Water: The Chemical Basis of Life and Health
For those Star Trek fans out there, there is an episode of The Next Generation in which an alien refers to humans as “…bags of mostly water.” Yes, we are indeed bags of mostly water. This bag is our internal environment, surrounded by skin. Our body’s water and fluids need to stay within optimal limits in order for us to survive. These fluids are a virtual chemical ‘soup,’ with water as the substance that controls many of the functions of these chemicals.
Water is a universal solvent, meaning that other substances need to dissolve in water in order to break down into pieces that are small enough to be utilized by the body. Water allows these broken-down substances to be small enough to enter the bloodstream from the digestive system, and eventually find their way into every cell of your body. Water also has countless other functions, including forming saliva for digestion, keeping mucus membranes moist, flushing waste products, lubricating joints, acting as a shock absorber for the brain, helping deliver oxygen all over the body – the list is endless.
Water also absorbs and releases heat very slowly. This is important since the body’s internal temperature needs to be kept very constant, within a very narrow range: 97-99° F. So, if you are exposed to hot or cold temperatures, it’s the water in your body that helps to keep your temperature constant. Think of the ocean. People living near the ocean usually experience very little fluctuation in the temperature throughout the year. The reason is that since the ocean water absorbs either heat or cold, the ocean releases heat in the local region during the colder months, and absorbs heat during hot months, keeping the coastal climate very stable. Coincidentally, our bodies are made of approximately 70% water, which is almost identical to the percentage of the earth’s surface that is covered by water.
Are you drinking enough water for optimum health? This is a very simple question with no easy answers. This depends on body size, what type of climate you live in, such as hot and dry or cool and humid, and other factors. Being dehydrated can be dangerous, affecting every cell in your body. Elderly adults can be especially susceptible to dehydration, since they may have lost some of the ability to be able to tell when they are thirsty.
How much water should you drink? A general rule of thumb is that you should drink half of your body weight in ounces per day. This is drinking pure water, and does not include other drinks, such as coffee, tea, juice, etc. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should ideally drink 75 ounces of water each day. That’s around 10 cups of water. However, this depends on your activity level, and the climate. Some think that one third of your weight in ounces may be more realistic. However, nobody can debate about the actual benefits of drinking plenty of this magical liquid. Drinking enough water is no doubt one of the healthiest habits you can have.