Staying Hydrated: Ayurveda's Approach to the Essence of Life
Water is the essence of life. Without it you cannot go on living. In fact, the sheer volume of water on Earth is what makes this planet unique. But how much do you really need? And when is enough simply enough? Proper hydration is essential for health and thus a somewhat controversial topic. Although modern medicine claims that more water is better, the ancient Ayurvedic texts discourage drinking large amounts of water, and recommend a more individualized approach to fluid intake.
The average person loses 3-4 liters (about 10-15 cups) of fluid a day. This may seem like a lot, but when you consider that sweat, urine, breathing and bowel movements all contribute to loss of fluids, the numbers start to make sense. Water vapor in the breath alone is responsible for 1-2 liters of water loss a day. Exercise, illness and other factors can significantly increase the rate of water loss.
As your fluids drop, it causes blood volume and blood pressure to drop too. Once pressure drops below a certain threshold or the concentration of salt becomes too high in your body, your brain triggers thirst. That means a high salt diet could make you more thirsty. Swelling, inflammation, and water retention could also make you drink more water than normal. Absorption of fluids by dry foods like corn chips & granola bars could deplete fluid levels as well.
Dehydration can be the source of much dis-ease in the body. It can cause poor circulation, poor digestion, and fatigue. There are two types of dehydration, extracellular and intracellular. Extracellular dehydration is a result of the total amount of blood fluids dropping below a certain threshold. This type of dehydration happens outside and independently from the cells and is usually due to lack of fluid intake. Intracellular dehydration occurs when the concentration of sodium in the blood is too high, encouraging water migration out of cells due to osmotic pressure. This type of dehydration can be caused by an excess amount of sodium in the diet and a lack of electrolytes in the body.
You may be dehydrated if you notice one or more of these signs and symptoms:
What about my urine?
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Dry eyes
- Little or no sweat
- Constipation, hard or rabbit pellet stools
- Low urine output or concentrated dark yellow urine.
- Heartburn (due to less acid production by stomach)
- Notably sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the top of the head) in an infant
Dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration. Clear urine is either a sign of too much water or kidney flushing. When water and electrolytes are balanced, and the kidneys are functioning properly, the urine will be a light yellow color.
Water & Digestion
Adequate hydration is the essential ingredient that makes digestion work. Fluids form the backbone of digestion and water provides the medium for all enzymatic activity. Dehydration makes it impossible for your stomach to secrete the two-thirds of a liter of hydrochloric acid it needs to digest a meal. Drinking warm water 20-30 minutes before eating can improve digestion by up to 24%. Make a habit of drinking a glass of warm water every morning to warm up your blood and gently wake up your digestive organs.
"Water before a meal is nectar. It replenishes fluids and encourages juicy digestive organs. Small sips during a meal is honey. It helps turn the food into a sauce. Water after a meal is poison because it dilutes stomach acids." - Dr. Vasant Lad
How much water should I drink?
This depends on the individual. Blood that is rich in sugars, fats, salt and proteins, typical of a Kapha, also has a lower osmotic pressure that tends to encourage water retention. The blood's thickness also obstructs the kidneys' ability to extract fluids from the blood. Kapha people should thus limit water consumption to 4-6 glasses a day and also employ diuretics such as parsley & celery as regular dietary supplements or herbs such as dandelion or punarnava
Conversely, thin, deficient blood (typical of Vata) has the opposite effect encouraging leaky kidneys. Vata individuals may also be chronically dehydrated no matter how much water they drink due to kidney flushing. To thicken the blood Vata should eat more sweet taste, including carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. A wedge of lime and a pinch of salt in warm water helps Vata people retain more fluids, along with anti-diuretic herbs such as Licorice root
. Vata people should drink 8-10 glasses of water a day and should avoid diuretic foods.
Pitta imbalanced individuals lose water and electrolytes quickly through sweat, urine, and loose stools. They should increase their water consumption (6-8 glasses a day) and make sure to fortify it with electrolytes.
Can I drink too much water?
Yes. Ever get the feeling that drinking too much water has become an addiction, that your mouth is dry no matter how often you tip the bottle, and that you pee like crazy but still feel thirsty? When you drink too much water, you pee too much, which also depletes your electrolytes. Electrolytes help you retain water, keep your palate moist, and truly quench your thirst. Once you've lost them in your pee, you feel dehydrated. Clear urine is a clear sign the modern epidemic of overhydration could be drying you out. Modern medicine, TV ads, and bottled water companies all tout the advantages of adequate hydration. In addition to these nuggets of wisdom, it's important to know when enough is enough.
Too much water also makes your stomach feel bloated and heavy, and overburdens digestive organs.
When should I drink water?
An easy routine to prevent dehydration is to drink a glass of water when you wake up, a 1/2hr before meals, and before you go to bed. If you tend to get dehydrated, you might also want to drink a glass of water between meals. A soup-based diet also helps to keep a person hydrated.
What should I drink?
Soups, broths & teas
Like everything you consume, water takes effort to digest. It must be processed until it resembles the blood in salinity, sweetness, and pH. Since water takes effort to digest but does not provide nourishment, Ayurveda recommends nourishing drinks, broths, and teas in the place of water. Some examples are soup stocks, herbal teas, almond smoothies, and fruit juices.
No matter how much water you drink you won't be hydrated until the electrolytes in your body are in balance. Banana smoothies are an easy way to replenish lost electrolytes. Other 'homemade Gatorade(tm)" ideas include adding lemon, lime, salt, or ginger to water. In addition to electrolytes, these ingredients enhance the flavor and digestibility of a simple glass of water. When choosing salt to supplement your electrolytes try to stay away from highly refined table salt as it contains nothing but pure sodium. Sea salt is a much better option as it contains the trace minerals needed for a good balance of electrolytes.
Warm water: nature's most powerful home remedy
Warm water is nature's most powerful home remedy and the #1 alleviant of digestive mayhem. It's also the least expensive supplement. Sipping warm water stimulates good digestion and circulation, and cleanses the bowels. It also encourages sweating which cleanses the lymphatic system and improves complexion. In addition, water flushes the urinary tract, ridding the body of unwanted toxins. And if you can't seem to get rid of those annoying hiccups, just try drinking a glass of warm water!
Should I drink ice water?
No. Think about what happens when you put your hand in a picnic cooler to grab a drink. When you pull your hand out it's numb and pale because your blood has retreated from the cold skin. This is another example of vasoconstriction. The blood vessels have become tight and small, cutting off blood supply to prevent heat loss. So drinking ice water with a meal cuts off the blood supply to the digestive tract, sabotaging the stomach in the moment that it needs this blood the most.
Tap water vs bottled water
Many people are concerned about the safety and quality of the water they drink. Yet, almost all municipal water in the United States is of good quality and very drinkable. Nevertheless, you should pay attention to your local water sources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets the standards for tap water. Additionally, local water suppliers are required to furnish the public with annual water quality reports. The EPA and American Water Works Association (AWWA) are credible organizations that can provide information on the quality of your local water.
When it comes to bottled water, Americans consume more than any other nation. Bottling water is now a 16 billion dollar a year industry. The FDA sets bottled water quality standards based on the EPA standard. However, the FDA does not carefully regulate the bottled water industry. Most commercial bottled water comes from tap water that is filtered to make it taste better. Examples include Pepsi's Aquafina and Coco-Cola's Dasani. High quality bottled water offers benefits, but may be pricey and all those plastic bottles have the potential to cause a lot of waste. So if you choose to drink bottled water, please recycle.
Some people are chronically dehydrated no matter how much water they drink. These individuals tend to pee clear urine within a 1/2 hr after drinking a glass of water. The most common causes of chronic dehydration include stress, cold weather, and kidney flushing.
Dehydration, stress & cold weather
Stress and cold temperatures cause the blood vessels to constrict. The constriction of blood vessels is called vasoconstriction. Much as squeezing a balloon raises the air pressure inside the balloon, vasoconstriction causes blood pressure to rise. The kidneys are one of the organs that regulate constant blood pressure. They release water from blood circulation into the urine to compensate for the increase in blood pressure, deflating the baloon. The result is dehydration. Taking steps to de-stress your life and wearing warm, appropriate clothing in the cool months can thus help to prevent dehydration.
Kidney flushing occurs when the kidneys flush toxins from the blood into the urine, resulting in a higher than normal urine output. Often poor digestion can be the source of toxicity. Poorly digested food tends to ferment in the intestines. As bacteria ferment the food, they release toxic metabolic waste products into the gut. The intestines, engineered to absorb nutrients, also absorb some of the toxin into the bloodstream. This is a great reason to keep your digestive tract in peak health. There are also herbs that help prevent kidney flushing and reduce loss of fluids. Try Sensitive Stomach Tea, found at: (http://www.joyfulbelly.com/Ayurveda/products/Sensitive-Stomach-Tea:-Calm-Digestion/199)
Lack of thirst
Sometimes weak digestion and excess stress can prevent you from noticing when you are thirsty. The sensation of thirst also diminishes in adults over fifty years old. If you have trouble recognizing thirst you should pay careful attention to signs of dehydration and take in adequate fluids as necessary.
Water makes me feel full.
Some people feel full after drinking a small quantity of water. This may be due to weak digestion and insufficient acid production in the stomach. Ayurveda says "It takes a fire to get thirsty." To increase digestive capacity, drink a glass of warm water with a wedge of lime or lemon, a pinch of salt, and a slice of ginger.
Your Body's Many Cries for Water
Tony Robbins' Book: Unleash the Power Within
[Charaka Su 5:13]
[Ashtanga Hrdayam. Su 5:15-17]
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Thank you, very thorough an easy to read/integrate. Much appreciate all the work that has gone into this.
Woud suggest you make people aware of the necessity of the "bio availability of water" which can only be found in clustered water, no reverse osmosis, or bottled water.
christina richa devi
- christina, Owen sound, ON
, 09-14-11 (Reply
Thank you for a very informative article
- cynthia, Croydon park
, 09-14-11 (Reply
Overall, this is a great article--but it leaves the very important questions of municipal water additives: chlorine, flouride, chemicals added to keep pipes in good shape, etc., along with pharmaceuticals and pesticides that pour with municipal water from your faucet into your glass--unanswered. Rather than buying bottled water: purchasing filtered water that you refill your own containers with, or buying and installing your own home filter (ask the right questions to make sure how well these filters work) would seem to be the much wiser and safer choice. I am one of many people who does not see the EPA as a credible organization, and I would need to know a lot more about the AWWA before choosing to believe them either.
- Danielle Creeksong, Asheville, NC
, 09-15-11 (Reply
When Ayurvedic texts recommend to drink warm water, is it like boiled plain water or can it be a tea? thanks
- cristina, Cancun
, 09-18-11 (Reply
Hello! I so appreciated another view on water and the quote by Dr. Vasant Lad. It is a simple one to remember and live by. After contemplating the information I have one question. I take a packet of supplements (probiotics, vitamins and oils) each day with lunch, I drink about a glass of water with these supplements. Any suggestions for doing this differently? Thank you!
- Pam Danforth, Livermore, CA
, 10-25-11 (Reply
This is a very well written and informative article.
I drink water at room temp. Is this considered warm water? I, too, am concerned with drinking tap water. There are 'boil water advisories' that are broad casted often in my area. I dont listen to the local radio station every day and am afraid that I will miss hearing one of those advisories. Also, what about bathing? Breathing steam is intake of water and whatever may be in it. This article was very good, but there is a lot more that can be taught to us about fluid intake. Thanks for the information you have put together for us.
I eat bananas daily - am very dry mouth,dry eyes and have been told am very low on electrolytes. I need a good homemade "gatorade". I have been drinking hot water for years. thank you for this item - I have been looking for information on taking care of my dryness.
I don't understand why Dr. Lad and others recommend a lassi drink right after eating as a digestive aid if, as he says in the quote, water after a meal is poison because it dilutes stomach acids? Thank you for clearing up a lot of mystery around water intake.
Great article. I have always read n the Ayurvedic books that water is a no-no at meal time and yet I feel that i want and need some water with my meal. I'm a V/P. I am going to start the water 5 bites in and see if my digestion improves. Thanks for the info.
Anne, if I understand correctly, a lassi drink actually encourages stomach acid, or at least, provides a more acidic environment (since it's diluted yogurt). If it's spiced, it's better still since it adds more 'fire' to the liquid as well. If it was just plain water, it's just that: pure element of water, and what does water do? Put out fires, granted that it's enough to do so. So, by adding the yogurt, you're imparting more fire (from the sour/acidic effect) to the liquid. Spices will add even more, so this would be an excellent digestive aid for vatas.
- Jess, Allen park, MI
, 08-18-14 (Reply