Water is the primary liquid of life and makes up approximately 60% of the human body. It is involved in almost every bodily chemical process and losing just 2% of your total water content can have a noticeable effect on cognitive and physical functions.
And yet drinking water is one of the most overlooked ways of staying healthy. We take a look at the importance of water in maintaining good health, including some health benefits of water you may not know about.
Water’s role in the human body
Water is your body’s essential daily ingredient and is found in every cell in the human body. It’s involved in all bodily functions from respiration and digestion, to temperature regulation and waste removal. Water is also the medium through which chemical reactions can take place, and allows transit, absorption, and transformation of oxygen, hormones, and nutrients.
But we are constantly losing it. Our bodies have no means of storing large amounts of water and constant chemical processes demand that we keep replenishing our stores regularly. When the rate of water loss exceeds that of intake, dehydration occurs. The performance of nearly all our bodily systems suffer as a result.
Dehydration symptoms include:
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Thirst and hunger
- Dark urine
- Mood changes
- Weakness and slow responses
- Confusion or headaches
To prevent dehydration, experts have suggested that we drink between 2 and 3 litres of water per day, although there really is no prescriptive volume that suits everyone. It is especially important for older people to stay hydrated, as the feeling of thirst dampens with age and kidney function declines. However, if you have a heart condition check with your GP first. The easiest way to measure your level of hydration is through the colour of your urine – it should be almost colourless and odourless.
Scientifically-backed health benefits of water
In case you’re still not convinced, take a look at some of the unexpected benefits of drinking water regularly.
Helps weight loss
Water could assist those trying to lose weight. Studies have shown that drinking 500ml of water can increase the metabolic rate by 30% in healthy men and women, and drinking water prior to each meal will lead to greater weight loss among those reducing their calorie intake. The latter may in part be due to its function as a natural appetite suppressant – it can lead to a greater feeling of fullness, reducing hunger whilst also being calorie-free. Pangs of thirst are also commonly misinterpreted for hunger, so opting for a glass of water over a snack can encourage positive new habits.
A greater amount of water increases the body’s ability to metabolise stored fat as well as providing the means of removing them. Many believe that drinking water will lead to an increased level of fluid retention, when the opposite is in fact true. The body retains fluid more when it senses levels are low, so by giving your body water on a regular basis you can undo this urge and actually release some trapped fluids.
Promotes healthy mental function
You brain loves water. When you are dehydrated your mental and cognitive functions suffer, and you may experience headaches, have a shorter attention span, and find it harder to concentrate. Losing just 2% of your total water content can impair short-term memory and motor skills, as well as your brain’s visual perception skills. Mental fatigue due to dehydration is particularly concerning among the older population, as it can result in confusion, falls, and exhaustion, which could potentially lead to more serious complications.
Could reduce risk of chronic diseases
Hydration has been linked to a reduced risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and cerebral stroke, although these connections require more scientific investigation. Research has suggested that it may also help protect against certain cancers, with increased water intake showing to reduce the risk of bladder cancer and colorectal cancer. The reason for this is largely linked to the fact that frequent urination could prevent the build-up of harmful bladder substances that cause cancer (carcinogens) and their contact with mucous membranes. More generally, frequent urination promotes good bladder health by flushing out harmful bacterial which otherwise could lead to bladder or kidney infections.
Reduces the burden on the kidneys and liver
As we’ve established, drinking water regularly actually reduces the body’s overall level of water retention. Aside from weight loss, releasing fluids trapped in body tissue also takes the burden off the kidneys and liver, and they are able to work more effectively at removing waste products and toxins from the body. Drinking water regularly also reduces the risk of kidney stones – the concentration of minerals in the urinary system becomes more diluted, making them less likely to stick together and form a kidney stone.
Aids athletic performance
Since 80% of muscle is made up of water, staying hydrated is central to athletic performance. Although water does not contain any energy in itself, it is crucial to the energy transformation process. A good level of hydration gives muscles quick access to the energy they need in order to perform, and is also vital in cell repair post-exercise. Since the cartilage surrounding your joints and spinal cord are about 85% water, it also plays an important role in protecting your joints – hydration keeps this tissue supple, maximising its greatest protective effect.
Assists wound healing process
Keeping hydrated also helps the healing process. In order to heal, cells around a wound need water and an oxygenated blood supply. An adequate supply of water is central to this process, and dehydration will only slow the healing process down. In the most extreme cases, this leaves wounds more susceptible to infection.
So bottoms up! Try to drink water regularly throughout the day, rather than loading on huge amounts in one go – although extremely rare, drinking huge amounts of water in a short period of time can actually cause water intoxication (hyponatraemia).