lost in the desert or shipwrecked, trapped miners, reach this point of no return. Besides such extreme cases, there is also chronic dehydration where the water deficiency is never severe enough to become critical but suffices to cause health problems.

What happens when the body does not receive sufficient fluid? First of all the blood loses volume. It is constantly filtering its water content to the kidneys, the sweat glands and the rest of the excretory system. Its volume cannot, however, diminish very much. The body then reacts by drawing fluid from the extracellular matrix. The blood volume is restored but the extracellular liquid is reduced, affecting efficiency of the exchange between the blood and cells.

In order to remedy the extracellular fluid deficit, the body draws fluid from inside the cells, which in turn dehydrate and diminish in function. The body becomes deprived of water within the deeper and deeper layers.

Two major resulting metabolic disturbances will occur and originate from all the troubles of dehydration. The first is a slowing down of enzyme activity. Enzymes, which are responsible for all biochemical reactions within the body, work less efficiently when the organic fluids are thick and viscous. Energy, hormone secretion and reparative substance production, all necessary for proper functioning of the organism, decline rapidly.

The second major disturbance is an autointoxication of the organism. Toxin excretion continues but with a reduced amount of fluid. Urine becomes thick, sweat more concentrated and stools are drier. Under these conditions toxic elimination is forcibly less efficient.

Specifically, chronic dehydration can cause the following: fatigue and listlessness (through the slowing down of enzyme production), constipation (stools become dry and hard), digestive problems (through insufficient fluid to produce digestive secretion), hypotension (through lack of blood volume), gastritis and stomach ulcers (mucus deficiency that protects the gastric lining), respiratory problems (through the drying up of mucus), eczema (skin eruptions due to sweat that is heavily concentrated), cystitis (heavily concentrated urine leading to micro-lesions, which allow bacteria to grow). Excess weight can also result indirectly from dehydration. Some people confuse thirst with hunger. True, eating can get rid of thirst because of the fluids in foods, but this fluid intake is accompanied by a calorie intake that in the long run leads to weight gain.

An overweight person should therefore drink a lot more water to curb false hunger sensations, but large fluid intake also forces the body to burn calories.

Fatigue and a lack of energy remain one of the biggest symptoms of dehydration. Resurgent energy and liveliness is the first effect to manifest in someone who starts to drink sufficiently.

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