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WATER: HYDRATION, DIGESTION AND METABOLISM

We generally are aware that water is essential for maintaining life, but how many of us realise that it is essential for good functioning of the digestion system, regular and balanced bowel movements, as well as kidney health.

On average, a mature adult individual loses approximately 2.5 to 3.0 litres of fluid a day – through sweat, urine, bowel movements and breathing. Exercise, illness and/or other factors can also significantly play a role in the rate of water loss.

Proper hydration is about allowing the cells in our body to have the required elements that they need in order to optimally function – this includes all bodily systems. Too little water can lead to dehydration, which then can also cause e.g. fatigue, poor digestion, and poor circulation.

According to Ayurveda - at the other end of the spectrum of drinking too little water - drinking too much water can make your stomach feel bloated and heavy, and cause indigestion (and lead to other health issues) by overburdening the digestive capabilities.

Although the modern approach to water drinking is that more is better, Ayurveda recommends an individualised approach to fluid intake – not too little and not too much.

DIGESTION AND WATER:
With respect to the process of digestion itself, the mucosal cells that line the digestive tract secrete a watery gel-like fluid, comprised of approximately 95% water.  These secretions are a food source for our good bacteria (our microbiome), and they help in supporting our digestive health, the absorption of nutrients, and healthy bowel motility.

Peristalsis is where the muscles and walls of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract flex and contract to move things along.  Water is essential for keeping these walls smooth and flexible. When we are insufficiently hydrated, these muscles contract slower and our bowels thus become sluggish.

In the large intestine, water is then reclaimed, before the faecal matter passes through to the rectum.  The amount of water absorbed back into the body at this stage is dependent on the water levels within the body. When we are sufficiently hydrated, the stools will be well formed and easier to pass. When we are insufficiently hydrated, the body will absorb as much water in the large intestine as possible, thus leaving the stools dry, hard and much more difficult to pass.

HOW THIRST IS TRIGGERED:
As your fluid levels in the body drop, it causes blood volume and pressure to also decrease. Once pressure drops below a certain threshold, or the concentration of sodium becomes too high in the body, our brain triggers the signal of thirst.

However, we live in a modern world where many of us tend to drink when we want (i.e. our mind desires a coffee, chai, or smoothie), and eat whenever we want (i.e. the mind’s desire to have a cookie, snack or takeaway meal) – without listening to see if the body actually needs any liquid or food at that point in time. Ayurvedically, this is seen as one of the foundational root causes of a multitude of imbalances and diseases.

Some people may also have a weaker digestion, and this can hamper the healthy sensation of thirst. Additionally, as one gets older (i.e. over 50 years of age) the sensation of thirst can diminish – in this case, one needs to pay more attention to the signs of dehydration (See below).

Ayurveda focusses on bringing back this awareness of proper hydration and the mechanism of thirst to individuals so that they can better self-manage their hydration levels for optimal health and wellbeing.


TOO LITTLE WATER INTAKE (DEHYDRATION)
There are two types of dehydration: extracellular and intracellular.

  • Extracellular dehydration refers to the total amount of blood fluids dropping below a certain threshold and is usually due to lack of fluid intake.
  • Intracellular dehydration refers to when the concentration of sodium in the blood is too high, encouraging water to migrate out of cells due to osmotic pressure. Intracellular dehydration can be caused by an excess amount of sodium in the diet and/or a lack of electrolytes in the body.

Signs and symptom of dehydration include:

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Dry eyes
  • Little or no sweat
  • Constipation, hard, or pellet-like stools
  • Little urine output, or concentrated dark yellow urine that is strong in odour. When water and electrolytes are balanced, and the kidneys are normally functioning properly, urine will be light-yellow in colour and have a light smell to it
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, especially when standing up
  • Heartburn (due to reduced acid production in the stomach)

Signs and symptoms of severe dehydration include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • A very dry mouth
  • Fast breathing
  • Fast heart rate and low blood pressure
  • Have a fever
  • Little or no urine
  • Irritability, drowsiness, or confusion

Older people can become easily dehydrated due to:

  • Declining kidney function
  • Chronic illness
  • Limited mobility
  • Medication(s)
  • Loss of awareness of thirst

Causes of dehydration include:

  • Strenuous exercise, especially in hot weather
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Certain medications, e.g. diuretics (or excessive intake of natural diuretic spices/foods – See below)
  • Complications of diabetes
  • Insufficient water intake

Chronic Dehydration: Some people are chronically dehydrated irrespective of how much water they actually drink. These individuals tend to pass clear urine within half an hour of drinking a glass of water. According to Ayurveda, the most common causes of chronic dehydration include stress, cold weather, and kidney flushing (see below).


DRINKING TOO MUCH WATER (OVERHYDRATION):
Over-hydration occurs when we drink too much water, which then affects our electrolyte levels (sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, and calcium). Drinking too much water, can cause the electrolyte levels in the body to become unbalanced and cause sodium levels to drop.

According to Ayurveda, too much water also makes your stomach feel bloated and heavy, and overburdens the digestive organs, and lead to a host of imbalances.

A sign of good electrolyte balance is seen in urine. Urine should be straw-coloured with a mild urine odour.  Very clear (uncoloured) urine is a sign of imbalanced functioning within the kidneys, and electrolyte levels.

Electrolytes play an essential role in many bodily functions and processes. They are important for:

  • Balancing blood pH and blood pressure
  • Ensuring proper hydration
  • Proper transfer of electrical impulses from the heart, muscle, and nerve cells to other body cells
  • Aiding in repair of tissue damage
  • Regulating nerve and muscle function
  • Contributing to blood clotting

Natural sources of electrolytes include:

  • Spinach, kale, bok choy, leafy greens,
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Beans
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Milk
  • Pumpkin and Sunflower seeds
  • Buttermilk
  • Yogurt
  • Fish
  • Turkey, chicken
  • Raisins, dried apricots
  • Olives
  • Sweet potato
  • Prunes
  • Soy milk
  • Coconut water (natural and unsweetened)


THE AYURVEDIC APPROACH TO DRINKING WATER

  • Upon waking: Ayurveda advocates drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning. This helps in flushing all the toxins in the body and cleanses the intestines.
  • Avoid cold or ice cold-water: For Vata and Kapha types, water is best drunk warm to hot (room temperature in the heat of summer). Pitta types can drink water at room temperature.
  • Drink whilst seated: Sit down and have a drink (just as you would sit down when you eat).
  • Sip slowly: Whilst we may be accustomed to drinking a glass quickly, Ayurveda recommends that we sip, swallow, breathe and repeat. This takes pressure off the digestive system, organs and aids in water absorption.
  • Drinking a glass of water 30-40 minutes before a meal helps to pre-hydrate the stomach’s water-rich bicarbonate buffer layer. This in turn allows for the stomach to produce sufficient digestive acids acid and increase thermogenesis. With more acid, the body can process hard-to-digest foods more efficiently and with less chance of indigestion. For Vata and Kapha types, this water is best drunk warm to hot. Pitta types can drink room temperature water.
  • When eating, what goes into your stomach should be a ‘soupy’ consistency. Remember this rule: Fill your stomach 50% food, 25% water and leave 25% empty space. This means that the consistency of the food matter in the stomach should be ‘soupy.’ Optimally, one should eat the equivalent of both hands cupped together, without heaping, at each meal.
  • Do not drink a lot of water before or after meals. This can lead to dilution of digestive enzymes, leading to indigestion.
  • Drink when you are thirsty, and drink till thirst is satiated. Thirst is a natural instinct, and we need to (re)learn to listen to it. For some, this will be to drink a glass of water upon waking up, a half hour before meals to stimulate increased acid production, and half an hour or more before you going to bed. For those that tend to get dehydrated, a glass of water between meals may be needed. A soup-based diet also helps with hydration. Again, everyone is different, so each person has to work out what is best for their body at any particular time and season. See also information below for each Doshas.
  • Urine is a good test of whether your body is sufficiently hydrated. Urine should be straw-coloured without a strong odour. If it is dark yellow, you are needing more water intake.
  • Lips are another good indicator. If the lips are dry, it is likely your body is dehydrated.

Water intake for each Dosha?
We are all different - different weight, different diets, lifestyles, and work/exercise habits. The common (modern) rule of eight glasses a day is not applicable to everyone. However, the human body has its own measurement system, which is thirst. When you are thirsty, drink some water. Listening to the signals of thirst, and sipping water throughout the day you will soon learn how much the body needs.

Kapha type or Kapha imbalance: Kapha types, in general tend to have blood rich in sugars, fats, salt and proteins, which tends to encourage water retention. The blood's ‘thickness’ also obstructs the kidneys' ability to extract fluids from the blood. Therefore, Kapha types may not need as much daily water intake and may also need to favour foods that have more diuretic type properties (See below).

Vata type or Vata imbalance: Vata types, in general tens to have thin, deficient blood, which tends to have the effect of encouraging leaky kidneys. Vata individuals may also experience chronic dehydration due to kidney flushing. To help remedy this, Vata types need to balance their digestion and water intake and focus on foods with a sweet taste to help thicken the blood. Vata types should avoid/minimise foods with diuretic properties (See below). Additionally, some lime juice with a pinch of rock or sea salt (avoid table salt) in warm water can help with retaining fluids in the body.

Pitta type or Pitta imbalance: Pitta types can lose water and electrolytes rapidly through sweat, urine, and loose stools. Foods need to be rich in electrolytes (See above) and they need to make sure they are adequately hydrated.

What temperature should water be when drinking?
For Vata and Kapha types, who lack heat in their bodies and can have sluggish and/or erratic digestive systems, sipping warm water stimulates improved digestion, as well as circulation. Pitta types already have enough heat in their systems, so they are best to drink room temperature water, so as not to add further heat to the system, and thus causing imbalances. Ice cold water is not recommended for drinking in Ayurveda as it puts too much strain on the organs through vasoconstriction.

Can you get dehydration from cold weather?
Dehydration can occur from the cold weather if we do not protect ourselves properly from the cold. Cold temperatures cause the blood vessels to constrict (vasoconstriction), which causes the blood pressure to rise. Our kidneys work in regulating blood pressure, releasing water from blood circulation into the urine to compensate for the increase in blood pressure, which can lead to dehydration. Wearing warm clothing and appropriately rugging up during the cooler months can help avoid this.

Dehydration from kidney flushing.
Kidney flushing occurs when the kidneys flush toxins from the blood into the urine to remove them from the body. This will then result in a higher level of urine passing out of the body.

According to Ayurveda, poor or sub-optimal digestion is often the source of kidney flushing. Poorly digested food ferments in the intestines. As the bacteria ferments this food, toxic metabolic waste is released into the GI tract. The intestines then absorb some of these toxins into the bloodstream, which will then pass to the kidneys.

If this is the case, you may wish to speak to our Ayurvedic practitioner to look at how to remedy this.

Do you feel a lack of thirst?
We live in a modern world, where many of us have lost the awareness of when we are thirsty and to read the signs of this. Some people may also have a weaker digestion, and this can also hamper the sensation of thirst. Additionally, as one gets older (i.e. over 50 years of age) the sensation of thirst can diminish – in this case one needs to pay more attention to the signs of dehydration (See above). If this is the case, you may wish to speak to our Ayurvedic practitioner to look at how to remedy this.

Can a small amount of water make one feel full?
Some people can actually feel full after a small quantity of water. This may be due to weak digestion and insufficient acid production in the stomach. If this is the case, you may wish to speak to our Ayurvedic practitioner to look at how to remedy this.


FOODS WITH DIURETIC PROPERTIES

  • Beans-Legumes: Adzuki Beans, Alfalfa Sprouts, Mung Beans
  • Grains: Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Corn, Corn Flour/Meal/Starch, Popcorn, Rye, Sorghum
  • Vegetables: Artichoke, Asparagus, Bell peppers, Butternut Squash, Carrot, Chard, Celery, Cucumber, Daikon radish, Fennel, Leeks, Zucchini, Beet Greens, Beetroot, Bell Peppers, Chickweed, Collard Greens, Dandelion Leaves, Coriander/Cilantro, Kale
  • Spices: Basil, Cardamom, Celery Seed, Coriander Seed, Cumin, Dill, Fennel Seeds, Fenugreek, Garlic, Mustard Seed, Nigella (black cumin), Parsley Saffron, Scallions (Raw), Tarragon
  • Ferments: Black Tea, Green Tea, Beer, Coffee, Tempeh, Tobacco / Nicotine, Tofu
  • Fruits: Cranberry, Figs, Grape, Honey Dew, Mango, Peaches, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Prunes (dried), Watermelon, Lemons
  • Nuts-Seed: Hemp Seed (can enhance effects of other diuretics), Pumpkin Seeds
  • Flowers: Hibiscus
  • Other: Mint Tea, Kelp/seaweed, Nettle Tea, Chicory Root, Dandelion tea, Coffee

If you have any concerns about your health please be sure to consult an Ayurvedic Practitioner or your local health physician. See our Ayurvedic Practitioner Services and Consultation Page for more information.

BOOK NOW FOR AN AYURVEDIC CONSULTATION WITH US

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Disclaimer:
The above information is for information and educational purposes. As such we are not, diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing any type of disease or medical condition. Before taking any form of natural, integrative or conventional treatment regimen, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.

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