By Matt Stone
One of my greatest pet peeves when it comes to nutrition is the frequent use of blanket recommendations – many of them made on some theoretical basis, or made due to statistical probability (none of them particularly relevant to a real person living in the real world). And I feel like, over the years, we at 180D have been picking through these one by one – especially now as we leave this sort of standard view of nutrition in the dust at an accelerated rate.
These blanket recommendations really degrade what nutrition, or dietary manipulation, can be – which is an amazing medical tool.
The food pyramid is a real travesty, and gives nutrition a bad name. Dietary needs radically change – sometimes on an hourly basis. Nutritional needs can differ after exercise, or waking up in the morning vs. nutritional needs in the evening for example, or in a stressful situation. Even my nutritional needs change throughout the course of a single day, and from day to day. Only someone in tune with their own biofeedback mechanisms and the inner signals of the body would possibly have a chance at meeting these nutritional needs optimally. I have no doubt that, in those that are making a conscious effort to eat healthfully, that information which drowns out our inner signals causes the most collateral damage.
Today we focus on one of the simplest and most pervasive health prescriptions given to the masses – drink 8, 8-ounce glasses of water each day (2 quarts/2 liters), or “drink half your bodyweight (in pounds) in fluid ounces.” When you see how much of a health liability this one, simple recommendation is – you will realize how basically any mindless recommendation that is intended for brainless followership can lead to disaster. More importantly, you’ll see that by focusing on how the body works, you can make more improvements than many can by eating a puritanical health food diet. I suspect that many health disciplines and ideologies and diets could be outdone simply by having people focus on the concentration of their urine, while eating whatever they want and not thinking about it too much otherwise. At least for some conditions.
We know that dehydration is bad. When I get dehydrated I get cranky, and often get a headache and start feeling run down and scratchy-throated. If you are exercising – wow, look to see a substantial decline in performance as you get progressively dehydrated. Okay, we got that. But we never hear ANYTHING about the negative effects of being OVERHYDRATED. Well, I hope to level the playing field here…
As I reported in the RBTI Update, I find that I feel better when my urine Brix is higher than 3.0 – roughly. When I say “feel better” I mean mostly that my energy levels are higher, mood is much brighter and calmer, and my feet and hands tend to run warmer – signs that my body is in a pro-thyroid parasympathetic dominant state, which I consider to be more of the healing, anti-stress condition of the body that many with low metabolism issues should strive to spend as much time in as possible.
I find the refractometer to be remarkable in that sense, as negative emotions and physical states (pain, fatigue, blurred vision, dizziness, migraines, seizure, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, heart palpitation and arrhythmia, irritability, cold hands and feet), are strongly correlated with the reading on the refractometer. When the refractometer dips too low, those with such tendencies start to see those problems being expressed.
Interestingly, 180 peep Kevin recently turned me onto the fact that the specific gravity of urine (brix basically – you can see a conversion table HERE), is something that is paid attention to in the medical and veterinary fields. And it’s generally thought that anything below a specific gravity of 1.012 (3.07 on a refractometer) is considered too low – or a mild state of overhydration. That rings true for me. Here’s another couple of links he sent to me that you might find interesting…
The most major and alarming symptoms of overhydration are well-known. Filed under Water Intoxication – a potentially deadly form of severe overhydration, Wikipedia says…
“At the onset of this condition, fluid outside the cells has an excessively low amount of solutes (such as sodium (hyponatremia) and other electrolytes) in comparison to that inside the cells causing the fluid to shift through (via osmosis) into the cells to balance its concentration. This causes the cells to swell. In the brain, this swelling increases intracranial pressure (ICP). It is this increase in pressure which leads to the first observable symptoms of water intoxication: headache, personality changes, changes in behavior, confusion, irritability, and drowsiness. These are sometimes followed by difficulty breathing during exertion, muscle weakness, twitching, or cramping, nausea, vomiting, thirst, and a dulled ability to perceive and interpret sensory information. As the condition persists papillary and vital signs may result including bradycardia and widened pulse pressure. The cells in the brain may swell to the point where blood flow is interrupted resulting in cerebral edema. Swollen brain cells may also apply pressure to the brain stem causing central nervous system dysfunction. Both cerebral edema and interference with the central nervous system are dangerous and could result in seizures, brain damage, coma or death.”
Bradycardia by the way presents symptoms such as “fatigue, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, chest discomfort, palpitations, or shortness of breath.”
So, I have been putting a lot of emphasis on this lately with the people I’ve been working with. And it is quite helpful. Some only experience episodes of overly-diluted urine occasionally, while others in worse shape have clear urine all day and night and urinate frequently. Unfortunately, these people often have one of the telltale symptoms of overhydration – dry mouth/thirst, and sip water or tea (because they are freezing cold, typically – think of the men in Ancel Keys’s Starvation experiment drinking 14 cups of coffee a day and complaining of virtually everything listed above) throughout the day. They sip to the detriment of their metabolism, energy levels, and emotional and cognitive well-being.
One way I envision making the restoration of metabolism a lot more efficient, is by putting more and more focus on what is going on at the cellular level. After all, metabolism begins with our mitochondria generating energy. For our cells to produce energy, they need a certain concentration of glucose and electrolytes at any given time. When levels become too low in the intracellular environment, the cells have no choice but to start dumping out water in buckets, which often triggers a very strong and sudden urge to urinate and/or bouts of frequent urination as often as 5-6 times per hour. You might see this happening when you haven’t eaten in a really long time, after a stressful event, or in the middle of the night around 4am.
When overhydration occurs, the electrolyte and glucose “batteries” of your cells get flooded and cannot produce energy normally. The result is you feel horrible and trigger an adrenaline response, with any number of different symptoms – certainly reduced peripheral circulation (cold hands, feet, and tip of nose). For whatever reason, it is easier and easier to achieve overhydration the lower metabolism gets. It’s as if sugar and salt is increasingly difficult to hold on to, or is in scarcer supply at the cellular level, in a reduced metabolic state. Likewise, the time one can go without supplying sugar and salt decreases – often surfacing for the first time in the middle of the night – interrupting sleep in the form of bedwetting, night sweats, nightmares, night terrors, and so forth.
There’s a strong connection to adrenal fatigue here as well, as those who focus on this condition often advocate taking in really large amounts of salt, or drinking water with salt added. This prevents overhydration. I have noticed that salt works as well as anything at keeping the footsies warm, especially when ingested in the form of salty food, which digests slowly – causing a steady release of salt into the system for hours. But I feel that monitoring urine Brix with a simple refractometer and adjusting food, fluid, and salt intake accordingly is a much better way of doing it.
Anyway, what I’m getting at here is very simple…
Drinking the standard amount of water recommended to the masses can literally ruin one’s life – physically and emotionally. This is not overly sensationalized shock talk. This is really happening. And few ever connect the water dots to their mediocre health, crappy mood, and unstable mental state.
And if something that simple can have that big of an effect, so can just about any health “tip” out there.
While I normally tell people to just follow their instincts with their salt cravings, sweet cravings, and desires for fluids – the problem with overhydration is that a symptom of drinking too much is dry mouth and excessive thirst. So we have a real potential for triggering a vicious cycle here with too much drinking. Fluids that encourage us to drink beyond thirst (for motivations other than thirst) can be a problem too. These include coffee, tea, and diet drinks (addictive stimulants), fluids that warm us up when we are cold, and most certainly alcohol. Alcoholic beverages seem to be really debilitating for those in a weakened metabolic condition.
If you have very clear urine and some health problems like anxiety, chronic fatigue, migraines, yada yada, you should work hard to get some color back into your urine – in effect increasing the glucose and electrolyte concentration of your cells. I’m not talking about dehydration, just ideal hydration – and keeping it as stable as possible in what is probably the ideal range (let’s say, 3-4 on a refractometer, but there is probably a great deal of individual variation here).
If you have a bout of frequent urination, you should have something salty and carby immediately, and avoid fluids for an hour or two until cellular concentrations return to normal. It doesn’t really matter what this is. The simplest is what one 180 peep recently adopted, which is dissolving a nice spoonful of a 4:1 salt/sugar mixture under the tongue for rapid absorption. I haven’t tried this, but it sounds simple for those overwhelmed by the thought of balancing all this out for yourselves in real life. I just eat something kinda dry.
Water is very strong. If you tend towards overhydration, I would not drink it by itself, or have any fluids lacking sugar and salt (like tea), without taking in food with it. I drink quite a bit of water with meals, thus packaging the water with electrolytes and carbohydrate. But if I’m thirsty in between meals, which is rare unless I’ve just completed a workout, something like Gatorade (the powder that you mix yourself is better – uses sucrose and not HFCS) or the equivalent if you want to make a homeblend with something sweet and salty (fruit juice, water, pinch of salt), would probably be ideal. Milk is good too, especially with a little blackstrap molasses added to it. Coconut water seems to be really good, as do soft drinks – especially those with sucrose like Sierra Mist and not high-fructose corn syrup. I drink plain water by itself sometimes, but I’m not sensitive to overhydration like I was in my metabolic lowpoint while starving out in the Wilderness years ago. And being pretty tuned into my hydration levels and the warmth of my hands and feet and stuff, I know when I can drink it and when I can’t.
People with chronic thirst induced by overhydration are often very intimidated by the thought of drinking fewer fluids. But it doesn’t take long for this chronic thirst to subside I find. So give it a week. It might make a huge difference for you. It’s a big help towards getting those icy hands and feet thawed out, smoothing over anxiety, increasing energy levels, and more.
And, of course, Eat the Food. This will keep you from being so sensitive to overhydration in the first place. And monitoring hydration levels and eating the food work in tandem for raising metabolic rate. I have a feeling that the more one focuses on ideal hydration levels, the less one will need to overfeed on foods like pancakes and pizza – making the process much more efficient.
You can get a cheap refractometer from www.repairrecoverrestore.com if you feel the need to monitor this more scientifically.
This is not an exact science, and there really is no map for how to take advantage of this hydration insight. Your comments and personal experiences, as well as your thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated. I’m just in the process of trying to figure all this out, and I need YOUR FEEDBACK! I will be discussing this on Sean Croxton’s Underground Wellness show coming up soon. Stay tuned for that.
As of December 1, 2012, you can now read much more about hydration and over-hydration in the eBook, Eat for Heat available on Amazon.