Recently, I began to question how good water is for health. It makes sense to drink pure water…or does it? How much do we really need every day? Do water filters make a significant difference on your health? Is bottled water a need, or a corporate scheme to monetize a popular health trend?
My four decades of fieldwork with traditional indigenous people contradicts our modern notion of 4-6 glasses of pure water a day.
When I lived with the Yupik in 1967-68, a Siberian Eskimo people living on islands in the Bering Sea belonging to Alaska, they never drank plain water. When among Native American Indians of the Yukon of central Alaska and the Zapotec of Southern Mexico, I learned to walk long distances without drinking a drop of water.
Living among the Q’ero, a Quechua people of the Peruvian Andes that I’ve worked with since 2000, also taught me that humans are not meant to drink water straight up. They never drink plain water, but consume copious amounts of potato soup, as well as herbal teas that they pick fresh and gather locally. They told me that the Incans only gave water to prisoners. Even today, traditional Andean people do not drink plain water, but like their Incan ancestors, get their fluid requirements from soups and a fermented corn or quinoa beverage called chicha.
Traditional Chinese do not drink cold water. They drink tea all day long. If you offer a glass of water to a guest, you are considered a cheapskate. The Chinese also regularly drink herbal flavored broths.
What is Water?
A water molecule consists of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms (H2O). On Earth, water occurs as a liquid, a gas, as steam and vapor, and ice. 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, and 96.5% is in the oceans and seas. Only 2.5% of the total Earth’s water is fresh as groundwater and ice. Less than 0.3% is surface water occurring in streams, rivers, and lakes. All life depends on water. The human body is made up of about 70% water. Water is tasteless and odorless, and acts as a universal solvent including as a component within all cells.
Conventional Water Wisdom
In my medical education, I was taught that chronic underconsumption of water resulted in dehydration and was damaging to the kidneys. Does drinking more water mean that you’ll become healthier?
The urban myth of eight glasses of water (about a half gallon or 1.9 liters) per day originated from the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council in 1945. The average recommended daily water intake was estimated at 2.5 liters. These guidelines were based on opinion, not scientific facts. However, it was suggested that the majority of the 2.5 liters per day of water intake come from prepared foods. That piece of wisdom somehow got lost in translation.
Conventional wisdom also says that anything other than plain, pure water has negative impacts on health. Coffee, tea, and coke contain caffeine, which is a mild diuretic, so when you consume drinks containing caffeine, the diuretic effect causes you to urinate more, which makes dehydration worse.
But is that really true, or just Puritan speak from a bygone era slamming caffeine?
Even I was once a pure water advocate. In my earlier books, like Viral Immunity and Prolonging Health, I taut the benefit of pure water, but was I right? Is lots of water by itself good for health, or is there a better way?
We know now that green tea, consumed by billions of Chinese every day, not only doesn’t have negative health effects, but contains powerful plant compounds that combat cancer and keep cholesterol down. Coffee also has health benefits including protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease, lowering the risk for diabetes, and fighting cancer. But I agree that drinking caffeinated sodas is not healthy, mainly because of all the other additives and excessive amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Can You Drink Too Much Water?
To avoid dehydration, you need to drink between 1 and 7 liters of water daily, with the precise amount varying depending on activity, temperature, humidity, and other factors like air conditioning. If you drink too much water, you get “water toxicity” or hyper-hydration, which if taken to the extreme, can kill you.
I now find that traditional cultures had it right. Water is absolutely necessary for life on earth and for a healthy body. However, drinking too much plain water doesn’t promote more wellness. Too much water, especially ice water, increases diuresis, dampens digestive function, constricts capillaries so blood flow is reduced to important organs and tissues, and dilutes necessary nutrients.
I agree that we need enough fluid, but every one differs, so the amount varies depending on temperature, the type of foods you eat, how much you urinate, exercise, kidney function, and other factors.
Three Guidelines for Fluid Needs
- Avoid Getting Thirsty. If your mouth is dry, drink more fluids. If you’re thirsty, don’t ignore your body’s needs—rehydrate.
- Don’t Over Drink Water. Never drink so much water that you feel full of fluid. Don’t drink iced cold water before or with meals.
- Watch Your Urine. If you urine is dark yellow or brown, you’re dehydrated. Drink more fluids. If your urine is always clear, you may be drinking too much water. Normal urine should be very light yellow.
In my clinical career of over three decades, I’ve learned a few things worth sharing. Here are some ways to get adequate fluid but also enhance your nutrition.
Five Ways to Get Enough Fluid and Improve Health
- Drink More Tea. Green tea has the most health benefits, but white or black teas are beneficial, too. Herbal teas are also good for you. When you can, substitute plain water for tea, herbal teas, or coffee.
- Try Early Morning Health Drinks. Warm water is an excellent morning cleanser for the digestive system and liver. Try adding a twist of fresh lemon. The Vermont folk remedy of warm water and apple cider vinegar is another healthy morning drink. Try combining 2 ounces of kambucha and 2 ounces of aloe vera juice with 4 ounces of warm water.
- Try Supplement Boosters. The amino acid L-Arginine is a heart healthy supplement. Mix powdered arginine in warm or room temperature water. For a fizzy drink use a packet of Emergen-C in water. Or make your own with powdered vitamin C and electrolytes.
- Consume More Broths and Soups: I predict you’ll see the return of soups and broths in healthy gourmet restaurants. Try old-fashioned chicken soup, and make your own vegetable or potato soup. The original nature cure doctors were advocates of barley soup and Bieler’s broth. Miso soup is healthy for you and tasty.
- Fresh Juice. Don’t forget the benefits of garden fresh organic vegetable juice. A six-ounce glass of mixed vegetable juice several times a week makes a good mid-morning pickup.
Remember, your body needs sufficient fluid to be healthy. Like all things in nature, it’s about balance. Too little or too much water is counterproductive to health. Plain water, especially when consumed from plastic bottles, should not be the first choice for your daily fluid. Instead, think of water as a vehicle to carry nutrients and super food compounds to your body’s cells.
Why not share some of your favorite morning drinks with our readers?