The surprising ways water transforms our wellness
Canada is home to some of the world’s most pristine fresh water. The more we recognize how water keeps every part of our body healthy, the more we can appreciate and protect our access to this vital nutrient.
While Oktoberfest may be winding down, the party is just getting started here in Elmvale, Ontario. “At Oktoberfest, you have to pay for it,” says William Shotyk, “but we have the first festival in human history where you can drink all you want for free all day!” He’s not joking.
Shotyk’s organization, the Elmvale Foundation, hosted its 10th annual water festival this month. It all started when Shotyk was a young boy and his parents bought a farm nestled among Elmvale’s lush pastures.
The farm had its own spring. “Gushing out of the ground was this beautiful water,” recalls Shotyk. A cup hung near the spring. “You could drink the water as it came out. I was absolutely fascinated!”
Today, Shotyk is the chair of agriculture and environment at the University of Alberta and one of the world’s leading scientists monitoring trace metals in the environment.
“I study ice cores in the Canadian Arctic,” says Shotyk. “The cleanest layers of ice [are] between 5,000 to 8,000 years old. The water in Elmvale is five times cleaner!”
Scientists thought Elmvale’s water must be ancient to be so pure, but Shotyk discovered something amazing. “This ultra-clean water is actually really young,” he says. Deep below Elmvale lie layers of sand, rocks, clay, and minerals. “As the rain goes through that soil, Mother Nature removes the contaminants. The soil is the key to this water.”
Shotyk links protecting the land with preserving our water and ultimately preserving our health. “If we want to continue to enjoy this water, we have to protect the source area,” he says.
“People take water quality for granted until something happens,” Shotyk warns. Michigan’s Flint water crisis and Canada’s Walkerton water scandal—nearly half the town fell sick—immediately come to mind.
The Elmvale springs are more than just a scientific phenomenon and environmental icon. Clean water like Elmvale’s is the key to unlocking our health potential.
“The average Canadian has no idea where their water is coming from,” says William Shotyk, chair of agriculture and environment at the University of Alberta. Here’s how to plug into your source.
Learn more about your municipal water and what’s in it. Most cities offer regular water reports. “In Toronto, the water is tested every four hours for every parameter under the sun,” notes Shotyk.
Order testing if your city doesn’t share this info. Some of Toronto naturopath Holly Fennell’s patients test their water at the University of Guelph’s labs. “The results allow you to make the best decision to support your wellness,” she says.
Explore local springs at findaspring.com. Some springs allow you to collect the fresh water. “I’d like to see more Canadians across the country finding the artesian springs in their area and protecting them for future generations,” says Shotyk. Many environmental groups work hard to defend the land around these springs and happily accept volunteer support.
Health Canada sets stringent water purity standards, but some scientists think government standards are too lax. When you’re buying a water filter check the following.
Make sure it’s designed to take out the specific contaminant you’re worried about. A certification seal from the NSF, CSA, UL, or WQA means the filter can actually do what it claims.
Choose from six types of installation:
Pick your technology. Two of the most common are carbon filters and reverse-osmosis filters. The former is cheaper, but the latter is more thorough. “I advocate for reverse osmosis,” says Toronto naturopath Holly Fennell.
If you think about it, humans are a lot like raisins. At birth, our bodies are approximately 78 percent water. Then we start to dry out. Adults are approximately 60 percent water, and seniors hover around 50 percent water.
“Hydration is vital to every organ and cell in the body,” says Dr. Holly Fennell, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. But most people don’t take that to heart.
Once you realize how water benefits every aspect of your health, you’ll never want to be a part of those statistics.
Up to 75 percent of North Americans are chronically dehydrated, and dehydration is one of the most frequent reasons Canadian seniors are hospitalized.
“People are amazed to learn that lean muscle contains over 70 percent water,” says Fennell. “If you aren’t properly hydrated, your muscles are more prone to cramping.”
Water keeps our muscles firing at full speed and carries out the metabolic waste generated when we’re working out. Being properly hydrated is so important, our athletic performance immediately plummets if we sweat out just 1 to 2 percent of our body weight and don’t replenish it.
“Start hydrating the day before a big workout,” advises Fennell. “Many people start drinking when they start exercising. This doesn’t allow the water to be properly absorbed.”
Drink cold water when exercising. Compared to room temperature water, research shows it improves both endurance and performance gains.
“The human brain is composed of over 70 percent water,” says Fennell. When we’re feeling thirsty for knowledge, sipping water ensures the brain gets all the nutrients it needs. Water may be all that’s between us and our next breakthrough.
Studies show that a well-hydrated brain experiences more creativity and increased focus. It can help us to think faster, and scientists even hypothesize that hydration levels affect our moods.
The 600 lymph nodes scattered around the body keep us from getting sick by transporting immune cells and flushing out dead bacteria. Water maintains the lymphatic system and is a major element in our lymph fluid, which is all the more reason to heed the advice to drink plenty of fluids when feeling ill.
Drinking water is also the best way to keep our mucous membranes hydrated. When they’re dry, these membranes are more susceptible to virus infections.
Drinking fluids keeps food flowing smoothly through the digestive system and flushes out waste. If we’re feeling plugged up, not drinking enough water is the most common cause.
“Weight loss can also be impacted by hydration,” adds Fennell. We burn 2 percent fewer calories per day when we’re dehydrated, and Fennell notes that water helps the body burn fat better.
In one study, drinking an extra 500 mL (2 cups/16 oz) of water three times a day helped overweight adults drop the pounds and improve their body mass index and body composition scores.
Our skin is 64 percent water, so it isn’t surprising that research shows how staying hydrated improves skin thickness and density and boosts skin moisture.
Unfortunately, most beauty tips about staying hydrated are a little overblown.
In a meta-review of dozens of studies, researchers noted that the hydration-and-beauty link is “one of the more pervasive myths” out there. There’s no truth to the claim that drinking water will smooth our skin or cure any skin problems we have. And while dry, dehydrated skin is more prone to damage and wrinkles, the researchers warn that drinking water doesn’t do much.
Instead, your thirsty skin craves moisture applied topically.
Smooth on natural lotion as soon as you finish bathing, and consider skin creams containing hyaluronic acid. This ingredient attracts moisture to your skin and locks it in.
Bones are 31 percent water, and the cartilage between joints is 60 to 85 percent water. When we don’t drink enough water, that cartilage can’t properly protect our joints from friction and wear and tear.
“People are surprised to learn that joint health can be related to hydration,” says Fennell. “The synovial fluid that bathes our joints contains water and is negatively affected by decreased hydration.”
Try sipping tea. The Arthritis Foundation reports that no other drink has been more well researched when it comes to joint benefits. Take your pick from green, white, or black tea. They each have polyphenols that soothe joint inflammation while simultaneously hydrating our creaky joints.
Our eyes are made up of mostly fluids and water, and a water glass should go hand-in-hand with our eyeglasses. Numerous studies have linked dehydration with dry eye syndrome, cataracts, and other common eye-related conditions and diseases.
Maintain that 20/20 vision with a hydrating juice made from fresh-pressed fruits and vegetables such as kale, pink grapefruit, carrots, oranges, and berries. This concoction is rich in the bioflavonoids, vitamin C, and carotenoids that keep eyes healthy.
Every system in our body is intricately linked. As we hydrate each part of our body, we boost our overall well-being. Evidence suggests hydration plays a role in reducing the risks of a shockingly varied range of health concerns, including exercise asthma, hyperglycemia, urinary tract infections, heart disease, some forms of cancer, and so much more.
As scientists uncover more and more reasons why water is truly the most vital nutrient for our bodies, we have more and more reasons to celebrate and protect the pristine water resources that Canada has to offer.