Why Drink Water?
We’ve all heard that we need to stay hydrated and that our bodies are mostly water, but do you know how dehydration affects your health and wellness?
Our bodies are using water all of the time! We are using and losing water constantly during movement, respiration, temperature regulation, digestion and waste production. Without water our cells wouldn’t work properly, and our body systems would shut down one by one. However, before that happens dehydration on even a low level can hurt the way our bodies function. It starts on the cellular level, where we don’t really notice it at first. However, as our cells don’t get the water they need for a long enough time, larger systems in our body are affected and you will see symptoms. Sometimes these health symptoms are blamed on something else. This isn’t to say that drinking water is the cure for every health problem, but drinking more of the correct type of water (which I will call “clear water”) is necessary for good health no matter what, and you may see an improvement in issues you didn’t know were because of mild dehydration.
In this series we will look at how mild and persistent dehydration affects your health and provide some insight on how drinking more clear water throughout the day can improve the way you feel and keep you healthier longer. I have found in my years of practice that people take advice they understand, and are more likely to make a lasting consistent improvement in their health habits if they know why they’re doing it. These short modules will give you a quick overview of why you should drink enough clear water every day. You may even be experiencing some of the symptoms of dehydration I describe, but didn’t know where those health issues were coming from. Who knows, maybe the solution to some of your health issues are flowing right from your kitchen tap. It doesn’t hurt to try, so read on about why!
Part I- The outside reflecting the inside: Your skin and dehydration
Do you recall the last movie scene you saw where the character was dying of thirst? Dry, cracked lips and parched-looking flaky skin were probably involved for dramatic effect. The fact is that these outward signs don’t have to be so exaggerated to indicate you need water. Even slightly dry skin and lips are good indicators that you should grab a glass of water to drink in addition to lip balm or skin cream. Though hormonal and environmental factors play a huge part in the appearance of surface dehydration, adequate water intake is the first critical step in maintaining a healthy complexion.
For the purposes of talking only about how your water intake affects the way your skin acts when it’s well-hydrated, I will stick to the basics rather than complex dermatology. Let’s start with how water gets around your body to be used. Capillaries, which are the smallest blood vessels you have, take water throughout your whole body to where it is needed most. For your skin, this is to the lower layers of your skin, called the dermis. The dermis is where your skin’s water reserves are, and shift upward as your skin regenerates. As new layers of dermis are formed, the old layers are replaced and move up to become the epidermis, which are the harder upper layers of your skin. These upper layers form a protective barrier that keeps your body from losing water into your environment through your skin, but also keeps water from coming into your body from the outside as well. Your epidermis is a two- way barrier, which also means it is unable to absorb water from the water reservoir in the dermis layers below. However, well-hydrated dermis layers with healthy collagen structures move upward to become a strong and well-functioning epidermis, which is what we see as our skin’s outward appearance. Healthy looking skin really does start from the inside as you’ve probably heard, and now you know why.
So what about skin products? One again, let’s stick to the basics since we’re talking only about water and not dermatology. Moisturizers and lip balms work to smooth and soften the outer layer of your skin and can help provide better protection from drying elements, but they do not add to the water needed inside your cells for them to function properly. Like I said, the epidermis cannot absorb more water from the layers under it, and cannot absorb water from your surroundings. Cosmetic moisturizers may make your skin look better instantly by lubricating and softening your skin, but this wears off when the product does. If you are dehydrated the dry skin appearance will return. This is not to say that moisturizers aren’t beneficial. If you are well-hydrated then they can help to support your epidermis in harsh environments and improve your skin’s appearance temporarily. However, they cannot replace cellular water that is necessary but missing.
The appearance of aging is something most of us are concerned about when we talk about our skin, but did you know that aging itself can make us susceptible to constant dehydration? As we age our thirst reflex decreases. This means we don’t feel like drinking water as much… so we don’t. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t need it! Our bodies need just as much water to function as they always did, so it is important to remember to hydrate yourself regardless of whether you are thirsty.
So how does this change in our natural desire to drink water affect our skin? When we don’t drink enough water because we don’t feel like it, cells are thin and resiliency to damage is low because the quality and amount of collagen is reduced. Collagen is the protein that provides elasticity and structure to our skin. For you to have enough properly functioning collagen you need water or else the fibers crack, shrink and bond to themselves, which will leave your skin thin and incapable of maintaining a tight and smooth appearance. Enough water will prevent the breakdown of your skin’s collagen. Though other factors affect the appearance of aging, such as hormonal and health changes, how much water you drink is one thing you can control.
Here is a simple test you can perform right now to test your skin’s resiliency and collagen elasticity. Pinch the skin on the back of your hand gently and hold it for 5 seconds. After you release the pinched skin, how long does it take to go back to its original position on your hand? Generally up until age 40, the return time should be fast, maybe a second or two at most. Around ages 40-50 the return time should be under 5 seconds, but after age 60 the return time can be up to 10 or 20 seconds
Are you happy with the results of your skin test? Now try this simple experiment on your own to see how much dehydration is affecting your skin elasticity: Drink more clear water! For the sake of this blog experiment, add 2-3 glasses per day for a week than you are already drinking, whether you feel thirsty or not. If you aren’t drinking any water, add at least 4-6. After drinking more clear water every day for at least 7 days, try your skin test again. Do you notice a difference? We would love to hear about your outcomes, so please respond with the results!
The important message here is that how much clear water you drink is something that you can easily increase with very little effort, and you can get results that you will see and feel in a short amount of time. It’s a great healthy habit that you can start right away, and the positive health benefits extend far beyond your appearance, as you will see in upcoming posts.