Water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth. Free-flowing H20 is crucial for the survival of every organic species on the planet. Our Earth or “Prithvi” is made up of 71% water or “Jal” – just a little more than the human brain, which floats at 70%. In fact, water comprises up to 55-60% of our entire bodies.
Water, as explained in Ayurvedic text, is:
With extraordinary qualities that:
- enrich the heart
- please, refresh and stimulate the mind, body and senses
- balance all 3 doshas
Water is simple, yet powerful. With over half our bodies composed of water, it’s clear to see why staying well hydrated is one of the most important (and easiest) things you can do for your health. In this article, we’ll illuminate some myths, facts and Ayurvedic tips to help you use the gift of water to enhance your health!
Myth: Just Plain Water is the Best Way to Hydrate
The truth is, it depends. For most of the year, water on its own should be enough. However, when we sweat on particularly hot days or after a lot of exertion, we don’t only sweat out water. We sweat out minerals such as sodium and potassium. These are electrolytes and are vital in keeping the body balanced and hydrated, and the muscles working effectively.
Ayurvedic Methods of Maintaining Hydration
Ayurvedic medicine reminds us that it is important to stay hydrated during hot days, while exercising or when confined to heated rooms on cold days.
- Adding a pinch of Himalayan salt and a splash of lemon juice to your water replenishes your electrolytes, helping to prevent muscle cramps and other symptoms of electrolyte imbalance. (More electrolyte boosters below.)
- Adding cucumber or rose water to your bottle of water helps you stay cool and hydrated on hot summer days.
- Drinking water that is boiled and cooled to room temperature is considered the best water to consume; however, hot water is therapeutic for indigestion, weight gain and stimulation. Cold water (does not mean iced water) is therapeutic for exhaustion, intoxication and dizziness.
Ayurvedic “Acharya” (scholars) recommend sipping water therapeutically in order to support the digestion, assimilation and absorption of minerals along with other nutrients in your food. They use these rules of thumb:
- Water consumed before meals acts like a juice, supporting the secretion and required pH balance of digestive enzymes.
- During meals, sips of water consumed in between bites of food acts like nectar. Water serves as a moisturizer that helps smooth the churning and breaking down of food; however, the speed and amount consumed must be limited.
- Water consumed at end of the meal is considered toxic because it dilutes enzymes needed for proper digestion.
Myth: Store-Bought Electrolyte Drinks are Healthy
Brightly coloured electrolyte sports drinks are readily available in every corner store, but what are you really drinking?
While over the past few years most brands of sport drinks have changed their ingredients to remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO), an additive used to emulsify ingredients which comes with a long list of unfortunate side effects, other problematic ingredients still remain. Always read the label and avoid drinks that have very long ingredient lists, are very high in sugar or contain artificial food dyes.
Ayurvedic Methods of Building Electrolytes
- Diluted lemonade with maple syrup and a pinch each of Himalayan salt and black pepper
- A glass of lassi or buttermilk with a pinch of cumin and sea salt
- Fresh coconut water
- Mint-infused water with a pinch of black/rock salt
- Jaggery or “Gur” (unrefined cane sugar, boiled till solid), grated and melted in a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon and ginger extract
- Freshly squeezed fruit juices with ginger extract and Himalayan salt
Dehydration and Chronic Dehydration: Know the Signs
Dehydration occurs when you don’t drink enough water or consume hydrating foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Even being just a half litre under-hydrated or minutely low in minerals like potassium, sodium, chloride, zinc and magnesium can lead to an increase in cortisol levels – the stress hormone – which can put a real strain on your overall well-being. In the summer months, common culprits for dehydration include extreme temperatures, excessive physical activity, exposure to direct sun or heat and—let’s be honest—overconsumption of alcohol. Fortunately, these triggers are all preventable by maintaining a healthy balance of water, rest and shade.
Ayurveda refers to general dehydration as an excess of Vata, the energy of air and space elements, that affects your cognitive abilities, digestion and physical stamina. You may already be familiar with the most common signs of dehydration, which include:
- Extreme thirst
- Tired muscles
- Dizziness and disorientation
- Dark-coloured urine (deep yellow, brown or maroon)
The Warning Signs of Chronic Dehydration
When the body is constantly forced to function without enough water over days and weeks, chronic dehydration can begin to set in. Chronic dehydration can cause an imbalance in all three doshas, leading to variety of health complications from high blood pressure to kidney stones.
As the body kicks into survival mode, it gets creative by sucking moisture from other sources. Chronic dehydration may present itself in a variety of ongoing symptoms, such as:
- Muscle weakness
- Dry or flaky skin
Your dosha may dictate how prone to dehydration you may be. Research into Ayurvedic epigenetics or “Prakriti” found that the majority of people with Vata-dominant (92%) and Pitta-dominant (70%) Prakritiwere less hydrated, while 48% of Kapha-dominant Prakritivolunteers had normal to dehydrated skin.
If you suspect you might be suffering from chronic dehydration, eat a Vata-pacifying diet while increasing your intake of liquids. However, this may not be enough to get you back on track to optimum health. It is important to make an appointment with your healthcare practitioner to properly assess your concentrated blood volume, electrolyte levels and kidney function.
Tap Water: Is It Always Safe?
With upwards of 90,000 cases of illness and 90 deaths a year due to waterborne illnesses, it’s no surprise that we have become skeptical about the quality of our tap water. Who knows what variety of microorganisms, pollutants and other foreign disruptors might be flowing from our faucets?
Municipal tap water is generally considered to be safe. In areas with a modern water supply system, tap water still remains better for you than allowing yourself to become dehydrated. However, there are a few potential contaminators that can, and sometimes do, leech their way into our water sources:
Bacteria and parasites can easily enter water sources such as private wells from human or animal fecal matter. Some of the most common bacterial gastrointestinal diseases transmitted through water include salmonella, shigella and in some parts of the world even cholera. While cholera may not be a current concern in North American waterways, parasites like cryptosporidium can be, causing diarrhea and leading to potentially fatal illness if not immediately treated.
The Ayurvedic recommendation for reducing the number of pathogens entering your body is to boil your water and allow it to cool.
Used in pesticides, glyphosate can enter our waterways from farmland runoff. It can also be found throughout our food chain and is regularly detected in human urine. Research suggests that glyphosate-based herbicides may be endocrine disruptors and can also have an impact on kidney and liver function.
Ayurvedic medicine suggests treating water with a small amount of alum, a naturally occurring mineral that is high in potassium and is used for eliminating the toxic effects of chemicals like glyphosate.
Lead, Aluminum and Heavy Metals
When plumbing pipes grow old and begin to corrode, lead, aluminum and other heavy metals can leach their way into our tap water. Lead consumption can lead to severe developmental challenges and learning disorders in children. Meanwhile, aluminum and other metals have been shown to cause nerve, brain and kidney damage.
The use of whole coriander seed-infused water in Ayurvedic medicine is an antidote to heavy metal contamination.
Hormones and Pharmaceuticals
We now know that staying properly hydrated is necessary for helping to manage hormones like cortisol; however, tap water can also be responsible for causing hormone imbalances. This is due to a variety of hormone disruptors and pharmaceuticals found in many municipal water supplies such as birth control pills, antibiotics, painkillers, antidepressants and a cocktail of other micropollutants. Even small amounts of hormone disruptors can shift our chemistry in unwanted ways.
Ayurvedic medicine recommends cumin seed-infused water for neutralizing the negative effects of hormones and pharma chemicals.
A disinfectant used in water treatment facilities, chlorine is effective for killing microorganisms. Unfortunately, it also poses toxic effects to our bodies, destroying healthy gut bacteria, which can cause many issues. Chlorine has been identified as the number-one cause of bladder cancer. It is also connected to rectal and breast cancers, as well as other conditions including asthma, birth defects and premature skin aging.
The Ayurvedic approach is to build tissue immunity using a pure copper jug. Copper enriches water with negative ions, restoring the chemical and physical (electromagnetic field) balance that may have shifted due to the negative effects of pollutants, hormones and other contaminators.
For years, North American governments have pumped fluoride into our water supplies, while many European countries have banned its use altogether. Current research suggests that fluoride in our tap water may do more harm than good. Some studies have linked fluoride to suppressed immune system and thyroid function, disruption of the pineal gland, and an increased risk for fractures and even cancer. Furthermore, fluoride may contain arsenic and also leaches lead from piping at much greater rates.
Did you know adding Tulsi or Holy Basil leaves to your drinking water reduces and eliminates fluoride from your body?
What is the Best Possible Water Source?
Your very best option for clean, pure water is to invest in a good quality filtration system for your kitchen. For an added vote of confidence, be sure your filtration system is certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association. And of course, you should set a reminder to change your filters on schedule to ensure your drinking and cooking water is always the best possible quality.
Are you always on the go? That’s an easy solution. Get yourself a BPA-free reusable water bottle (look for glass water bottles) and keep it with you at all times. That way you are sure to keep your body healthy and hydrated, looking out for both your own best interest and the health of our planet, which is in everyone’s best interest.
Not a huge fan of drinking water no matter where it comes from? You aren’t alone and there are options! Try adding in cucumber, mint, orange or lemon slices to flavour it up a bit. Remember, water is crucial not only for hydration but also to flush out all the toxins we are exposed to.
Photo of lemons and water on Visual Hunt