The most frequent nutrition question I get asked is ‘What one thing can I do to most improve my health?’ My answer is always the same ‘Drink water!’

Earth and humanity are united in the fact that more than two thirds of our physical body consists of water – it is our very life source. All living matter, including the human body, is regulated by the presence of water. It is so critical to our functioning that without it we die within a matter of days, much faster than from starvation. Hydration is required for the healthy functioning of all cells, tissues, organs and systems. The flip side of this scenario is that dehydration – or lack of ‘free water’ – is often at the root cause of chronic conditions and the unpleasant symptoms that go with them.

Water is Life

The life-giving properties of water come from its ability to create hydro-electricity, a natural source of energy. Hydrolysis, or metabolism of water, produces energy and our body leverages this power to perform its major functions. All neurotransmission depends on hydroelectricity from water, it enables the digestive process and energy production in every cell. No food we consume has the ability to provide usable energy without the presence of water. In this sense, it is beneficial to think of water as a primary nutrient that the body depends on rather than an inert substance.

There are two oceans of water inside us – water inside our cells and water outside our cells. Movement of water and substances between these two oceans is regulated by ions of sodium and potassium, through creation of an acidity gradient. The pH difference between these ions control the opening and closing of channels in the cell membrane through which water and other vital substances pass from inside to outside and vice versa. In a hydrated cell, this mechanism enables the cell to feed, excrete, reproduce and perform its designated functions. Health at this biochemical level ensures the integrity of tissues, organs and systems built from hydrated cells, leading to a true state of holistic wellness.

Dehydration is Deadly

While the body remains at a certain percentage of water collectively, much of this water is already ‘tied up’ in existing chemical reactions. We need a continuous supply of fresh water available to manage the daily demands of life – digestion, exercise, energy production, metabolism, stress response and excretion to name a few. Any type of stress prompts the release of hormones that require extensive volumes of water and minerals to neutralise.  As our body is consistently at work, it follows that our fresh water reserves need to be frequently replenished.

Lack of available water constitutes dehydration. Stress and toxins create a build up of acid in the body. As water is our buffer for acidity, cells will avoid death by giving up their free water to combat increasingly acidic conditions. In this state, the internal pH of the cell is compromised and the channels in the cell membranes collapse. The cell becomes ‘locked off’, no longer able to receive vital substances from outside, absorb nutrients or excrete waste materials. Locked off cells are essentially pockets of filth that create pain and inflammation in the body. They often create self-protecting mucus to coat damaged membranes and tissues, combatting exposure to viruses, bacteria and inflammation. Without proper cleansing and resources for  survival degradation occurs, symptoms present and disease manifests.

When the body faces dehydration it activates its internal drought-management program to protect vital organs from death. Histamines are neurotransmitters used to allocate water within the body. Over the course of evolution our bodies developed a complex rationing hierarchy using histamines to route water areas to where it is most needed for survival. The body loses its sense of thirst and areas without sufficient water break down tissues to access the water inside. Essential minerals and amino acids are used to neutralise toxins in the absence of water to wash it away, radically depleting the body of precious resources and creating deficiencies that constitute the foundation of disease. Diabetes, migranes, Alzehimers, Parkinsons, stroke, cancer, autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, gastritis, asthma, obesity, hypertension, heart failure and many more have their origins in dehydration.

There Is No Substitute

The question that usually follows my advice to drink water is ‘Does tea/coffee/kombucha/diet coke count?’ My response is ‘What do you wash your face in?’ If you wouldn’t shower in any of these things or give them to your plants or animals, why would you wash your insides with them?

The function of water in the body cannot simply be replicated by any fluid that goes in and lack of water will always put pressure on the cells of the body. Fresh, filtered water has been marketed as the most boring and uninteresting of beverages – most of us would prefer something with a little more flavour, heat or effervescence. However, alternative beverages can be thought of as ‘dirty water’ – they keep us alive but not healthy:

  • Sparkling water and diet sodas contain high volumes of phosphorus, which leaches calcium from the bones causing brittleness and density issues
  • Caffeine is acutely dehydrating – it flushes vast volumes of water out, spikes blood sugar, increases cellular acidity, inhibits memory and liver function and displaces key minerals and vitamins
  • Aspartame and artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite, leach calcium, advance nerve damage and create metabolic by-products that cannot be excreted so calcify in soft tissue
  • Alcohol disrupts blood sugar mechanisms, acutely dehydrates, pressures the liver, irritates the gut wall, produces cellular acidity, reduces blood pH and radically depletes key vitamins and minerals

Drinking Water for Health

It may take a little time to make the transition to making water your drink of preference but doing so is absolutely the greatest gift you can give to yourself and your body. Follow these guidelines to hydrate yourself to a healthy life:

  1. Slowly start to reduce down other beverages by cutting in half your current consumption, stabilising at that level then cutting in half again when you feel ready. Caffeinated beverages and sodas are highly addictive and take a while to kick but this doesn’t matter – it takes time to develop a healthy life habit. Persist!
  2. Take around 10 days to increase your water consumption to 2 litres/68oz daily. I recommend setting a target of drinking one glass per hour. Start at the weekend – the first few days will cause you to experience frequent urination as acidity is flushed from your system. No other drinks count towards this quota
  3. Drink as much of your water as possible at room temperature while sitting down. Be sure to sip, taking a breath between each sip to ensure optimum absorption. Cold or guzzled water is not so readily absorbed and can overwhelm the system
  4. Ensure you are hydrated before eating so that you do not need to eat with meals or for an hour afterwards. Doing so dilutes digestive enzymes causing stress on the GI system, poor nutrient absorption and food intolerances
  5. If you are struggling with lack of flavour then considering investing in The Right Cup – an inventive solution that uses scent to trick your taste buds into tasting flavour when you drink plain water!

I strongly encourage you all, regardless of age, health or stage of life, to make this basic but essential transition to improve the quality of your being. After only a few weeks your sense of thirst will have returned, you will feel more energised, sleep better, enjoy improved brain function and concentration, brighten your skin, reduce any existing symptoms, save money and generally increase your overall zest for life.

Note that there is a much greater body of literature about the function of water in health than covered in this basic article. For those interested in learning more about water, its impacts in the body and the science behind it I strongly recommend Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by F. Batmanghelidj as an accessible and informative place to start.


Isabel Ocaña PDNN is a qualified Naturopathic Nutritionist  and member of the Naturopathic Nutrition Association. Her journey into wellness began when she sought alternative healing approaches to battle her own disordered eating and anxiety. Learning simple, natural ways to heal inspired Isabel to retrain as a nutritionist, share her education and empower others to live healthy, symptom-free lives. 
Isabel’s mission is to educate, motivate and inspire health transformation through natural, effective positive eating. A British national, she currently lives in Oakland, California with her husband where she offers personalised nutrition counselling to a variety of clients.
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