Are you getting enough water?

Posted on: 20 August 2010 by Mark O'haire

Dr Harald Gaier examines the health benefits of water and outlines the dangers of not getting the recommended daily allowance.

Water hydrated Each day our body requires an intake of about two litres of water to function optimally. About one litre each day is provided in the foods we eat.  This means that we need to drink around one litre of liquids each day to maintain good water balance. 

More liquids are needed in warmer climates or for physically active people.  Not drinking enough liquids puts a great deal of stress on the body.  Kidney function is likely to be affected, gallstones and kidney stones are more likely to form, and immune function will be impaired.  Yet, clearly people drink something when they are thirsty and do not usually allow themselves to become seriously dehydrated.  In hotter climates and with strenuous physical exertion, more water is consumed.

Municipal and borehole water supplies can be tested, if desired.  But they are mostly found to be quite potable. However, bottled waters preferred by many.

Plant foods are an important source of water, from the green salad vegetables to the very juicy fruits, such as watermelons. Do not forget that tea, herbal infusions and weak coffee are valid thirst quenchers that convey water into your body.

There is a common fallacy: that drinking water will reduce indigestion.  Since indigestion makes itself more apparent the older you get, it is important for 50+ women to be made aware of the problem that bedevils this misconception.  This requires some detailed explanation of what indigestion actually is.

About Indigestion

Indigestion refers to an upset stomach accompanied by a number of gastric complaints (including belching, nausea, an uncomfortable or even painful pressure feeling in the pit of the stomach that can spread across the whole chest, gastro-œsophageal reflux [GŒRD], a feeling of food not wanting to move down from the stomach, and very occasionally involuntary vomiting).  Indigestion is generally caused by too little stomach acid, which is known as hypochlorhydria.

Heartburn, by contrast, refers to a strong burning sensation in the stomach caused by excess stomach acid, known as hyperchlorhydria, or by inflammation of the lining of the stomach (gastritis), or by a stomach infection with Helicobacter pylori, or by an ulcer of the stomach or the duodenum (a peptic ulcer).

So, we are dealing here with two paradoxically opposing conditions:

  1. Indigestion is usually associated with too little stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) or sometimes with no stomach acid at all (achlorhydria); whereas
  2. Heartburn is most frequently associated with too much stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria).

This complicates treatment since we semantically tend to confound the two terms, or even use them synonymously.  Indigestion is helped by taking capsules of ‘Betaine HCl + Pepsin’, in other words a stomach acid supplement.  If taken for heartburn, it could make that condition worse.

Heartburn is traditionally relieved by taking antacids or alkalizers, but this approach is the opposite of what should be done for indigestion, because it would reduce the already inadequate amount of stomach acid even further.  Taking so-called proton-pump inhibitors, which reduce stomach acid production, can certainly prove counter-productive.

If there is too little, or no, stomach acid with indigestion, why the serious discomfort and the other symptoms listed in the first paragraph? At the bottom right of the stomach is the outlet (pylorus) into the small intestine.  This outlet has a valve called the pyloric sphincter.  This is programmed to open only when the contents of the stomach is well and truly acidic, i.e. at a pH of between 1 and 2.  Please note that it will only open always at the same pH for any individual.  This needs to be so, because the very acidic content of the stomach has to be always of the same level of acidity when it flows out, if it is to be neutralized successfully there by bile and pancreatic juice, because these two are of a fixed alkalinity.  Anything else simply wouldn’t work.

That means the pyloric sphincter stays firmly shut until the high degree of acidity is reached in the stomach.  You can imagine how much longer that will take if stomach acid production is reduced, or if it is exposed to antacids or alkalinizers in the stomach.

Remember that drink, whether water, fruit juice or alcoholic, will reduce the degree of acidity in the stomach, so that food will stay there for much longer with the outlet sphincter staying firmly closed, sometimes for many hours…. Sometimes to the next morning!  This will cause the stomach to expand as you put more food and/or liquid into it, causing the uncomfortable or even painful pressure feeling in the stomach that can spread across the whole chest, which can be momentarily relieved a little by belching.  Remember also, that gastro-œsophageal reflux [GŒRD] is really only a burp with material in front of it.  That is why it happens mostly when you’re horizontal, and if you’re asleep or inebriated you could aspirate that material, which will make you choke.

The expansion of the stomach can be such that it can put pressure on the adjoining cardiac system, provoking palpitations and sweats, when it is referred to as ‘panic attacks’.  After a while, the stomach may send you a signal in the form of a sensation of nausea.  It is telling you: if all this stuff inside me (the stomach) isn’t going to go down into the gut, I shall want to send it back up and out!  And this it does, in fact, occasionally do, throwing out the stomach content quite readily.

So, the long and the short of it is drinking water when you suffer from indigestion will generally prolong the problem, because you dilute the stomach acid and its contents can not move down into the gut.

By Dr Harald Gaier

Naturopathic Physician

  • Tel: 079 1766 2042 or  020 7022 4981

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