Saturday, September 6, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

by Amar Chandel
OMETIMES, even seemingly minor dietary mistakes can lead to major health problems. Set them right and you can get rid of even supposedly chronic diseases.

One of such trivial errors is the failure to take sufficient amount of water. Unfortunately, it causes many complications which just cannot be cured unless you put that glass of water to your lips a sufficient number of times. Perhaps that is why it has been called the elixir of life.

The original zero-calorie, zero-caffeine, zero-alcohol drink is essential for living beings because water carries nutrients and waste in the body, maintains the structure of molecules: proteins, glycogen, etc... , participates in chemical reactions, acts as a solvent for most nutrients, lubricates and cushions joints, spinal cord, and fetus (during pregnancy), helps regulate body temperature and maintains blood volume. In short, survival without it is impossible. Even mild dehydration will slow down oneís metabolism as much as 3 per cent.

Drink your way to health!

And yet, the clear, colourless, tasteless liquid has lost out to its more fizzy cousins in popularity race. Nowadays the purity and the safety of soft drinks are under a cloud, but very few of us are aware of the fact that cola drinks are a health hazard even when they are not laced with pesticides.

Yet, most of us drink water only to quench our thirst, little realising that the actual need is much more. Medical experts have to keep reminding us to take at least eight or nine glasses of water everyday. The operative words here are "at least". This is the minimum quota for the day. Since India has a hot climate, the actual requirement is far higher. It increases even further if one is doing strenuous work or exercise. Overweight individuals need an extra glass of water for every 10 kg of excess weight.

Water is the only food item in the world that happens to be Ph neutral, whereas every other item is either acidic or alkaline. As such, it can be taken in abundance without bothering about its effect on the system.

Drinking too much water, or "overhydration," usually only occurs in an adult whose heart, kidneys and pituitary glands are not functioning normally. A normal person will have to drink more than 10 litres of water in one day to develop "overhydration"!

In everyday life, it is the overall shortage of water that causes many ailments. Lack of water is the number one trigger of daytime fatigue. But since the solution is so very simple and inexpensive, very few spare a thought to it.

Drinking more water and less of other beverages may lower your risk of having a heart attack, according to a study published in the May 1, 2002, issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The investigators examined data from a lifestyle survey sent to more than 20,000 men and women in 1996. They found that during the six-year study period, women who drank more than five eight-ounce glasses of water each day had 41 per cent less chance of dying from a heart attack when compared to those who drank two or fewer glasses each day.

Men who consumed large amounts of water demonstrated a 54 per cent reduction in their chance of dying from a heart attack. The opposite correlation was seen for participants who drank larger quantities of non-water fluids.

Drinking more water may also help the patients of heartburn, arthritis, backache, migraine, colitis, asthma, high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes, cholesterol and muscular dystrophy.

Obesity is increasing not by inches but by feet and yards these days. Very few realise that water shortage has a lot to do with it. Several studies have shown that a decrease in water intake causes fat deposits to increase and an increase in water intake has the opposite effect.

This happens because kidneys cannot function properly without sufficient water. When they donít function properly, they dump some of their work on the liver. The main job of the liver is to metabolise stored fat into usable energy. If the liver has to bear the burden of the kidneys, it cannot operate to the optimum capacity and metabolises less fat. The result: tyres here, there and everywhere. Just because we wonít use the water glass often enough.

It may sound like a paradox but the best way to overcome the problem of water retention is to drink plenty of water. Only then will the stored water be released. When the body gets less water, it hordes every drop like a miser. Water is stored in extracellular spaces (outside the cells) and leads to swollen legs, feet and hands. If one takes diuretics, they force out stored water along with some essential nutrients. The body perceives this as a threat and replaces lost water as soon as it gets an opportunity to do so. Drinking water is the only remedy.

Please note that sodas, coffee and tea are no substitute for water. All of them have varying amounts of caffeine. Since caffeine has a diuretic effect and can cause water loss from the body, itís best to avoid consuming lots of these beverages as part of your daily fluid intake, especially in the hot sun. If you feel you just cannot survive without caffeinated beverages, limit yourself to two per day, and add an extra glass of water for each caffeinated beverage consumed.

Bad breath is a tell-tale sign that you need to boost your water intake. Saliva helps remove bacteria from the teeth and keep the tongue hydrated.

Lack of water dries the mouth, leads to furry tongue and prevents bacteria from being washed away, all of which can cause halitosis.

Constipation and indigestion are live-in companions of todayís busy executive. Laxatives and purgatives are becoming a part and parcel of daily diet. Drug manufacturers will be miserable if people cured themselves. The problem with all these medicines that one consumes so very thoughtlessly is that even the mildest ones play havoc with the sensitive digestive system. Not only that, many of them happen to be habit forming. Water is the ideal constipation killer.

The old wisdom of taking two to three glasses of water first thing in the morning can work wonders with the digestive system. To make it doubly beneficial, add a dash of lemon juice and rock salt into it. Pure water goes past the intestines in as little as 10 minutes. Lemon-laced water takes about 20 minutes. If you can walk or do stretching exercises for these 20 minutes before going to the toilet, all the better. That is about all that it takes to get rid of even chronic constipation, provided you simultaneously switch to easily digestible food.

Please note that water should be at room temperature as far as possible. Water that is too cold hampers the system.

Eating and drinking everything double quick is the bane of the busy people. The slow intake of every food item applies even to your glass of water. In place of bottoms up in one gulp, try taking it one sip at a time and you will earn the gratitude of your system. This is especially true if you are taking two or three glasses at one go in the morning or at any other time. Taken too quickly, even plain water can lead to loose motions.

It is this property which is used to great effect in yoga for removing chronic constipation. Water is boiled along with certain herbs and this concoction is taken fairly warm quickly. Trained yogis drink nine to ten glasses of water at one go and then do certain exercises which force the accumulated toxins to be flushed out of the digestive system. Immediately after going to the toilet, about the same quantity of water is taken again. This process is repeated till the system is totally devoid of any undesirable matter.

It is not unusual for some practitioners to take 40 to 50 glasses of water in a span of a few hours. The process is known as shankha prakshalana. This is an extreme measure which should not be resorted to at all without expert supervision. What should be remembered is that they are constantly expelling the excess water from the body through elaborate yogic kriyas. For ordinary people, the drinking of two to three glasses of lemon water is good enough.

Even if one is extremely particular about what one eats, occasional overeating is unavoidable. These excesses invariably lead to indigestion and hundreds of related complications. In such emergencies, some people take recourse to fasting. Water can play a major role in this cleansing.

While repeated or prolonged fasting per se is harmful, one can derive tremendous benefits by skipping a meal or two when one is suffering from acute indigestion. The only precaution that has to be taken is that one should not feel that one can overeat now and fast later. There is no substitute for balanced eating and a short fast is only an emergency measure to be adopted very rarely to atone for an accidental dietary sin.

Here is a small practical tip. It is particularly harmful to skip lunch after a heavy breakfast, because one always feels the hunger pangs in the afternoon or at night and tends to hog yet again. So, if you happen to take a particularly heavy breakfast, compensate by taking an extremely light lunch and only then think of skipping the dinner. Right from 3 p.m. or so, start drinking water liberally.

A University of Washington study says that one glass of water deters hunger pangs for 98 per cent of the dieters. If hunger is still uncontrollable, you can add a bit of honey and lemon into it. But go no further. If you end up taking some snacks, it will be worse than having a regular dinner.

At dinner time, you will feel utterly famished but the pangs are usually false alarm. If you can hold out during the regular dinner hour, you will find that the phantom hunger has subsided.

The next day, you will get up far lighter and congratulate yourself that you did not succumb to the food temptation.

But those with strong willpower have lived on water for several days. However, I wonít advise you to do so for more than 24 hours. If constipation is too acute, go in for fruit juices the second day and start taking fruit on the third. The fourth day should see you back on khichdi or porridge.

Since we are talking mainly about the cleansing properties of water here, let it be added that on the first day when you are on water, if you feel you are at the limit of your patience, you can also take coconut water or a little orange juice mixed with water. Always listen to your system and donít attempt anything just because somebody else was successful in accomplishing it.

One added incentive of hydrating yourself suitably is that aqua pura makes your skin glow the way no other cleanser does. Skin needs water for elasticity. So, too little water leaves it looking dry and lined and feeling delicate. Sunken eyes and undereye circles are signs that you need water. Eyes sink because there isnít enough water to keep them suspended in the eye socket. Undereye circles are due to thin skin being bruised as fluid drains away.

So cleanse yourself from inside, my fair lady. Your endocrine glands will also function much better if you drink enough water.

Needless to say that the water you take should be clean. There was a time when bottled mineral water was considered a safe bet, but it seems that pesticides are put indiscriminately not only in our fields but also in our mineral water bottles. Under the circumstances, it might be better to fall back on your own devices, like boiling and filtering the good old tap water.