Most natural health practitioners are enthusiastic about the healing properties of water. Those in the know often stress the importance of keeping the body topped up with fluid, and generally advocate that eight or so glasses of water pass our lips each day. However, while there is often much talk of the need to supply the body with plenty of water, it occurs to me that there is often little explanation as to why. When pressed as the precise favours water does for the body, it’s amazing how many aqua advocates dry up. This week, I thought I’d take a closer look at the role this most basic of fluids plays in the body, to see whether it really does deliver on the bucketful of benefits it’s said to offer.
Water makes up a staggering 70 per cent of the human body, a fact that in itself suggests that it has a many and varied roles to play in terms of health and well-being. Water’s ubiquitous nature means that it participates in all the physiological and biochemical processes that are essential to life. From nerve impulses that travel around the body, to the transport of oxygen and nutrients around the system, water plays an integral role. When the body gets low of fluid, pretty much every body process is unlikely to work to full capacity. No wonder then that, in practice, dehydration may give rise to a diverse array of symptoms including headache, fatigue, muscle cramps and constipation.
Drinking enough water appears to be crucial to our general well being, but appears to do much more besides. There is quite a body of scientific evidence that has linked increased water intake with a reduced risk of major illness. Research shows, for instance, that drinking more water significantly reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. Perhaps more surprising though are the studies that suggest that water might have an important role in the prevention of cancer. A couple of pieces of research have found that those who drink more water are at a reduced risk of developing cancer of the bladder. Another study found that women consuming five or more glasses of water per day had about half the risk of developing cancer of the colon compared to women consuming two or fewer glasses of water per day.
Still more research has found that getting a decent daily quota of water may protect against heart disease too. A study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women drinking five or more glasses of water each day were at 41 per cent reduced risk of dying from a heart attack compared to women drinking two or less glasses each day. In men, drinking more water appeared to slash risk of heart attack by more than half.
Probably the best way to monitor whether we are getting enough water is to keep an eye on the colour of our pee. Keeping our urine very pale yellow or pale yellow throughout the day ensures we are well hydrated. If our urine colour strays into darker tones, particularly if it starts to whiff a bit, then it’s time to reach for the water. There is good reason to believe that keeping our wee relatively free of colour has clear benefits for our health and well being in the long term.