“You’re Not Sick; You’re Thirsty”

Is it possible that the majority of illness originate from something as simple as dehydration?  Could we be treating ourselves with medicine when we should just be drinking more water?  I recently read Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by F. Batmanghelidj, MD, which explores this possibility.

Water

Our body is made up of 75% water, and in particular, our brain tissue is 85% water. Adequate hydration is essential to our bodies and brains functioning properly to stay healthy.  But many of us are suffering from chronic dehydration because we live in a society where coffee, tea, alcohol and manufactured beverages like soda have become acceptable thirst-quenchers.  While many of these contain water, they also contain dehydrating agents that only make our body’s more thirsty.  And, sodas, in particular, are addictive (both the caffeine and sugar), taking away our natural thirst for water, even when it’s plentiful and available.

We tend to think that we are “thirsty” when our mouths become dry and we crave a drink.  But this is actually the last outward sign of dehydration – if you are feeling this, your body is screaming for water.  And as you age, your body begins to ignore “dry mouth” more and more, making dehydration easier. Our vital organs receive the water, nutrients and hormones they need to work only by enough water existing in the body to deliver those elements, so it’s obviously essential to our basic functioning.  Just in case you need a few more reasons to drink more water, here are some that really stood out to me:

  • Morning sickness during pregnancy is the main indicator of a baby and mother’s dehydration.  Water is essential to cell expansion during a baby’s first stage of life.
  • Chronic pain is a huge indicator of thirst.  For a while, painkillers may work for pain monitored by the central nervous system, but eventually the brain will become so dehydrated that it will register all pain until it gets enough water.  And, until it does, the pain will increase and the body will limit the mobility of those areas in order to “prevent the production of additional toxic waste” that water, if available, would wash out. If you are experiencing consistent back pain, leg pain or headaches, take note.
  • Dyspeptic (gastritis, heartburn, constipation) pain is an emergency thirst signal.  “Digestion of solid foods depends on the presence of copious amounts of water” and “water provides the only natural protection against the acid in the stomach.”  Antacids contain a lot of aluminum (so does your deodorant, by the way), which combined with brain cell dehydration are proven causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Stop popping those antacids and drink a couple glasses of water instead.
  • “Fully 75 percent of the weight of the upper part of the body is supported by the water volume that is stored in the disc core.”  While proper posture is helpful, adequate water is essential if you are experiencing back pain.  Exercises that stretch the back and help “vacuum” water back into the disc space will help both neck and back pain.  I personally find that laying on the bed with my head off the edge for a minute or so helps a great deal.  Of course, my chiropractor adjustments help tremendously as well.
  • Dehydration affects the regulation of body temperature.  Many migraines and headaches are caused by “heat stress” because of dehydration that may occur due to lack of drinking water, drinking alcohol, or an allergic reaction that releases histamines (blocking hydration).
  • Dehydration leads to stress in the body and causes hormones to go into crisis mode.  As a result, dehydration contributes to chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
  • Using caffeine to override your body’s available energy will lower levels of stored energy, meaning that your hormones will not be able to react appropriately later and the brain has less energy to work from, leading to less focus and attention span.  This dehydration effect is exacerbated when elderly people with memory problems or children with learning disorders drink anything other than water, especially soda.
  • Adequate water and salt intake are essential to maintaining blood volume that prevents hypertension.  The body will do all it can to retain water and sodium (helps balance water in and out of cells), yet the current “treatments” for hypertension prescribe diuretics.  Water is the best diuretic – if you are drinking enough water, your body will respond and eventually flush out the toxic edema fluid rather than the water your body desperately needs.
  • Cholesterol is essential to the function of our cells because it helps our cells retain water.  In the state of dehydration, you will develop high cholesterol as its working in overdrive to prevent cell dehydration.
  • “The sensation of thirst and hunger are generated simultaneously to indicate the brain’s needs.” We cannot tell the difference, and thus often overeat when our body’s are really just crying out for water.  Then, dehydration causes our brain to crave more energy, thus causing us to crave sugar.  So, we overeat, eat unhealthy foods and gain weight simply by being dehydrated.
  • Asthma and allergies are indicators that the body has resorted to an increase in production of the neurotransmitter histamine, the sensor regulator of water metabolism and its distribution in the body.”
  • In some cases of chronic dehydration, our brain begins to inhibit insulin so the pancreas can provide water for food digestion – a crucial function to provide energy to the body.  Ultimately, this can cause insulin-independent diabetes, and instead of drinking more water & eating a balanced diet to get the body to behave normally again, people take chemical override medications to force the body to produce more insulin.
  • Salt is crucial to ensuring we have an “ocean” of water outside our cells, but the table salt we eat in most foods is a chemical and not mineral-rich.  Remove sodium preservatives and table salt from your diet and replace with unrefined sea salt to keep your body’s hydration in balance.

The simple way to prevent the damage from chronic dehydration is to drink enough water.  Your body needs a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day, more, especially, if you are drinking alcohol or caffeine.  If your urine is not colorless, you are not hydrated enough.  Drink water slowly, throughout the day.  I typically drink a glass of water before and after each meal, and then at least one in-between each meal as a rule of thumb.  If I am feeling sick, my allergies are flaring or my back pain returns, I immediately drink lots of water, and only water, until the symptoms pass. I have truly noticed a difference.

Are you drinking enough water?  If any of the above dehydration-related illnesses stuck out to you personally, you must read this book. It has very detailed chapters on each of the effects of dehydration and testimonials for how water has healed people.  Go read it (or borrow from me!) – it’s fascinating!

Back to Real Life

So, I’ve been a bit MIA the past couple of months.  See, I just returned from a vacation to Italy and France and most of my free time in the weeks leading up to the trip were planning the 2 weeks we were going to be there.  But, I’m back now and more inspired than ever to keep on pursuing true health.

Leading up to the trip, I was a bit anxious about all the weight I was going to gain from eating so many carbs.  That wasn’t going to stop me from enjoying all the pasta, pizza, gelato, tiramisu and wine “when in Rome,” but I figured I would just have to work extra hard when I returned to be healthier.  So, when I was there, I did just that.  I splurged at meals, opting for wine at lunch and dinner, eating an afternoon gelato every day, and having my share of fresh pasta in search of the best ever.

What surprised me, though, is that I somehow ended up losing weight on the trip.  More importantly, while we were there and when I returned, I felt great – nearly pain-free, full of energy, and just an overall feeling of healthy.  On a normal basis, I am so focused on what I eat and put into my body, but only very slowly do I feel like I am seeing the results for my health that I want.   I go on vacation for two weeks and eat whatever I want (and have the best time doing so), and I see results immediately.  As I’ve returned and reflected about what made that possible, I’ve had a few thoughts that I wanted to share.

Fresh Ingredients, Made-From-Scratch Food

Every day, Italian home cooks and chefs go to the market to get fresh meat and fresh vegetables for the meals they will prepare that day.  While we were staying in Tuscany, we cooked dinner every night in our home and visited the market several times that week.  The stores there weren’t like ours where fresh ingredients remain only on two of the outer sides of the store, with the bulk of food on shelves or in freezers. They had large produce sections, cheese and meat counters (mozzarella and prosciutto galore!), a large selection of fresh pasta, non-homogenized milk & cream and a bakery with breads baked that day.  There were no pre-prepared desserts, very little freezer space and the eggs were so fresh they didn’t even have to be refrigerated.

We took a cooking class in Italy on how to make fresh pasta and learned thirteen different pasta sauces.  Let me first say, if you ever go to Italy – do this!  It really was one of my most favorite experiences and taught us so much more about the culture we were visiting.  Plus, it was the best meal of the trip!  My brother blogged about the details here if you’d like to read more about it.  It was incredible to go behind-the-scenes with a chef who cooks for his restaurant daily and learn his authentic recipes.  He told us about how he visits the local farmer’s market daily to get fresh seafood, meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables.  We started by chopping lots of fresh produce and then throwing it in pots on the stove with plenty of locally grown & produced olive oil.  The sauces were all made from fresh veggies and tomatoes, real cream, pancetta, and lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  One of the best parts was that he had his pots of fresh herbs right on the kitchen counter and would pick them straight off the plant, tear them up and throw them in the pots as we cooked.  The pasta was simply made from unbleached flour, fresh eggs and chopped spinach or tomato paste was added for different coloring/flavoring.  Every ingredient was simple and fresh.  Every item was hand-made.  We are just missing that here.

While we were only in Paris a few days, I certainly enjoyed every bit of French food while I could.  I had some delicious meals where you could really taste the flavor because of how they were prepared.  The french onion soup was made with gelatin-rich bone broth and you could taste how long it had been simmering to infuse nutrients.  Roasted chicken was always served on the bone and in its own gravy.  One night, we went to a place that made traditional crepes, made gluten-free with buckwheat as they should be – phenomenal!

Non-Toxic, Real Food

I attribute a lot of how healthy we stayed during our trip to the fact that the food was made from real ingredients.  There were no preservatives in the bread and fresh pasta.  The preservative potassium bromate (aka bromated flour) that’s often found in our foods here in the U.S. isn’t added there, so doesn’t pose a risk to your health.   They use olive oil or butter for all cooking, and you won’t find hydrogenated vegetable oil in processed foods either – those are made with coconut or palm oil.  That alone makes such a difference in the amount of free-radicals people are exposed to.  It’s amazing how foods that are sold both there and here are made so differently – The ketchup I got with my french fries in Paris contained no high-fructose corn sryup; it was made with real tomatoes and sugar.  We even bought m&m’s at the airport that were made with coconut oil!  I’m now wishing I had bought more…

And you certainly won’t find any toxic food dyes or artifcial coloring in the foods.  All the gelato we enjoyed was flavored and colored with real fruits; there were no bright, unrealistic colors to attract customers.  And GMOs are strictly regulated there and mostly banned in both Italy and France.  Produce is grown by farmers who sell it at local markets, chicken and cattle are allowed to graze freely on the range and not fed growth-stimulating hormones, and fish are actually caught in sea instead of farmed.  All of the chemicals that we eat in our food cause us to gain weight as our bodies are literally starving of nutrients.  And they make us feel terrible as we suffer from leaky gut syndrome and develop food allergies we may not even realize.  If you are curious to read more, here’s an interesting list of lots of things we eat constantly in the US that’s banned in other countries across the world due to health effects.

Movement

The first city on our trip was Rome.  We stayed in Centro Storico, right by the Piazza Navona.  A great location literally right in the middle of all the major sides, but not easily accessible public transportation.  So we quickly learned that we would be walking everywhere.  We started both days we were there with a 30-minute walk to our tours of the Vatican and Colosseum/Ancient Rome and continued to do lots and lots of walking.  As we visited towns across Tuscany, many people don’t have cars and simply walk everywhere.  They walk to the market each day, they walk to work.  In one town we visited, Lucca, everyone rides bikes, both leisurely around town and athletically through the countryside.  We rode around the top of the town wall – a beautiful experience.  In Venice, you walk everywhere to avoid expensive boat rides and the locals were always out walking their pups.  Walking miles a day certainly put me into better shape than I have been in a long time.  And miraculously, my back pain ceased and my recently painful achilles tendon, finally stretched out instead of cramped under a desk all day, hasn’t bothered me  since.  Funny how all the pain that typically prevents me from exercise is really what cures it.

Biking in Lucca

Less Stress

According to WebMD, 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.  As a society, we are really harming our bodies by putting ourselves under too much stress.  Stress causes us to experience back and neck pain, affects our hormones and causes us to gain weight.  One thing the Italians have right is how to live a less stressful life.  They take their time in the mornings enjoying a cafe with breakfast.  They go to work for a few hours and then take an afternoon break to relax and eat lunch with friends or family, before returning to work for a few hours in the afternoon/evening.  Meals are an experience and people take their time eating, enjoying each other’s company and partaking in plenty of wine.  Disclaimer for any “health people” ready to judge: I am aware that wine is alcohol and therefore toxic to your body, but there’s a lot to say for how a glass or two helps take the edge off the day and provide stress relief.  We had some pretty crazy driving experiences around Italy (especially up the switchbacks on the steep hill to our house in Tuscany) and at the end of the day, a glass of champagne certainly helped take the stress away.

Obviously, I was on vacation and away from my job (recently rated #5 on the most stressful jobs list, by the way!), so that certainly helped my stress level.  But, it was more than that…  I wasn’t watching tv or constantly on my phone checking email, instagram or facebook.  I was out exploring, taking walks, enjoying art and taking in the beauty of God’s creation.  I was cooking for my family each night, feeling inspired by the local ingredients and creating delicious new recipes.  And, then, I sat with my family to enjoy the food over conversation around the dinner table, uninterrupted by phones or our busy lives.  How often does that happen in our lives anymore?  It’s the focus on relationships, talking about life and decompressing from the day over a great meal and glass of wine that helps put things in perspective and remember what’s really important: not stressing over life, but appreciating our blessings.

Back to Real Life

So now that I’ve convinced you myself to move to Italy, I have to remember that wineries and beautiful hills are just a short drive away (on much easier roads)!  But, really, although the hurdles to health that I returned to can sometimes be overwhelming and discouraging, I can lead a healthier life.  I’m inspired to…

  • Shop at local farmer’s markets.  Meet the people who grow real food and who have a passion for providing real nourishment to their customers.  Invest in them and the hard work they do every day.
  • Use real ingredients and keep my recipes simple.  Make things from scratch that have true flavor and are full of nutrients.
  • Enjoy cooking again.  I no longer want to dread cooking dinner when I get home from a long day at work.  I want to remember that God’s gifted me with the ability to create delicious, healthy dishes for my family and see it as a way to express my creativity.
  • Take more walks. Enjoy the beautiful Texas weather & landscape, meet my neighbors, and keep my puppy happy as she’s so enjoyed our walking adventures since I returned.
  • Host more dinner parties to enjoy good food and good wine with friends.
  • Sit at the table to eat with my husband more often instead of on the couch.  No phones allowed.
  • Leave the stress of work at the office.  Give thanks for all my blessings daily and put things back in perspective.

Salute!

Paninis and Wine from a street cafe in Florence