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Water in nutrition and health

If you are to pick one basic nutrient that is the most neglected and underrated, it is definitely water. Not only that water makes about 2/3 of our body weight, it is also more urgently needed than any other single nutrient. Humans can expect to live two to three months without any food (the longest hunger strike, at the Cork prison, Ireland, lasted 94 days), but only three or four days without water.

It is often assumed that water in the body merely serves as a passive environment in which the chemistry of life is taking place. That is probably to blame - at least in part - for surprising disinterest in the role of the main body constituent. The reality is that water has multiple vital roles in body functioning.

Sufficient water is needed for proper digestion. Water is also an active agent in hydrolysis (chemical change and breakdown of substances in water), a vital part of body metabolism that includes decomposition of water-soluble toxins. Water provides oxygen and hydrogen needed by the detox system for the oxidation/reduction part of Phase I detoxication, as well as hydroxyl group (OH) for the alcohol/aldehyde pathway in the detox' Phase II.

Water supports cellular structure; its flow through the cellular membrane generates electrical charge, contributing to cellular energy production. It is important factor in controlling body temperature, acid/alkaline balance and viscosity of body fluids, affecting efficiency of enzymatic reactions. Relative viscosity, or concentration of fluids inside the body cell relative to that of its surroundings is critical for the proper flow of nutrients across cell membrane. Dehydration slows down this flow of life and, after a certain point, it stops.

Chronic dehydration

How well hydrated is the body directly influences how efficiently it operates. More specifically, available water is distributed according to body's functional priorities: blood and brain are at the top, while other organs and tissues suffer disproportionately more from water deprivation if water intake is insufficient; the lower priority they are, the more so. Longer-term local dehydration caused by insufficient water intake either contributes to, or directly causes

the onset of a degenerative disease2.

Such hidden dehydration may very well be among main factors behind the modern epidemic of degenerative diseases. In his distinctive, mind-provoking book "Your body's many cries for water", Iranian-born MD Fereydoon Batmanghelidj connects chronic dehydration with a host of symptoms, from headaches, stomachaches and insomnia, to low back pain, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis. 

His message on the book cover is: you are not sick, you're thirsty!

Why would anyone be dehydrated with plentiful water readily available? Part of the answer is the widespread substitution of pure water with various drinks: coffee, teas, sodas, fruit juices, beer, and others. Most of these drinks actually

drain water from the body,

by stimulating fluid excretion. At the same time, the feeling of thirst is partly suppressed by the natural body reaction to fluid consumption, setting the stage for a chronic hidden dehydration. It is also likely that the body, after some time, adjusts to the state of dehydration by reducing its response to the lack of water (feeling of thirst), as it generally does when unfavorable conditions persist.

However, it is not only the quantity of water that affects your health: its quality is as much important. That includes water acidity/alkaline (pH) level, as well as its toxic contamination level.

Water pH

Pure water is qualified as having neutral pH of 7. It is the exact middle on the alkaline/acidic scale of 0 to 14 pH, where pH=0 is most acidic, and pH=14 most alkaline. In order to be acidic, water has to contain more positive H+ (hydrogen) ions; alternately, alkaline water contains more negative OH- ions. Since water is always electrolitically balanced, that is, with equal number of positive and negative ions, the excess of either negative OH- ions, or positive H+ ions have to be compensated by the presence of an appropriate number of positive or negative ions contributed by elements or substances dissolved in water.

The balancing (negative) ions in acidic water are usually bicarbonates, while the positive ions balancing alkaline water are usually carbonate-based mineral elements, like calcium- or magnesium carbonate.

What drinking water pH is optimal for health? Considering that the optimum blood pH (plasma) is 7.4, and that as small deviation as ±0.1 can seriously affect the proper body function, your drinking water should be somewhat alkaline, with its pH gravitating toward 7.4 (groundwaters tend to be alkaline too, which makes drinking alkaline water more natural choice as well).

What is unknown, however, is how various specific chemical composition making water alkaline - or acidic - may affect the body.

Tap water, as well as most bottled waters are acidic, not seldom beyond the EPA's 5.5 pH maximum recommended for drinking water (at the alkaline end it is 9 pH; keep in mind that the pH number - or potency of hydrogen - is an exponent, showing how many normal, or uncharged water molecules there is for every hydrogen ion, as 10pH; thus water at the pH of 5 is 251 times more acidic than at pH 7.4). It could be contributing to body's acidic imbalance by producing acidic metabolic residue, in the manner similar to "acidic" foods - meets, dairy, sweets and most processed foods.

Even mild chronic acidosis inhibits body's enzymatic efficiency, thus can have unpredictable and very serious health consequences. While the possibility of making the body more acidic, or alkaline, by the food and water consumed is poorly researched, there is emerging scientific evidence pointing to a link between water acidity and health. Most of the research on this subject has been done in Japan, and the

evidence of healing properties of alkaline water seems conclusive.

Mechanisms of action are complex, with the main active substances being probably active hydrogen (H atom) and mineral nanoparticles. Possible health benefits stem mainly from the antioxidative action, including  antidiabetic effect, lowering blood cholesterol/triglycerides, anticancer, anti-arteriosclerosis, and others, being generally protective at the cellular level (Advanced research on the health benefit of reduced water, Shirahata et al. 2012). 

One recent Western study (Stene et al., 2002, Norway) has found that acidic tap water with pH 6.2-6.9 was associated with fourfold higher risk of developing diabetes (type 1) than alkaline water with pH 7.7, or higher. Whether it is acidity itself, or rather chemical contents of the water making it alkaline, or both, it is likely that it can affect your health. That warrants staying informed about new findings, and act accordingly.

Toxic water contamination

Finally, tap water and, to some extent, bottled water as well, are notoriously contaminated by toxic substances. This constant low-level source of contamination results in the toxins accumulating in the body with time, adding to its toxic burden until it causes, or contributes to the onset of a disease. Degree of toxic water contamination, as well as types of contaminants, vary somewhat with the source, but

all tap water is below acceptable level,

and requires thorough filtration in order to be safe to drink. This is a direct consequence of the municipal water-treatment plants which - aside from using antiquated technology - were built to disinfect, not to purify water. They are incapable of efficiently removing hundreds of toxins routinely present in it - and the number is only growing.

For that reason, your drinking water has detectable amounts of - among other chemicals - variety of prescription drugs, either originating from users' wastes, or from medications thrown into sinks and toilets in medical facilities, finding its way to the tap water through inefficient waste water treatment plants.

Hence both quantity and quality of water intake directly affect your health. Many symptoms and diseases are either aggravated or caused by insufficient water intake (water deficiency, or dehydration) or poor water quality, or both. It is hard to comprehend that something as important to our health as water is given so little attention from all sides: the science, public officials and general public.

Recommended water intake

The good news is that it's very easy to correct unhealthy patterns in water consumption. The rules are few and simple:

(1) Most of the fluid you consume should be in the form of somewhat alkaline water, not less than 1.5 liter (approx. 1.7 quarts) a day, for average temperatures and average level of physical activity. Official DRI puts it at 2.7 and 3.7 liter/day for adult female and male, respectively, as the total water intake that includes food and beverages.

    (2) Your water should be free from toxic contaminants, which normally will require filtration (this includes your bathing water, since your body can very efficiently absorb toxins through the skin).

A note about "alkalizing water machines": despite having loud opponents here, in the U.S., going so far as to label it as "quackery", many studies and practical applications, particularly in Japan (Shirahata, Hanaoka, Hironage, Ifao, Keijiroo, and others) do support protective and healing properties of alkalized water to variety of conditions and ailments, primarily through the antioxidant action of its activated hydrogen and mineral nanoparticles.  



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