One cannot overemphasize the importance of proper hydration to health and well-being. In this article, we discuss how water is absorbed and lost by the body, the importance of staying properly hydrated, and Ayurvedic practices relevant to healthy hydration.
Put simply, water is essential to the body. Vital organs in the body, such as the skin, brain, kidneys, and muscles, need water to function. Water also helps regulate body temperature and eliminate waste, serves as foundational material for cells and acts as a solvent and reaction medium.
Water also acts as the basis for the taste sensory experience: having a dry tongue would make it very difficult for you to taste anything! Water is also an essential component in the many processes of the body, including digestion, circulation, and absorption. The body is, in fact, made up of approximately 60 percent water.
In general, we give little thought to how we drink water. As long as we get our daily required amount and keep ourselves from feeling thirsty, then we’re fine, right? In fact, did you know that the way in which you drink water can have a significant effect on the quality of your body’s hydration? In particular, did you know that, according to Ayurvedic medicine, the ideal manner of drinking water is while sitting down rather than standing? This is discussed in more detail below.
How the Body Absorbs and Loses Water
When we drink water, it becomes absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and then moves to the circulatory system. From there, it travels to the interstitial spaces, and is delivered to each cell in the body through the process of osmosis. When water moves away from the stomach, segments in the small intestine known as the duodenum and jejunum absorb it. These segments can absorb an estimated 6.5 liters of water per day.
The body loses water in various ways. One common way is through sweating, which is the body’s method of regulating temperature. Water loss through sweating varies according to different factors. The rate at which water is lost through sweating is lower for those that engage in minimal physical activity and live in environments with moderate or cool temperatures. On the other hand, water loss by sweating is higher for people that engage in frequent physical activity and live in warm or hot environments.
The clothes you wear also affects your body’s production of sweat. If we wear heavy and water-proof clothing, which hampers sweat evaporation, it reduces the body’s ability to maintain a balanced temperature and ultimately increases the amount of water lost through sweat.
Another way we lose water is through waste excretion. Urination represents the most significant loss of water for healthy adults that engage in minimal or moderate physical activity. The amount of water lost through waste excretion varies, from about 500 milliliters to several liters per day. The kidneys’ primary function is to filter and excrete waste, while controlling body fluid volumes.
When we lose water, it is necessary to replace it. Although our bodies produce a small amount of water through metabolic activity, the best way to restore proper hydration levels is through consuming food and fluids.
When Do You Need to Drink Water?
Naturally, we tend to drink water when we are thirsty. In fact, scientists define thirst as “the conscious desire to drink.” The sensation of thirst is stimulated by an increase of plasma osmolality (the measure of the number of dissolved particles in a fluid) which sensory receptors, known as osmoreceptors, detect.
Other physiological signs that we need to drink water include having a dry mouth, lips and bad breath. These are typically signs that there is less saliva production due to a lack of water in the body. Another red flag is when you find it hard to concentrate when trying to perform a particular task. Even a two percent reduction in hydration levels can cause mental processes to decline.
There are also other factors, such as behavioral and social stimuli, that affect our water-drinking behavior. For instance, we may drink water in a certain manner and at a certain time of day by reason of habit. For example, many people have a habit of drinking water first thing after waking up in the morning or while they eat their meals.
Ayurvedic Principles of Healthy Hydration
According to Ayurvedic principles, water is the manifestation of consciousness. Water is also perceived as the representation of soma, which is the quality of nourishment and cooling capability related to lunar energy. It is imbued with characteristics such as fluidity, heaviness, softness, coldness, density, and cohesiveness. Ayurveda also views water as necessary to bind molecules together and believes that it serves as a universal chemical solvent.
Ayurveda has many guidelines in respect of the consumption of food and fluids, and it is believed that following these guidelines can have significant positive health effects. For example, Ayurveda suggests that fluids should be consumed at certain times of the day, and that water should be taken with meals in only small sips.
Ayurveda also has recommendations as for how to drink water. The best way, according to Ayurveda, is to sit down and take your time drinking water, as opposed to standing up and gulping it down as quickly as you can.
Ayurvedic principles state that standing can cause the nerves to tense up and activate the sympathetic system, or the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, which signals to your body that it is facing danger. Standing also generally hastens the speed at which you drink water. It is widely understood and accepted that food and fluids must be consumed slowly for optimal health and well-being. The gradual introduction of food and fluids allows the body to facilitate absorption and digestion in an optimal manner.
Have you ever wondered why you felt the need to urinate just a few minutes after quickly gulping down a glass of water? This is a sign that your body was unable to thoroughly absorb the water as a result of the speed at which you drank it. This type of activity can also be counterproductive, since it may prevent your body from becoming properly hydrated and may in fact make you feel thirsty. Also, since there is minimal absorption of water in these circumstances, your kidneys may not be able to property utilize the water you drank fully and, in turn, may be unable to efficiently and fully filter the water. As a result, wastes may remain stuck in the kidneys and bladder which could lead to urinary tract infection.
As already mentioned, standing up while drinking water tends to make you gulp it down more rapidly. Some Ayurvedic practitioners believe that the rapid consumption of water may also lead to the weakening of joints and bones. In particular, rapid consumption of water can unsettle the balance of fluids in the body, which can, in turn, cause more fluids to accumulate in the joints and lead to arthritis.
Other potential adverse effects of drinking water standing up is the potential injury that can be caused when water flows immediately to your gut and splashes against the stomach wall. This may damage the gastrointestinal tract and lead to chronic digestive issues. Another negative effect of this water-splashing phenomenon is gastroesophageal reflux disease. This happens when water splashes the lower half of the esophagus and disturbs the sphincter. The acids can flow backward and cause a burning sensation in the esophagus.
The situation is very different when you drink water while sitting down. Your body remains calm and in a parasympathetic state when you are sitting down. This encourages the body to enter a ‘rest and digest’ phase, which is more supportive of proper hydration. Drinking water at a more gradual pace, and while in a restful position, also permits your kidneys greater latitude to properly filter the water and eliminate toxins.
Of course, it may not always be possible to remain seated when drinking water, such as when you are exercising and have a high heart rate. In such circumstances, it may not be appropriate or healthy to sit down. Always seek the advice of a medical professional on how best to drink water and fluids, especially if you have medical issues.
Other Ways to Optimize Hydration
Ayurveda also offers a variety of other methods to improve our water-drinking practices.
Ayurveda maintains that you should not gulp down large quantities of water, especially during meals since this can negatively affect your agni, which is the “digestive fire” that is responsible for aiding the digestive process.
Ayurveda views it as preferable to consume lukewarm or hot water rather than ice-cold water. The cold temperature can extinguish your agni, disturb digestion and reduce blood supply to the different organs of your body, which may cause constipation and other ailments.
Photo credit: @veg2nonveg_kitchen
The optimal timing of water consumption can also vary according to a person’s dosha. For example, it may be ideal for a person with the vata dosha to drink water only one hour after he or she has eaten a meal. Meanwhile, a person with the pitta dosha may do well to take small sips during meals. People with the kapha dosha may drink water an hour before their meal so that their stomach is filled, which may reduce the tendency to eat more.
Ayurveda also suggests drinking water when your body gives a signal that it needs it. Ayurveda maintains that a set and specific amount of water to be consumed by all people is not fitting since individuals have unique genetic compositions and different hydration needs. Hence, the adage which suggests drinking 'eight glasses of water a day' should not be taken as an overall recommendation that suits everyone. In fact, this may be too much or too little for you. The body knows when it needs water, and you will have to heed its cues to know when to drink water and how much to drink.
Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend drinking water stored in a copper water pitcher, which has a variety of benefits, including creating natural alkaline water. According to ancient Ayurvedic principles, water stored in a copper jug (which is known as “tamra jal”) balances the three doshas in your body (vata, kapha and pitta) by gently infusing the water with the many health benefits of copper. To learn more on this subject, read our blog post on the health benefits of copper pitchers.