In the first of a series of articles, Lucy Jones of the herbalist clinic, the Myrobolan Clinic, looks at healthy and natural tips stressed and busy lawyers can follow.
I know that it can be pretty difficult to drink enough water. We are told that we need to consume two litres a day. Two litres! If you find that daunting then you are not alone. As a herbalist I see a lot of patients who don’t drink enough water.
Since lifestyle and dietary factors are an important consideration in herbal medicine I always spend time going through a patient’s typical daily food and drink intake. People may appear to drink quite a lot by the time you add up all their daily coffee, tea, soft drinks, and fruit juices, but the reality of the matter is that these don’t count. If you are drinking caffeinated or sugary drinks you actually need to increase your water intake to compensate. I’ve lost count of the times that people have told me they don’t like water and rarely drink it.
Considering that water is the second most essential substance for life itself after oxygen, this is a strange state of affairs. How have we, in the developed world, become so seriously disconnected from something so vital for our wellbeing?
Well firstly, our local retailer is able to offer us an enormous range of chilled drinks. We can choose sugar free or sugar loaded, high caffeine or caffeine free and a wide variety of sports rehydration drinks (designed to be used after intense exercise not a walk down to the corner shop). Dazzled by choice we may be tempted to choose something ‘more interesting’ than water.
Secondly, it seems that culturally we are attuned to drinking coffee or tea at intervals during the day, at work meetings or social occasions. Water is somehow considered a lesser offering than a cup of tea or coffee.
Thirdly although water is so essential for our health, as we get older and expose ourselves to more and more non water drinks, we lose the ability to recognise that we need it when we need it. This means that we are likely to reach for a snack when we really need a glass of water.
Thirst is stimulated by the thirst centre in the hypothalamus in response to decreasing body fluid levels and an increased concentration of electrolytes. Once there is a state of dehydration the body switches to water saving mode, giving us a dry mouth and a feeling of thirst. This doesn’t happen until we have lost around 2% of our body mass in lost water. By then our mental and physical performance will have been adversely affected.
You can demonstrate this quite easily by asking a group of people to learn a simple repetitive foot work pattern, maybe a small sequence of a line dance or a short martial arts kata. The group will learn the sequence quickly and become quite proficient after maybe only half a dozen repetitions. Now get your group to work up a sweat. Make them do sit ups, press ups, maybe run around a bit. Get them a little dehydrated. Now get them to do the sequence again. They will find it tough and will make mistakes. If you let them rehydrate briefly you will notice an instant increase in their ability to perform the pattern.
If that’s what happens with a line dancing sequence, imagine the effect of mild dehydration on one’s ability to analyse and retain complicated facts in a work or study context.
What we actually have to do is to re-educate ourselves to the sensation of a need for water, and to experience what it actually feels like to be living in a fully hydrated state. By way of encouragement let’s just have a quick look at some of the physiological effects of chronic dehydration and the sorts of health conditions we can look forward to if we remain disconnected from our real need for water.
Firstly, as the body starts to recognise that it is dehydrated it will start redistributing the water that it has available to make sure that the parts which need it most get first dibs. These are the brain, lungs and liver. Last in the queue is the skin, and that is why if you don’t drink enough water you will have dull lifeless skin which is more prone to wrinkles.
If premature aging or vanity doesn’t motivate you then perhaps I need to tell you that when dehydrated the body secretes increased amounts of histamine in order to restrict the amount of water which is lost through breathing. It tightens the bronchial muscles to close down the airways, restricting water loss but worsening asthma if you are prone to it.
If you are not asthmatic and you don’t care about wrinkles then let me put forward joint pain as a motivating factor. The cartilage and joints in the body are made up largely of water. These tissues are not well supplied with blood and therefore necessary nutrients rely on water to get into and out of the tissue. Normal daily wear results in cell damage to the cartilage and new cartilage is formed to replace this. In chronic dehydration the transport of nutrients is much less efficient and replacement times are lengthened, sometimes indefinitely, leading to stiffness, pain and inflammation. The cartilage in the lower back is an area which is often the first to complain.
As well as being prone to aching joints, a person who is chronically dehydrated will feel fatigued because their enzyme processes will slow down. Less fluid in the blood stream triggers the kidneys to stop working so efficiently, leading to a build up of toxicity which adds to the sense of fatigue. In a bid to keep things on track the body raises the blood pressure so that kidney function can at least carry on at the required level. As the cells sense that they are losing water the body secretes cholesterol to try to compensate – so in one fell swoop you have high blood pressure and hyperlipidaemia.
There’s more, the constipation and the urinary infections, but it starts to get a bit depressing listing all the health conditions which stem from, or are aggravated by not drinking enough water. On the subject of depression though, you should know that we need an amino acid called tryptophan in order to make the ‘happy chemical’ serotonin. Water is necessary to transport the tryptophan into the brain and so dehydration can limit the amount of available tryptophan and cause depression.
If this hasn’t convinced you then may be the only thing that will work is a trial. How about you commit to drinking the recommended amount of water for a month, just as an experiment? To get the full benefit of this you will seriously need to limit or cut out caffeine, so try to make do with one cup in the morning, if you must. Yes, at first you will find that you develop an intimate relationship with the smallest room in the house, as the water tends to run through you like, well, water through a dehydrated house plant. But actually after a couple of days your body tissues will start to rehydrate and the water will start to be retained. You skin will develop more lustre and you will start to feel brighter and more energetic. Your mental and physical performance will be better.
Good health is all about balance. It’s about moderation in all things including moderation. It’s about not getting so hung up about what we eat and drink that we are not able to enjoy life, but it’s also about making friends with our body and understanding what it needs to function properly. So give your body a break –drink enough water.