Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD
I clipped an interesting article out of the Aug. 18, 1996, Kansas City Star titled, "114-year-old seeks record for longevity." The article was about a Danish immigrant named Christian Mortensen, who was considered to be the oldest living man in the world, according to one researcher from the University of California at Berkeley. Mortensen, it seems, wanted to break the longevity record of Jeanne Calment of France who lived to be 122.
Today, Mortensen still lives in the Aldersly Retirement Community in San Rafael, Calif., and treasures his weekly smoke of one cigar. Joanne Maxwell, an administrator at Aldersly, said that Mortensen`s secret to longevity could be the fact that he drinks a lot of water. "He talks about this well in his home in Denmark where he used to drink all the time," said Maxwell. Since Mortensen left Denmark to come to the United States 94 years ago, however, it`s unlikely that the well water is as important to his longevity as his life-long habit of drinking lots of water.
That wet and wonderful stuff
My fascination with drinking water for better health stems from my own personal research on the subject. I`ve always found that when I don`t drink enough water, I don`t feel as energetic as I do on the days when I drink a minimum of six glasses. This does not include other liquids like milk and soup, which I`m apt to consume.
Then I started using my water theory on dental hygiene students while teaching at Wichita State University. When students would complain of "not feeling very good" while working in the dental hygiene clinic, I would tell them to start drinking water, as much as they could comfortably consume, and report back to me in a couple of hours. Of course, if the students were really sick, they were excused from the clinic. Students did report feeling better if they happened to follow this regime.
You can live for days, months, and even years without some nutrients that the body needs for survival, but you can`t live more than a few days without water. Water is the medium that transports chemical elements to each cell in the body and then carries away the end products of the life-sustaining reactions that take place in and around each cell. Water also combines with other chemical compounds to structure the cells, tissues and organs of the entire body. In fact, 50-70 percent of your body weight can be attributed to H2O. All body systems are dependent on that wet and wonderful stuff.
So, if you`re looking for a magic bullet to cure many of your ills, look no further. Water is Mother Nature`s magic potion. Plain water contains no calories, artificial colors, or flavors. It`s the perfect drink! Other beverages provide liquids for the body, but they also contain calories. And drinks containing caffeine, like coffee, tea and colas, act as diuretics, removing water from the body.
- Aids digestion, absorption and circulation. Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, Veronica Butler, MD, and Melanie Brown, PhD, authors of A Woman`s Best Medicine, wrote about Ayur-Veda, an ancient system of health promotion that is becoming popular today. In the book, they note: "Drinking or sipping hot water is an important Ayur-Vedic addition to your daily eating and digestion program. As the ancient texts state, `Waters are the medicines for everything; may they act as medicine to thee.` Drink hot or warm water with and after meals and sip it throughout the day for reducing ama (waste products) and keeping the digestive system in good working order."
I have personally found that drinking hot water after a large meal aids digestion. When I travel, I take a Thermos of hot water and sip it throughout the day to alleviate dehydration and congestion. Sometimes I add a slice of lemon or lime for flavor.
- Boosts endurance. Australian researchers found that the more water exercisers drank, the less glycogen was needed for energy expenditure over long periods of time.
- Helps to prevent urinary tract infections and kidney stone formation. According to Gary Curhan, MD, a nephrologist and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women`s Hospital in Boston, drinking 8 to 10 glasses of fluids a day significantly prevents kidney stone formation.
- Helps prevent colds. John Rogers, MD, professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, has observed that when the body is even minimally dehydrated, antibodies that would normally protect us from cold viruses are not in abundance because mucous-producing tissues are dried up.
- Prevents dehydration when exercising. "If you wait until you are thirsty to replenish your fluids, you`re already dehydrated," said Susan Kalish, executive director of the American Running and Fitness Association. "Thirst is not a good indicator of your fluid needs."
Jack Daniels, PhD, exercise physiologist and cross-country coach at the State University of New York College in Cortland, comments, "Two individuals can start out on a run together, drink the same amount of water during the workout, exercise at the same pace, and stop at the same time, and still one can lose more than twice as much water as the other." The rate at which fluids are lost vary from person to person depending on physiological and biochemical factors.
This recommendation was made in the March/April 1996 issue of Vibrant Life from the American Running and Fitness Association: "To avoid dehydration, make sure you`re taking in enough fluids regularly. Drink six to eight glasses of water throughout the day whether you are thirsty or not. About 15 to 30 minutes before you exercise, drink four to eight ounces of water. During exercise, drink four to eight ounces of water at 15-minute intervals. After exercise, drink at least 16 ounces of water. If you are well hydrated, your urine should be very light in color or clear throughout most of the day."
Other benefits of drinking water include:
- Regulates body temperature.
- Carries nutrients to the cells of the body.
- Relieves headaches.
- Lubricates joints.
- Moisturizes skin and prevents dryness.
- Curbs appetite and snacking.
- Helps the body metabolize stored fat.
- Decreases premenstrual bloating by reducing fluid retention.
- Relieves constipation.
One study at the University of Washington found that men who drank more than four glasses of water a day reduced their risk of colon cancer by 32 percent.
Give your body the respect it deserves
It is vitally important to your overall well-being to meet the daily water needs of your body. Drinking a glass of water between each patient will help you stay hydrated at work. This may prevent periods of fatigue, headache, irritability and excessive body heat, just to mention a few of the negative effects of dehydration. Drinking water frequently means more trips to the bathroom. Even this results in the positive effect of breaking-up the static nature of your work, giving your back, neck and hands the respect they deserve.
Most of us are not driven to live to be 123 years of age like Christian Mortensen. We only want to feel good as long as possible. Maybe that`s all Mortensen wanted to do when drinking water became a habit. From all accounts, at the age of 115, he is a healthy man. Could it be that Mortensen has found the seemingly illusive fountain of youth that we`ve all been looking for?
I`ll drink to that!
References available upon request.
Mary Martha Stevens, RDH, PhD, is a RDH consulting editor. She was most recently manager of health and wellness for Nellcor Puritan Bennett, Inc., for many years. Currently, she is clinical associate professor, UMKC School of Dentistry. She can be contacted by e-mail, [email protected].
Water for your children?
Susan Glagg Godbey writes in the May 1997 issue of Prevention magazine that according to a USDA health and nutrition survey, teens now guzzle three times the soda pop that adolescents drank 20 years ago. Younger children are nearly as bad, drinking double the amount.
"The fact that these escalating numbers parallel the escalating weights of American kids today deserves a second look," says Barbara Levine, Ph.D., RD, director of the Nutrition Information Center at Cornell University Medical Center in New York City. For school-age children, Dr. Levine recommends three-glasses-a-day of milk (which is 87 percent water). Then, add another three rounds of water. Other popular tips:
- Install a water cooler in the kitchen.
- Keep sports bottles filled with water readily available.
- Phase out supersweet, high-calorie drinks by substituting 100 percent juice. Then, dilute fruit juices with plain or sparkling water.
- Buy bottled waters with fruit essences (not the sugared type) instead of soft drinks.
- Stock the fridge with fruits like grapes and melons, which contain lots of water.