Water Water Everywhere

Water. Love it or hate it, it’s essential. It’s about 75% of you! It’s found in every tissue of the body, and makes up the bulk of the fluid in every cell. Just some of the many roles of water in the body:

  • Improves oxygen delivery to cells
  • Transports nutrients
  • Enables cellular hydration
  • Moistens oxygen for easier breathing
  • Cushions bones and joints
  • Absorbs shocks to joints and organs
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Removes wastes
  • Flushes toxins
  • Prevents tissues from sticking
  • Lubricates joints
  • Improves cell-to-cell communications
  • Maintains normal electrical properties of cells

Did you know your cartilage is up to 80% water? If you have joints that pop and click, increasing your hydration can really make a difference. Feeling a bit bloated? Increasing your water intake will actually flush out the extra water that’s making you puffy. There are so many reasons to drink up!

The body can produce about 8% of its daily water needs through internal metabolic processes. The remaining 92% must be ingested through what we eat and drink. We can’t store water, so we need to replenish it every day by staying well hydrated. Surprisingly, as many as 8 cups of water are lost each day to your basic metabolic processes, including breathing. That’s before you exercise or do anything beyond simply being alive!

Unfortunately, most people aren’t drinking anywhere near enough water to meet their body’s needs. Water is the most common nutritional deficiency in the American population.

If the body’s water level drops by as little as 2%, symptoms of dehydration will set in: fatigue, headache, anxiety, irritability, depression, cravings, and cramps. Migraines, heartburn, joint pain, back pain, and constipation will follow as dehydration continues.

Water depends on electrolytes (minerals that can conduct electricity when dissolved in water) for proper absorption and to control osmosis throughout the body. One great way to get minerals is through natural spring/mineral water or electrolyte water (in addition to eating lots of veggies and fruit!). Spring/mineral water should be bottled at the source and preferably in glass bottles, and contains tons of good stuff from all the time the water spent bubbling up through the earth. Electrolyte water is also good; it doesn’t contain sodium, which means it doesn’t taste salty, and is ok for people with sodium concerns. But note, sodium is an important mineral to consume, too! Spring or electrolyte water with sodium is a great post-workout drink—just add a pinch of real sea salt to your water bottle.

You should be drinking half your body weight in ounces of water a day, to a maximum of 100 ounces. (140 lbs = 70 oz water daily). Plus, add another 12 oz for every 8 oz of diuretics you drink, including coffee, fruit juice, and alcohol. Sip your water throughout the day–if you drink a large amount all at once, you just quickly pee it out.

I love water and drink mine plain out of a cute cup!  But if you don’t love it, here are some great ways to perk up your hydration:

  • steep fresh mint leaves in boiling water, then refrigerate.
  • add tons of cut up citrus, cucumbers, or berries
  • make caffeine-free herbal teas
  • add a drop of essential oil, like orange oil made from orange peels
  • blend watermelon, strawberries, and fresh mint, and freeze to make flavored ice cubes.

Other great hydration options that can be found on health food shelves these days include coconut water, maple water, aloe water and watermelon water. These all contain minerals, but also some calories and even some small amounts of sugar. If plain water just isn’t doing it for you, you might try diluting one of these 50/50.

Fight Pain and Inflammation Naturally

Whether you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior, or just occasionally clumsy, lumps, bumps, bruises, and injuries are a part of life. Joint pain is also something most of us will deal with at some point. We may often reach for the bottle of Advil or aspirin without a second thought. These powerful medications do indeed help with pain and inflammation, but that may not be the right thing for your body.

Inflammation and swelling is your body’s way of taking action against an insult, and starting the healing process. Let’s say you roll your ankle stepping off a curb. You do no major damage, but you create some micro-tears to the tissue in the area. By sending in inflammatory compounds and thereby inflaming the ankle, your body creates a pathway that allows the immune system to mount a defense and start the healing. That inflammation ushers the white blood cells to move in and clean up the damaged tissues. (It’s also why infected tissues get inflamed–so the white blood cells can rush in to kill off the invading bacteria.)  Once the body has inflamed the area to start the healing process, it can then send in anti-inflammatory compounds to further help heal and calm the injury. So, the body’s natural process is, it must inflame before it can anti-inflame.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Advil stop the body’s process of creating pro-inflammatory compounds, and therefore reduce pain and swelling, but in so doing they also stop the creation of the body’s anti-inflammatory compounds, and can slow healing. Aspirin and NSAIDs can also cause a host of other problems in the body, chief among them damage to the stomach lining and interference with good digestion. They will also make bruising worse.

There are some good alternative routes to help relieve pain and swelling, when it’s too much to just ride out.

First, take a good look at your diet. Both our pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory compounds are created by the body from the fatty acids (fats) we eat, which is why high quality omega 3 and 6 fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, and fish are key to the healing process. A good mixed EFA (essential fatty acid) supplement is worth adding to your daily regimen, especially during times of healing. Vitamins C, E, B3, B6, and the minerals magnesium and zinc are key cofactors to these processes as well. Fresh fruits and dark green veggies, poultry, fish, beef, mushrooms, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, avocado, beans, cashews, and prunes will give you healthy doses of these nutrients. Remember also that sugar is highly inflammatory and will slow your healing process.

Especially when it comes to joint pain, water is your friend. The cartilage in our joints is 80% water. The main key to healthy joints, and the first remedy to reach for when they start popping and clicking, is water: half your body weight in ounces daily (to a maximum of 100 ounces). For healthy collagen, the matrix of glue that holds our cartilage together, ensure your diet contains adequate protein (amino acids), vitamin C, iron, copper, and water. One major component of collagen is chondroitin sulfate. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements can make a huge difference to joint health, but they must be consistently taken 3x/day for up to 6 weeks before you will see any effect (and must be avoided if you are allergic to sulfur). Also for joints, antioxidants combat the free radicals and enzymes that damage the joint (synovial) fluid, and EFAs help with swelling and pain–so make sure to eat lots of colorful fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, fish, and avocado.

Finally, there are some natural supplements that can be very helpful. All of these can be found at Whole Foods or other natural stores:

  • White willow bark is the plant that contains the active ingredient that is synthesized into aspirin. It is usually in a tincture.
  • Capsaicin gel or cream can be useful applied topically for joint, muscle, or nerve pain. Its active ingredient is derived from chili peppers.
  • Boswellia is an anti-inflammatory compound derived from a tree, and can be used as a topical cream or an oral supplement.
  • Curcumin is the bright-yellow compound found in the herb turmeric, and is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Taken as a supplement, it should also include the active ingredient from black pepper, which increases its effects.

Stay safe out there, but know that when life takes its lumps, you have some tools to fight back!

How to Undo When you Overdo

I’m not going to be another one of those experts telling you about all the ways to make healthy choices at the holidays. Cut your wine with seltzer. Fill up on shrimp cocktail and baby carrots. Cover half your plate in veggies. Save your calories for your favorite items and pass on the others.

Ok well, actually, that’s all really good advice.

But let’s be honest. There’s a pretty darn good chance that you are going to overdo it at some point this holiday season–if you haven’t already! You’ll drink too much. You’ll keep eating even though you’re full. You’ll have some of every dessert offered. You’ll eat pie for breakfast. So, here are some ideas on how you can undo some of the damage and start to feel better, fast.

Imbibed a bit too much? Alcohol increases urination and dehydration, taking lots of electrolytes with it. Before bed, drink coconut water to try to replenish some of those electrolytes. In the morning, continue the coconut water, eat some eggs for the important minerals and amino acids found in the yolks, and drink some bone broth or homemade chicken soup for the healing minerals and soothing collagen. Avoid taking Tylenol or Advil, as these will further stress your liver. Black coffee can help with headaches by fighting blood vessel constriction.

Tummy not happy?  Gastritis is the fancy term for an upset stomach, with symptoms such as pain, nausea, burning, belching, and heartburn . One of the best cures for gastritis is a supplement called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). DGL acts as a demulcent, which means it coats and soothes the lining of the stomach. A couple of tablets chewed up can really bring relief. DGL is widely available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other natural foods markets.

Stuck in a cycle of poor choices? Pie for breakfast. Donuts for a snack. Fudge just because. Cookies cookies cookies. You’re eating this stuff every day and feeling worse and worse. One of the best ways to gird yourself is to start your day with a healthy, filling breakfast. Start there, and see if you’re not inspired to make better choices later in the day. Focus on getting lots of protein and fats: eggs, healthy meats, cheese, plain whole fat yogurt, berries, sauteed plantains with coconut oil.

Bloated like Santa’s belly? Water water water!  Dehydration, which will occur when we are eating poor food and drinking lots of alcohol, will cause the body to retain water. Increasing your water intake will flush that retention out, and help you beat the bloat. It sounds counterintuitive, but drink water to make the body excrete water.

Here’s wishing you a holiday season filled with good choices. But just in case, now you know what to do!