Talk to any client of mine and they will attest to the fact that I am constantly asking how much water they drank, and reaffirming with them how important being well hydrated is.
Constipation, headaches, and fatigue are just a few of the ways in which your body may alert you to the fact that you need more water.
In your journey towards weight loss, and better health, drinking plenty of water should be at the top of your list.
What Does Water Do in Your Body?
Water is found everywhere in your body, even in your bones. In fact, water makes up about 60% of your body weight.
The majority of this water is inside your cells.
All this water is necessary for your whole body to work efficiently.
Among its many essential functions, water:
Serves as the place where all chemical reactions needed for life occur
Plays critical roles in cellular energy production and use
Carries nutrients from digestion around your body
Flushes waste products and toxins out of your body
Regulates your body temperature
Lubricates your joints and mucous membranes
Acts as a shock absorber in your body
The best place to start unpacking this list is where most of the action happens in your body: in your cells.
Hydration and Your Mitochondria
What drives the chemical reactions needed for essential life functions? The energy produced by your mitochondria, the biological “batteries” of your cells.
Mitochondria generate chemical energy in the form of what’s known as adenosine triphosphate, or “ATP” for short.
Your body needs ATP to:
Maintain membrane pumps needed for transporting nutrients and electrical signaling
Regulate hormone secretions that direct growth, development, and repair
Perform physical and mental work
Break down food and distribute nutrients
Eliminate waste products and toxins
All this happens in water and with water.
ATP in water
During the process of making energy in the watery spaces of your mitochondria, the ATP molecules become hydrated.
Hydration of ATP is not quite the same as being hydrated when you drink enough water.
Water surrounds ATP in a precise orientation that stabilizes it and keeps it dissolved. It’s only when ATP is dissolved in water that it can be used for energy.
ATP with water
Water molecules also react with ATP to free energy stored in its chemical bonds. Then your cells use it in the ways I listed out above.
In this chemical reaction, the water splits ATP apart. Ironically, one of the by-products of this process is metabolic water.
From a chemical standpoint, metabolic water is like the water you drink. It’s made of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. That’s why it’s called H2O.
But, unlike the water that comes out of your faucet, metabolic water doesn’t contain contaminants. It’s pure. This pristine water supports the optimal functioning of your mitochondria and THAT has far-reaching benefits in your body.
Health Benefits of Hydration
Hydration plays a vital role in every major organ and system of your body.
I’ll unpack a few of these in depth starting with my favorite: DIGESTION.
Water supports the functioning of your digestive tract from start to finish. As you chew, the food you eat mixes with saliva — which is mostly water. But, your saliva also contains enzymes that start the breakdown process of carbohydrates. Saliva also helps you swallow.
After you swallow, watery fluids transport the foods you eat through your gut. The fluid also promotes the mixing of food with digestive enzymes, as well as the absorption of digested nutrients.
At the end of your digestive tract, water traveling through your gut is reabsorbed in your colon.
One reason you may experience diarrhea is because the movement of your gut contents was too swift. So, not enough water was reabsorbed.
On the other hand, inadequate water intake is one of the major contributory factors to constipation. Water is necessary to keep stool soft and bulky and easy to pass. Keeping up your water intake throughout the day can help you avoid sluggish elimination.
I should note you do not need to go overboard on water, you just need to remain healthfully hydrated. While bowel movement frequency decreases with a very low fluid intake (17 ounces per day compared to 84 ounces per day) additional fluid intake (above normal levels) does not appear to increase in stool output in healthy individuals.
These bean-shaped organs help to regulate the fluid balance in your body.
Your kidneys also play a vital role in detoxification. Over a million tiny filters in these organs do the dirty work of removing metabolic waste products and toxins from your blood. Later you eliminate these via urine.
This is easy to take for granted since you don’t have to think about making your kidneys do their job. But these organs work VERY hard on your behalf, and when you don’t drink enough water you make their job even harder.
If your kidneys receive a hormonal signal that your water intake is low, they stop excreting much of it. In effect, they conserve water needed for essential life functions.
Indicators of this will be seen in your urine. For example your urine will become more concentrated. As a result, it may appear dark yellow — like apple juice. It also may also have a “thicker” consistency.
Besides supporting kidney filtration, optimal water intake helps protect your urinary system against disease. This includes safeguarding against kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and chronic kidney disease.
The liver is your body’s major detox organ. It is vitally important. The liver's main job is to filter the blood coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body, and to detoxify chemicals and metabolize drugs. But over 500 functions have been identified with the liver;
Production of bile, which helps carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion
Production of certain proteins for blood plasma
Production of cholesterol and special proteins to help carry fats through the body
Conversion of excess glucose into glycogen for storage
Regulation of blood levels of amino acids, which form the building blocks of proteins
Processing of hemoglobin for use of its iron content (the liver stores iron)
Conversion of poisonous ammonia to urea (urea is an end product of protein metabolism and is excreted in the urine)
Clearing the blood of drugs and other poisonous substances
Regulating blood clotting
Resisting infections by making immune factors and removing bacteria from the bloodstream
Clearance of bilirubin, also from red blood cells. If there is an accumulation of bilirubin, the skin and eyes turn yellow.
The liver needs water to conduct these processes, especially for detoxification. A major reason for this is that your blood is more than half water. About 1 quart of blood cycles through your liver every minute for filtration.
Additionally, adequate water supports your secretion of bile, a digestive fluid the liver produces which is stored in the gallbladder. In turn, good bile flow may reduce your odds of gallstones.
Moreover, hydration supports detoxification via your bile. Your liver releases toxins into bile. In turn, bile is secreted into your gut, and some is bound by dietary fiber. Then it’s excreted via your stools.
So, good hydration goes a long way toward supporting your liver function, detoxification, and drainage.
Proper hydration also supports your cardiovascular system, skin, brain, and lungs. Your hydration status may even impact your sensation of pain.
Circulatory system: Without adequate water, blood becomes thick and this slows down appropriate blood flow, which leads to poor circulation. Therefore water is absolutely crucial for the circulatory system. If you get dizzy or feel faint when moving from sitting to standing, good hydration may help. Also, if you’re prone to fainting, it could help to drink plenty of water before extensive standing and hot weather.
Water is also needed for proper oxygenation of blood. Blood oxygen levels indicate how well the body distributes oxygen from the lungs to all of its cells.
Brain: Inadequate hydration may undermine your brain function. Even mild dehydration can impair your attention span, short-term memory, and thinking. The brains of dehydrated adults show signs of increased neuronal activation when performing cognitively engaging tasks, indicating that their brains are working harder than normal to complete the task.
A meta-analysis of 33 studies including a total of 413 participants found an association between dehydration and significant impairments on attention, executive function, and motor coordination.
Lungs: As counter-intuitive as it may sound, your body needs water to breath: the lungs consist of 85% water. In order to take in oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide, our lungs need to be continually moistened with water.
The average person loses between 15-33 ounces of water per day just by breathing. If you’re active you can lose about 4x MORE.
When the body is dehydrated it tries to prevent respiratory water loss by producing histamines which close off the capillaries in the lungs. This reduces water loss, but makes breathing more difficult.
Staying well hydrated by taking in fluids throughout the day also helps keep the mucosal linings in the lungs thin and that helps the lungs function better.
Because water helps to flush toxins and other irritants out of the body it decreases the prostaglandin and histamine response, which is associated with an inflammatory reaction.
It can also help with joint pain. The cartilage in your joints is made up of 60% water. This cartilage acts like a cushion or a shock absorber and reduces the friction between the bones in the joint. There is also a gel-like fluid called synovial fluid which keeps the cartilage lubricated. When there is a scarcity of water in the body, cartilage loses its sponginess.
Drinking more water helps keep your joints healthy and can help eliminate pain. Proper hydration can also improve the production of synovial fluid, reduce inflammation and maintain the shock absorbing properties of cartilage.
Skin: Human studies suggest good hydration supports healthy skin. This includes promoting soft, smooth skin. This study concluded that a higher water input positively impacted the physiology of the skin.
If your skin is dry and rough, consider whether you’re drinking enough water.
How Much Water Do You Need?
Adults typically lose an average of 10 glasses of water (80 ounces) daily. Your urine, stools, and sweat — all routes for eliminating toxins — are major ways you lose water.
Because water is essential for life, you need to replace it.
But how much water do you need?
Conventional wisdom has recommended eight eight ounce glasses of water per day, or 64 ounces. However, scientists now believe this amount depends on many factors unique to you. These include your body size, health condition, and activity level.
Environmental aspects like the climate you live in and even the altitude are also important considerations.
Women: 60–75 ounces (7.5–9 glasses)
Men: 88–100 ounces (11–12.5 glasses)
Keep in mind, these broad ranges are considered “adequate” intake, and do not take into account the factors I mentioned above like activity level, body size, health condition or environment. Water intake is Like any other component of health- it depends on context. What’s optimal for you will be unique based on individual factors.
I typically encourage my clients to aim for the general guideline of consuming a gallon of hydrating fluid a day, but again, individual factors will create variation in this number.
5 Tips To Stay Hydrated
Now that you’ve read an entire blog on why water is so important, I wanted to offer some guidance on how to stay properly hydrated.
If you’ve heard that thirst isn’t always a good indicator of whether you need to drink up, you heard right. In fact by the time you’re thirsty, mild dehydration has already set in. And as you age, the thirst trigger to consume more fluids actually diminishes.
One of the most common health obstacles I coach my clients through is insufficient water intake. Whether they get bored with plain water or struggle to remember to drink throughout the day, the following are some suggestions I make as a coach, and they may help you as well!
You don’t have to doctor up water with sugar and artificial flavors to make it more palatable.
Instead, add your own natural flavorings.
You’ve likely heard of adding lemon or lime juice to your water but you can be far more creative then that.
Mash up a few berries or other small amount of fruit in water. Refrigerate it for at least two hours to let the flavors infuse the water. Strain before drinking, if desired.
Using an infuser pitcher, you can also try berries, kiwi slices, orange wedges, peach slices, sweet cherries, cucumber, mint leaves, even ginger slices! You can try flavor combinations, like pineapple with mango or blueberries with lemon, too.
Beverages flavored with herbs help hydrate you. What’s more, they contain natural plant compounds — phytochemicals — that may provide additional health benefits.
For example, peppermint tea has long been used to soothe digestive distress. It also contains beneficial phytochemicals called flavonoids. Animal research suggests peppermint’s flavonoids may calm the activity of your mast cells. Overactivity of these immune system cells may promote leaky gut and IBS.
Lemon ginger tea is also soothing and helpful for digestion.
You can also enjoy an herb-based “coffee.” Some Ayurvedic herbal coffee substitutes include coffee senna, also known as fedegoso. This herb has anti-parasitic and liver-supportive properties.
“Noelani” is the Hawaiian name for coconut and means “dew from the heavens.” This hints at the fluid and nutrient-rich composition of coconuts. Coconut water is rich in electrolytes — particularly potassium. It is also naturally sweet and hydrating.
You can buy coconut water in most stores. Just be sure to choose unsweetened versions.
Animal studies even suggest coconut water helps combat depression. This may be because it impacts your neurotransmitters.
Fruits and vegetables
Water doesn’t have to come entirely from beverages. Some comes from solid foods.
About 20% of the water you consume is tucked away in the foods you eat, especially fruits and vegetables.
In fact, vegetables and fruits contain as much as 96% water by weight. This varies with the specific produce items, but most are high in water.
Examples of water-rich options include cucumbers, salad greens, broccoli, strawberries, peaches, and oranges.
Broth and soup
Homemade broths and soups are another delicious way to bump up your fluid intake.
Not only does the liquid in soup support hydration, but so do the water-rich veggies in it — like celery, carrots, and onions.
If you make broth by boiling the bones from grass-fed cattle or organic chicken, you’ll receive the added benefit of collagen.
I drink 1-2 cups of bone broth a day. I simmer mine with turmeric, pepper and garlic and add sea salt. The collagen in bone broth can help protect the gut lining. It also helps prevent increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut.
if you forget to drink, my advice is to invest in a glass or stainless steel reusable bottle and to use reminders.
When you have a reusable water bottle, you can easily fill up and keep drinking, whether you’re running errands, traveling, or at home, work, or school. Keeping a water bottle handy can also serve as a visual reminder to drink more water. If you see the bottle on your desk or table, you will constantly be reminded to drink more. Plus, it’s better for the environment than relying on single-use plastic water bottles. And it helps reduce your exposure to the endocrine disrupters in plastics.
It also helps to use reminders to drink more water. You can use an app or the alarm on your smartphone or smartwatch.
For example, try setting a reminder to take a few sips of water every 30 minutes, or set a reminder to finish drinking your current glass of water and refill it every hour.
These reminders can help you increase your daily water intake, especially if you struggle with being forgetful or too busy to drink.
Proper hydration also helps ensure you have the energy and fluid you need to optimize your body’s natural detox processes. This includes detoxification and drainage via your liver, kidneys, and colon.
In this blog, I’ll talk about how hydration supports these and other vital bodily functions. I’ll also offer some general guidance on how much water I advise my clients consume, and give you five tips to stay hydrated.