The Simplest Prescription of All

Date: April 1, 2012      Publication: Bottom Line Health      Source: Jamison  Starbuck      Print:

Do you really drink enough water? Most of my new patients do not—and they often are shocked to learn about the health problems associated with chronic low-level dehydration (a condition many people don’t even know they have). It’s linked to surprising health problems, such as high blood pressure, as well as…

  • Irritability, depression and lack of focus.
  • Pain, stiff joints, muscle spasms and headache.
  • Sugar and carbohydrate cravings, and weight gain.
  • Indigestion, heartburn and constipation.
  • Despite the strong, science-based association between inadequate water consumption and common ailments, most conventional doctors fail to “prescribe” sufficient water intake for their patients. But in my opinion, a prescription for an individualized, correct amount of daily water should be at the top of any treatment plan for most conditions.

    Water is absolutely critical for the normal functioning of our bodies. First, it is an integral part of our blood and carries nutrients to tissues throughout the body and to the brain. Among other things, water also lubricates joints, carries oxygen throughout our bodies, and allows us to eliminate waste via the kidneys, bowels, skin and lungs.

    Many people are confused about the amount of water they should drink each day. So I recommend a simple formula: Weigh yourself and divide that number in half. This is the base amount, in ounces, of plain water you should drink in a day. (I do not count other fluids—even green tea—toward this total because they contain compounds that reduce the net amount of water that is bioavailable.) Consume 80% of your water intake at least 30 minutes before or after meals. (Example: A 150-pound woman should have at least 75 ounces of water a day, with 60 ounces consumed away from food). Then add more water based on such factors as…

  • Eight ounces for every 30 minutes of activity that promotes sweating (such as strenuous exercise or use of a sauna or hot tub).
  • Four ounces for every 30 minutes spent outdoors in temperatures above 80ºF…in low-humidity (less than 45%) winter outdoor activity…or at an altitude above 8,000 feet (as can occur with skiing or flying).
  • An amount equal to the coffee, black tea or caffeinated soda you consume.
  • People with fever, diarrhea and/or vomiting also need to replenish water that is lost from their bodies. Check with your doctor on the amount you need if you have one of these health concerns.

    Alcohol and several medications, including antihistamines, diuretics, blood pressure drugs, antidepressants and antipsychotic medicines, contribute to dehydration. If you drink alcohol, drink twice as much water as the amount of alcoholic beverages you consume. If you take a prescription drug, ask your pharmacist about increasing your daily water intake. Caution: If you have heart failure or a kidney, liver or adrenal disorder, speak with your doctor before changing your water-drinking habits—these conditions increase water retention.

    Source: Jamison Starbuck, ND, is a naturopathic physician in family practice and a guest lecturer at the University of Montana, both in Missoula. She is past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and a contributing editor to The Alternative Advisor: The Complete Guide to Natural Therapies & Alternative Treatments (Time Life).