As we become more and more ill we begin to lose touch with our bodies, and one of the first signs of this disconnection is a loss of our sense of thirst. Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj (affectionately know as Dr. Batman) linked dehydration to the cause of a variety of diseases, including depression. He believed that, “People are most likely not sick, they’re only thirsty.”
When the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979 he was arrested and sent to prison as a political prisoner. One night he was asked to treat a fellow prisoner with crippling peptic ulcer pain. Not having any medicine at his disposal, all he could do was give the prisoner some water to drink.
Within a few minutes the pain disappeared. The prisoner was instructed to drink two glasses of water every three hours and became absolutely pain free for his remaining time in prison. "That woke me up, because in medical school I’d never heard that water could cure pain, that kind of pain, in fact.” Dr. Batmanghelidj went on to treat over 3,000 fellow prisoners suffering from severe pain. After his release from prison in 1982, he continued his research on the effects of chronic dehydration on the human body.
In his book, Your Body’s Many Cries For Water he explains in detail the physiology of dehydration and how this causes specific illnesses. In the chapter on anxiety and depression he explains that the body uses water to generate energy. When the body is dehydrated its capacity to generate energy decreases. To counter this the body mobilizes hormones to mop up its last water reserves.
Unfortunately the hormones required for this task are stress hormones such as vasopressin and cortisone. It is the elevated levels of these stress hormones in the blood that aggravates the emotions. Of course simply drinking water is not a magic cure for depression, but it can increase your energy levels, reduce stress, and is an important first step to take in listening to the wisdom of your body.
Ideally we should drink as much water as the body needs, but this varies from person to person depending on factors such as body weight, climate, diet and the quantity of physical exercise. Below are a few simple tests you can do to see if you are dehydrated.
The Pee Test: Observe the color of your pee over the course of a day. Clear is good, slightly yellow is okay, yellow is dehydrated and orange means you need to drink water immediately.
The Skin Test: Pinch about a centimeter of the skin on the back of your hand between the wrist and the beginning of the fingers. The skin should snap back into place in less than a second after you release it. If it takes longer, or doesn’t snap back at all, you are you are most likely dehydrated. Skin naturally loses some of its elasticity with age so if you are over 50 allow for an extra second.
The Capillary Test: With your finger apply pressure to a fingernail for 5 seconds. Release the pressure and observe the time it takes for the color to return to normal. If it takes longer than 1 second you may be dehydrated.
The Mouth Test: Observe your lips. If they are chapped it might mean you are dehydrated. Notice your saliva. If it is thick and stringy you could be in need of water.
Signs: If you have one or more of following symptoms it could mean that you are chronically dehyrdated: dry or chapped skin, muscle cramps, chronic constipation, constant fatigue, ongoing muscle weakness, and frequent headaches.
This exercise will help you reconnect with your sense of thirst. Get a glass of water or another beverage and find a quiet and comfortable place to sit.
THE GLASS: Observe the glass of water you are holding in your hand. Notice its weight, temperature, and color. Is the water clear? What happens when you swirl it around?
LIPS: Lick your lips. Run your tongue over your lips. Are they cracked, dry, soft, or moist? What other sensations do you feel?
MOUTH: Turn your attention to the inside of your mouth. Explore the mouth with your tongue. What textures do you sense? How about your saliva? Is it thick or watery? How much saliva is there?
THROAT: Next move you consciousness down to your throat. Really concentrate. Swallow and with your mind follow the path of the saliva as it goes down your throat.
WATER: Take a small sip of water. Don’t swallow yet; just spend some time concentrating on how it feels in your mouth. Notice its temperature. What does it taste like? Fix your mind on the sensations just released into your mouth.
SWALLOW: Notice the sounds you make as you swallow the water and it goes down your throat.
THE DIFFERENCE: Drink the rest of the water. Drink a second or third glass if you still feel thirsty. Turn your attention to your lips, mouth and throat. What has changed? What differences did you notice between when you were thirsty and quenched.
OTHER BEVERAGES: Try this exercise with other beverages you usually drink. Which one quenches your thirst the most. Are there any drinks that make you feel worse?
Being hydrated is not only about water but about minerals too. Minerals, or electrolytes, are what water depends on for proper absorption. Without these minerals you can drink water all day long but it won’t be properly assimilated into your body.
According to Dr. Batmanghelidj our bodies maintain a very fine pH-balance, meaning the ratio of acidity to alkalinity inside the cells. When this balance swings towards the acidic side we become vulnerable to pain, anxiety and depression. To correct for this he suggested adding a pinch of salt to your water. Keep in mind that not all salts are equal: table salt only contains sodium chloride, while unrefined sea or mountain salt is rich in the essential minerals the body needs. Water is certainly the best beverage when it comes to quenching your thirst but there are a few other beverages that are almost as good.
Milk is actually great for rehydration because it contains a natural blend of good quality carbs, proteins, and minerals. You can experiment with various milkshakes and smoothies or even opt for buttermilk or lassi made with yogurt.
1 cup yogurt
1/4 cup milk or water
1 teaspoon of something sweet
1 pinch of spice such as cinnamon or cardamom
Add all the ingredients together and then whisk until smooth
Broth is an excellent source vitamins, minerals, and amino acids and is a great way to ensure proper hydration. It’s a wonderful savory and warming drink for winter.
Rice water is rich in the vitamins, minerals and amino acids. During the Heian period woman from the Japanese imperial palace used the water retained after rinsing rice for washing their hair. Many women had hair so long that would sweep the floors as they walked. The Yao women in Southern China wash their hair with rice water. They have an average hair length of six feet, and even in their eighties their long hair remains black and shiny. According to Ayurvedic Medicine rice water helps regulate body temperature and delivers instant energy, especially when the body is dehydrated or depleted from illness.
Cook a cup of rice in four to five cups of water. Once the rice is half-cooked, strain the liquid. To this liquid, add some salt or sugar to taste. You can drink it warm or cold. You could also try other cereals such as oats or rye.
Electrolyte drinks are commercially available but many of them contain several questionable ingredients. Making your own is easy, fast, and much healthier. There is a googolplex of recipes on the Internet but here is the basic formula. Play around and have fun.
2 cups of water
A pinch of salt
A spoon of something sweet such as honey, sugar, or syrup
A half-cup of something tangy such as juice, vinegar or tea
Mix all the ingredients together and stir until combined.