Is Dehydration Causing You Disease and Pain?March 30th, 2009
Most people realize that dehydration is a problem, but few understand that it can actually cause disease. In his book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, Fereydoon Batmanghelidj MD explains the significant role that water plays in the following conditions and how dehydration can cause them.
Gastritis and Ulcers
The stomach contains a mucosal layer that protects it’s lining from the highly corrosive hydrochloric acid used to digest food. While it’s the sodium bicarbonate in this mucosal layer that neutralizes hydrochloric acid and protects the stomach lining from it, 98% of this layer is water.
When dehydrated, the mucosal layer will be less capable of holding sodium bicarbonate and will leave the stomach lining vulnerable to damage. Furthermore, the sodium left behind from the neutralization of stomach acid requires additional water to be flushed out and prevent impaired function of the mucosal layer.
While the use of antacids and acid blockers may temporarily relieve the pain caused by hydrochloric acid reaching the stomach lining, they do nothing to resolve the dehydration that’s allowing it, and further stomach damage will likely result.
Heartburn and Hiatal Hernias
The stomach is the only part of the body that can withstand frequent exposure to high concentrations of hydrochloric acid. The mix of food that is broken down by hydrochloric acid in the stomach is highly acidic and would cause significant damage if it entered the small intestine in this state. To prevent this, the pancreas secretes a bicarbonate solution into the small intestines to buffer the highly acidic mix of digested food and allow it to pass through without causing damage.
When the body is dehydrated, the pancreas’ ability to produce bicarbonate is impaired, and to avoid damaging the small intestine, digested food is prevented from leaving the stomach. As a result of the restriction at the exit of the stomach, the valve at the entrance is relaxed, and some of the acidic food mixture is able to get up into the esophagus and cause damage and pain. Because the opening of the diaphragm becomes relaxed as well, part of the stomach can push through and result in a hiatal hernia.
Colitis and Constipation
The colon is naturally designed to preserve water by removing it from excrement. When dehydrated, even more water will be extracted which will result in hard and dry stool that causes pain, irritates the intestinal lining, and doesn’t move well through it.
The end of each bone within a joint is coated with a layer of cartilage that allows it to glide smoothly across the surface of another bone. Because water provides cartilage with it’s smooth and low friction characteristics, it’s essential for proper joint function.
During normal movement of a joint, a minimal amount of cartilage cells are destroyed from the resulting friction, but are replaced without issue. However, when the body is dehydrated, cartilage loses its ability to glide smoothly, and the additional friction that results during joint movement causes an increased number of cartilage cells to be destroyed.
Cartilage cells typically receive water and nutrients from the blood that flows to it through the end of the underlying bone. However, the limited amount of blood that can flow through the narrow passages in the bone is not enough to repair the additional cartilage damage caused by dehydration and increased friction. As a result, the cartilage must also rely on an increased flow of blood to the joint capsule which causes inflammation and pain.
Back and Neck Pain
The spine supports the entire weight of the upper body and about 75% of this support comes from the water within the small spinal discs that sit between each vertebra. When the body is dehydrated, these discs contain less water, are smaller in size, and less capable of providing support. This results in an increased risk of nerve impingement, additional strain on the musculature that supports the spine, and an increased risk of disc herniation, all of which are significant sources of back and neck pain.
Causing a joint to move through its range of motion helps to draw water to it and keep its cartilage well hydrated. This also applies to the spine and its supporting discs. In addition to the many benefits of exercise, this is why it’s such an important part of pain management.
With the fast pace of modern living, repetitive stress is one of the most common causes of poor health. It often results in adrenal fatigue, and in turn, a host of other frustrating health issues. Although emotional stress is an obvious and significant contributor to this, few people realize that internal physiological stress plays a large role as well. Because dehydration is interpreted by the body as a state of emergency, it invokes the “fight or flight” stress response. If invoked frequently enough, it will physically wear down the body and gradually destroy your health.
High Blood Pressure
Because water represents a significant portion of blood volume, dehydration decreases the overall volume of blood in the body. To prevent gasses from escaping from the blood and creating blockages, blood vessels must be constricted in conjunction with the smaller volume of blood. Some capillary beds may even be shut down entirely. Anyone who understands basic science or is familiar with blood pressure issues knows that constricted blood vessels will often result in elevated blood pressure.
Salt is essential for the absorption of water by cells, and as such, dehydration causes the body to make an increased effort to retain both salt and water in addition to constricting blood vessels. Unfortunately, most people with high blood pressure are urged to reduce salt intake and use diuretics that force the excretion of salt and water. While this may artificially lower blood pressure, it worsens the level of dehydration and puts the body under additional stress.
As I’ve said before and will write more about in the future, cholesterol is not the evil substance that it’s commonly believed to be. Among other things, it’s a precursor to important hormones, and in direct relation to dehydration, it’s an essential component of cell membranes.
The membrane of a cell is vitally important not only because of the physical protection it provides, but also because it controls cell function by regulating what is transferred in and out. Much of a cell membrane is composed of water, and when the body is dehydrated, additional cholesterol is required to compensate for the lack of water and maintain membrane integrity. As a result, cholesterol production is increased.
As previously mentioned, dehydration decreases overall blood volume and causes it to be highly concentrated. The osmotic potential created by this highly concentrated blood is damaging to the cells lining major arteries and reinforces the need of cholesterol for protection. While dehydration is only one possible cause of elevated cholesterol, it’s clear in this case that cholesterol lowering medication is only a temporary solution that can increase vulnerability to cell damage.
Ashtma and Allergies
Having an important role in the immune system, histamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to defend against viruses, bacteria and other foreign invaders. As such, it’s also commonly associated with asthma, allergies and pain.
Histamine is also an integral part of water regulation and is released in response to dehydration. Because water is lost through the evaporation that occurs in the lungs during breathing, the histamine released in response to dehydration reduces water loss by causing bronchial muscles to contract, and in turn, restrict breathing. As a result, the risk of an asthma attack is greatly increased. In addition, the excess histamine produced because of dehydration will increase susceptibility to allergic reactions.
While antihistamines are commonly used to treat asthma and allergy symptoms, it’s clear in this case that antihistamines do nothing to address the root problem. Furthermore, because they suppress the immune system, antihistamines increase susceptibility to infection.
Diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar can rise to dangerous levels because of inadequate insulin production. Regardless of how much insulin the pancreas can produce, dehydration can suppress its production and result in a state that can easily be mistaken for diabetes.
Brain function consumes a significant portion of the body’s energy. Two of the primary sources of energy that the brain relies on are hydroelectric energy generated from water and salt, and blood sugar. When dehydrated, the availability of hydroelectric energy decreases and the brain’s reliance on blood sugar increases. As such, the release of insulin is inhibited to increase the body’s threshold for blood sugar. Furthermore, because insulin promotes the absorption of sugar by cells, and because water is typically absorbed along with the sugar, the suppression of insulin production serves as another mechanism for the body to conserve water during dehydration.
The following tips will help you ensure that you drink enough water each day and avoid the disastrous effects of dehydration described above.
- Every day, aim to drink as many ounces of water as half of your body weight in pounds. If you’re currently drinking much less water than this, increase your intake gradually.
- Although dehydration can significantly compromise your health, drinking poor quality water poses serious risks as well. Be sure to drink high quality filtered water.
- Use the following schedule to achieve your daily water intake requirements in optimal fashion.
- Drink a glass of water immediately upon waking up in the morning. This will help to replace the water lost during sleep.
- Drink a glass of water a half hour to 15 minutes prior to each meal. This will help to restore the water used by digestion.
- Drink a glass of water between 1 and 2 hours after a meal. Drinking water too soon after a meal will dilute stomach acid and interfere with digestion.
- Because a cell’s ability to absorb water is dependent on salt, it’s one of the most essential nutrients to good health. As such, it’s often beneficial to add a pinch of sea salt to your drinking water, but be sure to use sea salt instead of refined table salt. If you drink water that is filtered by reverse osmosis, the sea salt will also reduce the acidity of the water and replace lost minerals and trace elements.
- Because alcohol suppresses vasopressin, the hormone that facilitates water absorption by cells, it is best to limit its consumption. Furthermore, because alcohol is a toxin, additional water is drawn from the body to process and eliminate it.
I expect that you’ll find it hard to believe that such serious health problems could potentially be resolved by something as simple as drinking water. But when you consider that approximately two thirds of the human body is water, it really shouldn’t be that hard to believe.
In Dr. Batmaghelidj’s book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, there are numerous testimonials from patients who eliminated ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, migraines, and many other issues simply by drinking more water. If you’re not convinced, perhaps you should read them for yourself!
While water may not be the solution to all of your problems, and it certainly wasn’t for me, it is still vitally important and is one of the 7 foundational factors of promoting optimal health and preventing disease.
For more information on Dr. Batmaghelidj, you can visit his website at www.watercure.com.