The Importance of Hydration

Written by Chris Hiscock - Remedial Massage Therapist at Eureka Osteo

I'm one of those people who carry around quotes from movies and tv shows in my head and tends to bring them up when a real life situation or context prompts me. Whenever I think of the topic of hydration I always recall this moment from The Simpsons ...

 image: www.deadhomersociety.com

image: www.deadhomersociety.com

Dr Hibbert:    “Your cholesterol level is lethally high, but I’m more concerned about your gravy level.”

Homer:         “Now, wait a second, you doctors have been telling us for years to drink eight glasses of gravy a day.”

Dr. Hibbert:   “Homer, it's eight glasses of water a day. You’re a little confused.”

Homer:         “Oh, confused, would we?”

What to believe

Hopefully not too many people are as confused as Homer but to give him some credit hydration is one of those topics that inspires a fair amount of conflicting advice. It is an area of healthcare management that seems to divide opinion and is often influenced by contextual lifestyle and environmental factors. One of the concerns that some people express is that drinking too much water can be just as harmful as not drinking enough. It is indeed true that you can in fact over-hydrate, thus diluting important salts and minerals in your bloodstream, causing negative effects on your health. This is exceptionally rare, however, and it is reasonable to suggest that, in general, most people do not drink enough water and are in little danger of over-hydrating.

The body’s water content

Just over half of your physical body is water, so it makes sense that water is a fairly key ingredient in our diet. It is seems even more important when you consider that we can not store water for later (unlike camels for example) or generate our own water, yet we can and do lose it. Even the act of taking one full breath results in a small loss of water. It brings to mind the concept of homeostasis. This is the idea that our body has a balanced state that it seeks to return to whenever factors such as lifestyle, disease and the external environment move us away from that state. Losing an element that makes up around 60% of our body, and not adequately replenishing it, spells big trouble.

Dehydration

Dehydration has been linked to a range of physical and mental health markers. Physically we need water for, amongst other things, blood flow, body temperature regulation, muscle functionality, cellular communication, joint health, digestion and bladder function. That’s quite a list of vital processes that, when compromised, can lead to any number of ailments and disorders, not to mention being intrinsically linked to our very survival. The effects do not have to be that dramatic, however. For example it has been estimated that dehydration is a contributing factor in 80% of headaches. In terms of mental health hydration also has a significant role to play. Dehydration adversely affects our mood, short-term memory, decision making, reaction times, concentration and focus. This is particularly evident in children and teenagers and can often be overlooked as a contributing factor in terms of behaviour regulation and interpersonal relations.

So the question everyone asks is ... how much water should I drink?

There are plenty of rule-of-thumb data tables around and the current research seems to hover around the figure of a minimum of 2 litres per day. However, your hydration needs vary from day to day, season to season, even year to year. There are many factors that can influence your hydration requirements including age, weather, artificial heating and cooling, activity levels, genetics, pregnancy … and plenty more.  Added to this is the complex issue of calculating the water content in other drinks and foods that we consume, as well as the dehydrating action of substances such as sugar and caffeine. This is where the debate and confusion comes in, so my advice is to keep it simple. Most people don't drink 2 litres of water per day; just aim for that and keep other drinks to a minimum. A good way to meet this target it is to measure out 2 litres in a water jug in the morning and try to drink it all by the end of the day.

Hydration and massage

Hydration plays a specific role in the efficacy of massage therapy treatments. If you drink plenty of water on a daily basis then your muscles will be pliable, responsive and closer to homeostasis. This will enhance the physiological benefits of massage therapy ... it's a little like an artist using good quality materials, if you'll pardon the highfalutin comparison! You will also notice that massage therapists often wave you out the door after a treatment with a common footnote: "make sure you drink plenty of water!" That's because we want the toxins that are now moving around your body to ultimately leave via the usual pathways rather than resettling in your soft tissue. You will feel a lot better the next day if you drink a litre or two post-massage and the long-term effects of the massage will be, well, longer term!

Finally …

Buying bottled water is one of the most ridiculous things that you can do when you are as lucky as us to live in a town like Ballarat. Save money, look after your health, and most important of all look after the environment by drinking tap water only. When you visit our clinic please take advantage of our filtered tap water in the waiting room! #waronwaste, #choosetap.

1. Water - a vital nutrient; Better Health Victoria / Deakin University, 2014 (click here to visit the website).

2. The role of cellular hydration in the regulation of cell function; Haussinger,D., Biochemical Journal 313, 1996.