Step Away From the Diet Coke!

Recently, and this is probably due in part to the season, I have had a number of patients who have been experiencing fluid problems.  But we're not just talking about swelling in the ankles, we're talking about fluid around the heart, very heavy periods, fluid on the brain and not really understanding why.  Let's compare this to a drought.  Many of our communities are experiencing drought conditions and mandatory water shortages and bans or limitations on water use.  In other words, we are trying to conserve water and encourage people to only use water for essential things.  Water may create beauty in our gardens, our lawns, even our swimming pools, but it isn't life-sustaining in the way that drinking water is. 

The exact same thing happens inside the body as is happening outside the body in these summer months especially.  Our bodies are experiencing water shortages, and methods are being put in place to accommodate these shortages.  The shortages exist because we are failing to fully hydrate our bodies.  We are drinking iced tea, diet coke, carbonated beverages, coffee blends that would astonish Juan Valdez and expecting that they will do what water does because they each contain water.  You would be wrong. 

The truth is that many beverages actually use more of our body's water reserves than the water they contribute, in other words they are dehydrating.  This is especially true of green tea.  It may be great for providing antioxidants, but it does so at the cost of your hydration. 

So let's do the math: you should be drinking approximately 1/2 your body weight in ounces per day.  If you weight 140 pounds, then you need to drink 70 ounces of water per day.  That is water and the water that is contained in healthy hydrating water-bearing foods, think of melons, coconut water, even homemade lemonade (no sugar please).  But if you are adding beverages that take water away, then you deduct those ounces from your daily total, so 6 ounces of coffee is 6 less ounces of water from your daily total.  This isn't even counting the foods and lifestyle challenges that also use water - breads and grains, smoking, sun exposure, sleeping with your mouth open, just to name a few. 

So now that we have established that you are dehydrated, what does your body do?  Well if you were experiencing drought conditions what would you do?  You would stock up on bottled water.  Water that isn't free-flowing but is stored easily in one of your closets or cupboards.  You would realize when you are sneaking water into your favorite plants, that if you give them too much water too quickly, it just runs off and doesn't even absorb into the soil to reach the roots. 

Now turn this around and look at the body ... fluid accumulation around the heart, around the brain, near the liver, in the uterus.  These are all crucial areas of body function and also have significant spaces where fluid can accumulate because of the enlargement or reduction in size of these organs upon demand.  So our bodies may be simply trying to find closet space to ensure water availability when you go the whole day without bothering to allow one cup of water to pass your lips.  Then you try to make up for it by chugging water at the end of the day, and then what happens ... you simply pee it out, just like water running along the top of the soil without actually sinking in where it will do any good.

What is that you say?  Water doesn't really taste good?  You don't want to be peeing so often?  Would you prefer chronic kidney and urinary tract infections, prostate enlargement, muscle injury, herniated discs, vision loss and even gum disease?  All of these things are easily prevented with simple and effective hydration. 

If you are noticing that you fatigue more easily, have trouble getting your breath, get easily bloated and have joint pain, then water may be your answer.  You may realize that water is important if you're lying in the sun at the beach, but you may not think about it quite so much when you're in your air conditioned office all day.  The truth is that you can lose just as much water in air conditioning as you can in the sun.   So pay attention and you may be lucky enough to realize just how dehydrated you are.