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The Surprising Benefits of Hydration

There’s more to tap water than meets the eye

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Six out of 10 Canadians feel regularly dehydrated, according to recent surveys, and the summer heat increases your risks of dehydration. But there’s more to staying hydrated than simply drinking tap water. From trending waters such as alkaline water to novel hydration techniques, ensuring you’re hydrated is key for overall wellness, immune health, injury prevention, and more.

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The overflowing benefits of staying hydrated

Water makes up approximately 60 percent of your body. When you break it down by specific organs in your body—for example, your brain and heart are 73 percent water, while your lungs are 83 percent water—the benefits of hydration become clear.

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Benefits of hydration

Staying hydrated helps to

●       carry vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and oxygen to your cells

●       flush out toxins and other waste

●       protect and support all of your body’s systems, including your skin and detox-related organs such as your kidneys and liver

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Dangers of dehydration

In contrast, even mild dehydration can cause a myriad of effects:

●       impaired cognitive function, including worsening memory and attention

●       increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken your immune system, increase fat gain, and sabotage your mental health

●       higher risks of injury because water helps guard against heat exhaustion while also lubricating your joints and protecting your spinal cord and other vital body systems

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Demystifying water

Canada has the cleanest water in North America, and only three other countries—Sweden, Norway, and Austria—have better water quality. But there’s so much more than what meets the eye.

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Beyond the tap

Many trendy types of water in the health food store promise health benefits, such as alkaline water (which has a higher pH level), water infused with hydrogen, copper water (purported to have antimicrobial and Ayurvedic benefits), and functional water (water with additives such as collagen or adaptogens). But many are so new, there isn’t a lot of research about them yet.

“For the most part, water is water, as long as it doesn’t have any contaminants,” says registered dietitian Catherine Rall. “One exception is alkaline water … regularly drinking alkaline water may help to reduce the effects of aging, improve digestion, and improve liver health.”

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Water additives in Canada

Depending on your province, chlorine, fluoride, and other additives may be added to your tap water. In fact, according to the Safe Drinking Water Foundation, Canada is one of the most fluoridated countries in the world, and nearly all of our tap water is chlorinated.

While these additives serve a purpose, they also concern some health experts. For example, long-term exposure to chlorine in tap water has been linked to fertility problems, cancer, and milder problems such as skin rashes. Excess exposure to fluoride may increase your risks of muscular damage, osteoporosis, fatigue, and more.

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Healthy hydration strategies

It goes without saying—if you’re working out, hydration should be right up there with workout supplements and protein shakes, especially during these summer months. It’s key for muscle performance, post-workout recovery, and improving your performance.

Beyond exercise, up your hydration game this month:

●       Hydration apps or gadgets:  There are many smartphone apps or wearable gadgets that remind you to drink water regularly.

●       Eat your hydration:  Water-rich foods such as watermelon, cucumber, celery, oranges, and strawberries all contribute to your overall fluid levels.

●       Watch the temperature:  If you’re going to be enjoying the summer sun, hydrate before and during your outdoor escapades.

This summer, let’s raise our glasses to the importance of hydration and all of the ways it fuels us from the inside out. 

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Think outside the tap

If you find tap water too boring to inspire you to drink up, you’ve got many options.

Soups and broths

Enjoy clear soups or broths such as bone broths. They contribute to your fluid intake while also providing essential nutrients, collagen, and other important compounds.

Frozen delights 

Freeze coconut water or herbal teas (ginger tea or peppermint tea are great starting points) into ice cubes and add them to your drinks. As they melt, you get the benefit of added hydration and a hint of flavour.

Electrolyte-infused water 

“The most important thing to remember about water is that it’s somewhat useless unless you have enough electrolytes,” says registered dietitian Dan Gallagher. “If your body is deficient in [electrolytes], you’re not going to be able to get that water inside your cells, so you’re not going to be fully hydrated.”

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Signs and symptoms of dehydration

Beyond not drinking enough each day, causes of dehydration can include exercise, exposure to heat, and illnesses. Watch for warning signs including dark-yellow urine, dizziness, and headaches. More severe symptoms include confusion and a rapid heartbeat. Take action fast—dehydration can cause liver problems, kidney failure, and even death.

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How much should you drink?

Forget the old adage to drink eight glasses of water a day. Most men need 13 cups (3.25 L) of fluids, while women need 9 cups (2.25 L). But everyone is different, and factors including medications, summer temperatures, and your level of physical activity affect this. Follow your body’s cues, such as thirst, and watch the toilet: you’re likely well-hydrated if your urine is clear or pale yellow.

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Take back control over the water you drink

If you’re concerned about water additives, consider a home water filter that is rated to remove these additives. Research also suggests spirulina may protect against harmful effects of fluoride, and vitamin C may help neutralize the effects of chlorine in tap water.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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