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“Your blood is like a soup that needs to be seasoned just right. [Eat for Heat] helps to teach you what to watch for so you don’t screw up your “soup” by drinking too many fluids (which waters it down) or not seasoning it enough (with things like carbohydrates and salt).”

~Dr. Garrett Smith; Review of Eat for Heat: The Metabolic Approach to Food and Drink

We often hear that our bodies are “mostly water.”  The rough approximation is that an average person with a relatively average amount of body fat will be composed of about 60% water.  Over the course of the lifespan, the percentage of body water gradually decreases.  This is often used as justification of drinking lots and lots of pure water as if doing so will somehow influence this number or this trend.

Today, we get real about what our bodies are composed of, and the nature of that “water” in our bodies.  This should serve as a decent set of cliff notes for those who haven’t or won’t be reading my latest book.  The basic concept is easy to grasp and apply with quickly noticeable physiological changes – no matter what your diet consists of.  I even work with strict vegans who have noticed substantial increases in body temperature with the most very minor changes to their “soup.”  In other words, this element is important to our health no matter what diet we are following – like a good night’s sleep.

Dr. Smith’s metaphor of the blood being “soup” is perfect.  I was kicking myself (well, punching myself in the groin – I’m not flexible enough to actually kick myself) that I didn’t think of this myself when writing Eat for Heat.

Before we begin, here are a few basic facts about our physiology that you may not know…

1)      Roughly 2/3 of the water in our bodies is contained inside our cells and is called intracellular fluid.

2)     The remaining 1/3 of the water in our bodies lives outside of our cells in our extracellular fluid – 1/5 of that being the blood and the remaining 4/5 being interstitial fluid and fluids used for many important functions, such as ocular, peritoneal, and cerebrospinal fluids.

3)     In order to maintain a strong cell membrane and a stable environment in the cell, the fluid on the inside of the cell and the outside of the cell maintain polar opposite qualities – most notably, the cell is high in potassium and low in sodium.  The extracellular fluid is high in sodium and low in potassium.

Pay particular attention to #3.  Our cells like to maintain a stable and healthy environment that is relatively unaffected by what goes on in our daily lives.  Being able to maintain a balanced, homeostatic state is of extreme importance.

One of the greatest threats to our cells’ ability to maintain this state is making sure to keep the composition of the extracellular fluid dramatically different from the fluid in the cell.  But it’s important that this fluid is neither too concentrated nor too diluted, but, like most things in the human body, it needs to be “juuusssst right.”

Too much water and too little sodium can lead to cell death (apoptosis) via plasmoptisis.  Not good.

Too much sodium and too little water, as is found with dehydration, can lead to cell death via plasmolysis.  Not good.

But in today’s dehydration-phobic, water-worshipping, compulsive drinking society with Big Gulps, coffee and tea breaks, and Supersized drinks – not to mention health authorities making us all “scared saltless,” I strongly suspect that the problem of too little sodium and too much fluid is the more common problem.

Of course, anyone reading this blog is probably not part of the Big Gulp demographic.  I don’t think many Big Gulpers read a lot of stuff about health on the internet.

Unfortunately, the very health-conscious often bring about even worse consequences for themselves in this regard because they are passionately eating a “whole foods diet,” which invariably has a much higher water content.  Meanwhile, they are drinking lots of water because they think it is good for them (water indeed is a culturally iconic symbol of health), and are often drinking other health tonics like Kombucha or green tea or coconut water or lots of fruit, vegetable, and “green” juices to excess along with it.  And, since salt is of course “toxic” in the extremely confused minds of most health authorities, the negative effects of the misguided practices above are often magnified.  It’s all a terrible combination.  The more of the quintessential health foods you eat (fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, porridges, soups, salads, milk), the LESS you should drink.

To complicate things even further, the older you get, if you lose weight, exercise excessively, or if you have a low metabolism (naturally, or flat out induced by your ingestive behavior and lifestyle), your osmoregulation – your body’s ability to manage the balance of electrolytes and water in and out of the cell, becomes increasingly worse.

I believe this is why “mistakes” like overdrinking or dehydration have an increasingly noticeable effect the lower your metabolic rate goes.  As has been found in the elderly, bouts of hyponatremia (low sodium relative to water) and hypernatremia (low water relative to sodium) are increasingly common, and fluid intake and nutrition in general has to be closer to ideal to keep from causing problems.

While there is a lot more to it, and a lot of subtle details discussed in <Eat for Heat, the general premise is that, by keeping the concentration of the extracellular fluid closer to being “jusssst right,” we are able to maintain a more balanced and ultimately more healthful state throughout each and every day.  To keep it just right, one only need to do some experimentation with the relative proportion of food and salt to fluids.

More food and salt and less fluid = concentrating the extracellular fluid.

More fluids and less food and salt = diluting the extracellular fluid.

That’s an oversimplification but it’s not far off from the stone cold truth.  You can monitor simple biofeedback to guide you to the ideal composition of your extracellular fluid – keeping some yellow color in your urine at all times, making sure hands and feet are warm and toasty, and keeping body temperature above 98 degrees F minimum is a great start.  If you feel excessive heat in the hands and feet, have dark urine or haven’t urinated in really long time, feel your heart beating exceptionally hard, have restless legs when you try to go to sleep, feel really thirsty, feel really tired, or maybe have a headache – it’s time to have some more water-rich food and fluids and go easy on the heavy foods and salt.

In short, perfect hydration is a tremendous asset – metabolically and otherwise.  But most people don’t know what that is, and think that if they just keep on chugging more juice and water and peeing clear every hour they will achieve it.  In actuality, this just causes a state of progressive overhydration/dilution, which can have some majorly devastating consequences.

Our extracellular fluid really is like soup.  It’s nice and salty like our sweat or our tears.  You don’t want to water it down or fail to season it up right.

Ultimately, our body is not 60% water.  It’s more like 60% soup, and the most important soup is the ¼ of total body soup portion that comprises the extracellular fluid – its composition greatly impacting the quality of the soup in the cells.  Think of it in those terms and you’ll already be a huge step ahead of everyone playing the health-experimentation game.

You should suspect that you are chronically diluting your body fluid if you frequently suffer from…

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Low body temperature
  • Frequent urination, clear urination, or urination at night
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Nightmares or night terrors
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Dry skin
  • Dry mouth, mood changes, and other symptoms that many falsely believe to be “hypoglycemia”
  • Heart palpitations or otherwise abnormal heart rhythms
  • Strong cravings for salty foods
  • Low blood pressure, dizzy spells, or episodes of blurred vision

Find out for yourself how much you should be drinking, what you should be drinking, how much salt you should be eating, etc.  Don’t let an outside source tell you how much of these things you should be consuming.  It is unknowable and highly individual.

That is all.

Links:

Cell Death

Body Water

Hyponatremia and Hypernatremia in the Elderly