©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Several years ago I found myself standing beside the Dead Sea, watching a tourist shake his canteen and mutter, “Water, water, everywhere—and not a drop to drink.”
Indeed, until the tiny restaurant reopened, there was not a drop to be had. Not for drinking, anyway. Unlike some places on this planet, here in America it’s quite easy to take for granted the availability of safe drinking water, usually easy to get a drink when thirsty.
The brain depends on the proper concentration of water to function effectively. In a Psychology Today article entitled “Why Your Brain Needs Water,” author Joshua Gowin PhD wrote:
Even if I’m not particularly thirsty, as a student of the brain, I’m convinced of the value of drinking enough water. Of all the tricks I’ve learned for keeping my mind sharp, from getting enough sleep to doing crossword puzzles, staying hydrated may be the one I follow most closely.
A team of scientists in Britain recently scanned the brains of teenagers after they had done an hour and a half of cycling. The participants who had exercised in sweat-inducing clothing had lost about two pounds of fluid in sweat—and their brain tissue had shrunk away from their skulls. Those who lost the most weight showed the most brain shrinkage. In subsequent activities to test their ability to plan and solve problems, this group of participants did as well as those who had dressed more lightly to minimize sweating, but the scans showed their brains were forced to work harder. I cringed at the thought of gray matter shrinking!
And it’s not just the brain that can be negatively impacted by dehydration, immune system function can be suppressed, as well. Dehydration can cause disease because the function of each body organ is tied in some way to water. Some people mistake thirst for hunger, packing on pounds when what the brain and body really needed was water. When I feel hungry, especially later in the day, I’ve learned to drink a glass of water and then evaluate how I feel in fifteen minutes. This has helped me learn to separate the sensations of hunger from those of thirst and I can avoid eating just to satisfy a need for more water.
Few people get up at night to drink water. Therefore, upon awakening, both the brain and body are ready for water. One of my habits is to drink a large glass of water as soon as I get up in the morning. I got that from my parents who believed in the benefits of staying hydrated. My mother used to call water liquid gold. One of the first questions I would hear before breakfast was, “Have you had your liquid gold?” As a child, sometimes that question irritated me but now I’m glad they pushed me to develop the habit.
Every cell in your brain and body needs water in order to perform the functions needed for life and living—from regulating body temperature, to moisturizing joints, to helping with metabolism, to keeping mucous membranes moist, to transporting nutrients.
So, ask yourself, “Do I drink enough water every day for my brain and body?”
Even in a country where it is easy to find safe drinking water, dehydration can be a problem. Some have estimated that many over the age of 55 are chronically dehydrated. As people age their thirst sensation tends to decrease so it’s important to drink for brain-body health, not for thirst. If you wait to drink until you feel thirsty, your body may already be dehydrated.
How much water is enough?
A physician at the St. Helena Center for Health recently told a group of participants, “Strive for two clear or very pale-yellow urines a day.” That was his basic measure to ensure he was drinking sufficient amounts of water on a daily basis.
If you need a reminder, develop a little phrase to repeat throughout the day. For example: Water, water everywhere—I think I’ll drink some now!
Note: Contact your healthcare professional to discuss your need for water, especially if you have a medical condition that may require moderating your intake.