The properties of water make it a remarkable and irreplaceable substance. In its vaporous form it is lifted from the ocean, desalinated, caught up to form clouds, and as such becomes the vehicle to distribute rainfall across the planet. It is the energy of the sun which generates the wind to waft the clouds abroad. The precision of this dynamic mechanism maintains a model recycling system. The amount of water in our oceans and other major bodies of water has changed little since the beginning of time. It is possible that the same waters which once irrigated the corn fields of the Egyptian pharaohs and assuaged the thirst of Cleopatra or wise King Solomon, after purification, could fill your drinking glass today. Another life-sustaining quality of water is that, unlike many liquids which become more dense and heavier in their solid form, the molecular arrangement of water makes it become less dense. Thus when frozen it floats atop our oceans, lakes, and rivers, rather than sinking to the bottom. Imagine the devastating consequences if that were not the case.
Water has two special characteristics which make it an ideal body fluid. First, it is an excellent solvent. It will dissolve nearly any substance if given enough time. In terms of body function, it is much easier to transport materials throughout the body when they are dissolved in liquid. Second, water has a very high specific heat, which means it can absorb a great deal of heat before the water itself will rise in temperature. *127 This keeps our blood from actually reaching cooking temperatures when we exercise or participate in intense physical exertion. Our physiology, and in particular our blood circulation, is responsive to changes in temperature. The science of hydrotherapy utilizes the application of hot and cold water treatments as a means to activate the body's therapeutic response to water temperature, which in turn sets in motion the body's own healing ability. These procedures require precise temperature differentials coupled with specific timing and have largely become a lost art in an age of high-tech medicine.
Water is the most abundant component of the human body, averaging about sixty percent of body weight. The typical range is from forty to eighty percent. The difference in individual percentage is due to the distribution of lean versus adipose (fat) tissue. The percent of body weight from water decreases as the percent of body fat increases. The majority of this water weight is distributed between the fluids that fill the inside compartments of our 100 trillion cells and the fluids which bathe these cells on the outside. A balance must be maintained between the fluids on the inside and outside of our cells. Once again, the balance concept comes into play. Too little or too much water can cause cells to shrink or become swollen depending on which way the water balance has shifted— water leaving from inside the cell compartment to the outside would shrink cells and water flooding the cell from the outside would have the opposite effect. Generally these conditions do not develop. But cells, especially brain neurons, do not function properly when they are either shrunken or swollen.
Therefore, mental symptoms stemming from this imbalance and its consequent effect on cell function can range from confusion, dizziness, headaches, irritability and lethargy in mild cases to convulsions and coma if the condition is severe. *128 I mention this to again underscore the interrelatedness of how our body functions. Everyone knows the kidneys have something to do with body fluids, but we may not automatically associate clear thinking and alertness with fluid balance. I have not seen it documented, but more than one teacher has suggested to me that if students would just drink more water they could counter sluggish thinking and improve their grades. Theoretically this makes sense because chemical and electrical impulse is necessary for brain cells, especially neurons, to communicate with one another, and water is the greatest contributor to the body fluids in which these transactions take place. That does not mean that simply drinking more water will make a scholar out of a poor student. However, it is safe to say that water is a contributing factor to alertness. Unfortunately, we tend to rely on artificial stimulants, such as caffeinated beverages and other chemical concoctions as the pick—me—ups of choice, many of which have pros and cons attached to their usage. Water has no such side or after effects. If you could hear your cells talking, water would be the ideal beverage of their request.
Water balance is not a trivial matter. Much of the kidney's work revolves around balance of the fluids mentioned above, the regulation of the critical acid-base balance, and the balance between water and salt, just to name a few of its numerous functions. The balance of these systems has an influence on such basic body functions as amount of urinary output, blood pressure, and heartbeat. The kidneys also monitor plasma fluid composition and determine what needs to be reabsorbed, recycled, or excreted. Water is nature's ideal purifier. The kidneys rely on it to remove toxic substances which are the natural waste products of metabolic processes or can be taken in through food, drugs, and from the environment. If these metabolic end products were allowed to accumulate they would be especially toxic to the brain. The marvel of nature's water recycling system in our external environment is duplicated with the body as well. The kidneys filter about fifty gallons of plasma fluid (composed primarily of water) daily. Considering that the average plasma volume in an adult is about 2.75 liters, this means that the entire plasma volume is filtered by the kidneys about 65 times per day.*129 If this water were not cleansed from impurities and reabsorbed back into the system you would have to replace it. Can you imagine having to drink fifty gallons of water a day? From this perspective, the six to eight glasses of water which are needed to maintain fluid balance is but a drop in the bucket. The body of a man weighing 150 pounds contains about 120 pounds of water. If this man were to drink only one pint (16 ounces or 1 pound) of water daily, it would take 120 days to renew the water in his body. He could cut this time in half by drinking two pints of water a day, but even at that, would you want to do your laundry in the same wash water for 60 days?*130 In a sense that is what we expect from our bodies when we overlook the importance of water as a medium for internal cleansing. Most people include a bath or shower as a part of their daily hygiene. What could be more ideal than nature's provision that the same substance used to clean up our exterior is also that which takes care of our inside as well? Since body fluids are the mechanism by which toxins are removed, it is wise to keep that system replenished with an abundant, fresh supply of water to facilitate efficient removal of impurities. Water is the primary ingredient of our blood, and our blood is the life transport system for all body functions. Can we afford to be casual about its important role in maintaining optimal health? Of all health-enhancing habits, drinking six to eight glasses of water a day is one of the very easiest to attain. No other beverage comes close to it in value. It is purely and simply the best.
Many people have concerns about water contamination and choose bottled water because they believe it to be a less hazardous alternative. Whether water comes from a bottle or from the tap, it all originates in the same place—either from surface water or ground water. Surface water from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs supplies most of the more densely populated city areas. While it is susceptible to contamination by acid rain, pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste runoff, and industrial wastes, it has the advantage of moving faster than groundwater and being somewhat cleansed by aeration, exposure to sunlight, and filtration by plants and other microorganisms that live in it. These processes remove some, but not all contaminants. Ground water comes from aquifers and is susceptible to contamination from hazardous waste sites, dumps, gas and coal pipelines, landfills, and the downward seepage of surface water. It must percolate or seep through soil, sand and rock to reach the aquifer. Percolation acts as a filtering system for some contaminants, but again, not all.*131 Is one really better than the other?
Some object to chlorination of public drinking water. There can be mutagenic and carcinogenic by-products to this process. However, health officials generally regard the risks to be substantially offset by the diseases of microbial origin which it prevents. Lead contamination may be of greater concern. That does not occur at the treatment plant, but rather comes primarily from three construction-related sources: lead service pipes, brass faucets, and copper pipes connected by lead solder. In 1986, lead containing solder on pipes carrying drinking water was banned, followed by a ban on the use of lead in new pipe construction in 1989. To reduce lead intake from piping, you can run your water for about 2 minutes if the tap has not been in use for at least 6 hours, avoid softened water, and avoid drinking warm or hot water directly from the tap.*132
Government regulation of bottled water is not adequately supported by consistent testing for contaminants in the water or routine inspection of processing plants. When thirty-seven brands of mineral waters, domestic and imported from nine European countries, were tested for levels of twenty-three metals, five anions, and acidity, researchers found large variations in composition among different brands as well as diverse composition from lot to lot within a single brand. Of the thirty-seven brands tested, twenty-four had one or more values which were not in compliance with U.S. drinking water standards. *133 It is also important to note that if your water is dispensed from a water cooler it should be disinfected once a month by running half a gallon of white vinegar through it and removing the vinegar residue with a rinse of four or five gallons of tap water. The bacterial content of water coolers has been found to be considerably higher than government recommendations. *134 Contaminants aside, most people choose bottled water for its taste. Unlike tap water which is disinfected with chlorine, bottled water is treated with ozone, which leaves no flavor or odor in the water. It's debatable whether the virtue of bottled water actually extends beyond taste. Legal definitions for the labeling of bottled water are still forthcoming. A few guidelines may be helpful in making a selection of bottled water: check to see if the bottling company is a member of IBWA (International Bottled Water Association); that should be indicated on the label. Also factor in the water's original source—does it come from a public source, or if it comes from a spring or stream, where is it located? It could make a difference whether it comes from an agricultural, industrial, residential, or undeveloped area.*135 A home water filtering unit can be an effective and less expensive long-term option for minimizing contaminants, provided that maintenance instructions are carefully followed. As mentioned in the previous chapter, water contamination is based on several levels of lifestyle choices. If we want to purify our water, we must look at the entire picture. Whatever you do, make six to eight glasses of nature's elixir of life a part of your daily routine.
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