You know you need water to survive, and you feel better when you drink it regularly. But what’s really at play in the body when you sip H2O?
In short, a lot.
Believe it or not, your body weight is about 60 percent water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Your body uses water in all its cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate temperature and maintain other bodily functions. Because your body loses water through breathing, sweating, and digestion, it’s important to rehydrate by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water.
The amount of water you need depends on a variety of factors, according to the Mayo Clinic: The climate you live in, how physically active you are, and whether you’re experiencing an illness or have any other health problems all affect recommended intake.
Here are the reasons why water is such a powerful element when it comes to your health.
1. Water Protects Your Tissues, Spinal Cord, and Joints
Water does more than just quench your thirst and regulate your body’s temperature; it keeps the tissues in your body moist, according to the Mayo Clinic Health System. You know how it feels when your eyes, nose, or mouth gets dry? Keeping your body hydrated helps it retain optimum levels of moisture in these sensitive areas, as well as in the blood, bones, and brain. In addition, water helps protect the spinal cord, and it acts as a lubricant and cushion for your joints.
2. Water Helps Your Body Remove Waste
Adequate water intake enables your body to excrete waste through perspiration, urination, and defecation. Water helps your kidneys remove waste from your blood and keep the blood vessels that run to your kidneys open and filter them out, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Water is also important for helping prevent constipation, points out the University of Rochester Medical Center. However, as research notes, there is no evidence to prove that increasing your fluid intake will cure constipation.
Water is important for healthy digestion. As the Mayo Clinic explains, water helps break down the food you eat, allowing its nutrients to be absorbed by your body. After you drink, both your small and large intestines absorb water, which moves into your bloodstream and is also used to break down nutrients. As your large intestine absorbs water, stool changes from liquid to solid, according to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Water is also necessary to help you digest soluble fiber, per MedlinePlus. With the help of water, this fiber turns to gel and slows digestion.
4. Water Prevents You From Becoming Dehydrated
Your body loses fluids when you engage in vigorous exercise, sweat in high heat, or come down with a fever or contract an illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re losing fluids for any of these reasons, it’s important to increase your fluid intake so that you can restore your body’s natural hydration level. Your doctor may also recommend that you drink more fluids to help treat other health conditions, like bladder infections and urinary tract stones. If you’re pregnant or nursing, you may want to consult with your physician about your fluid intake because your body will be using more fluids than usual, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Ever feel foggy headed? Take a sip of water. Research shows that dehydration is a drag to memory, attention, and energy, per a small study on adult men from China published in June 2019 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It’s no wonder, considering H2O makes up 75 percent of the brain, the authors point out. One reason for that foggy-headed feeling? “Adequate electrolyte balance is vital to keeping your body functioning optimally. Low electrolytes can cause issues including muscle weakness, fatigue, and confusion,” says Gabrielle Lyon, DO, a functional medicine physician in New York City.
6. Water Keeps Your Cardiovascular System Healthy
Water is a huge part of your blood. (For instance, plasma — the pale yellow liquid portion of your blood — is about 90 percent water, notes Britannica.) If you become dehydrated, your blood becomes more concentrated, which can lead to an imbalance of the electrolyte minerals it contains (sodium and potassium, for example), says Susan Blum, MD, founder of the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York. These electrolytes are necessary for proper muscle and heart function. “Dehydration can also lead to lower blood volume, and thus blood pressure, so you may feel light-headed or woozy standing up,” she says.
It may be plain, but it’s powerful. In a study of more than 18,300 American adults, people who drank just 1 percent more water a day ate fewer calories and less saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol, according to a study published in February 2016 in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. Water may help fill you up, especially if you drink it before eating a meal, a notion that was backed up in a small study of 15 young, healthy participants that was published in October 2018 in Clinical Nutrition Research.
How Much Water Do You Need?
As the Mayo Clinic notes, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men consume 3.7 liters (15.5 cups) and women get 2.7 liters (11.5 cups) of fluids per day, which can come from water, beverages in general, and food (such as fruits and vegetables). You can also try the Urine Color Test, courtesy of the U.S. Army Public Health Command, to evaluate how you’re doing on drinking up. After going to the bathroom, look at the color of your urine. If it is very pale yellow to light yellow, you’re well hydrated. Darker yellow is a sign of dehydration. Brown or cola-colored urine is a medical emergency, and you should seek medical attention.