One of the most common imbalances in people is dehydration. Given that the body is roughly 75 percent water, it makes sense that a lack of water can lead to many health problems. So, most of us make an honest effort o drink more water. However, despite drinking more water, many still remain hydrated.
The truth is, proper hydration goes far beyond the consumption of water alone, right down to our organs and glands.
Kidneys, Adrenals, Thyroid & Hydration
Water as part of the five element theory in Chinese Medicine, corresponds mostly with the Kidney organ system. Kidney has a close relationship with other organs, specifically the adrenals and thyroid (part of the HPA-axis). Of the many functions the kidney system has (fertility, bone, hair and nail health etc.) it is also mainly responsible for fluid metabolism and mineral balance.
In short, the kidney is responsible for cellular hydration; it directs the flow of water to and from the cells. When this fails, our cells can become water logged (edema), drying up our tissues, hair, skin and other organs.
Additionally, without sufficient water, the body runs into detoxification issues, leading to toxicity, inflammation and a whole host of health imbalances. A few examples of the problems that arise from chronic dehydration include:
- Dry hair, hair loss, hair problems
- Skin disorders such as acne, eczema and dryness
- Hormonal imbalances
- Joint pain, stiffness and arthritic conditions
- Irregular body temperature
- Sugar imbalances, insulin resistance, diabetes
- Tinitus (ringing in ears)
- Blood deficiencies (anaemia)
While inadequate water intake is one of the primary causes for dehydration, it is not the only one. Ultimately, it is the kidney, adrenals and thyroid that determine hydration and energy levels. Together, they secrete a large amount of the body's hormones. In particular hormone secreted by the adrenals is aldosterone. Aldosterone is a stress hormone that actually regulates water levels and the balance of minerals, like sodium, in the body. Ultimately, cellular hydration depends on the amount of aldosterone secreted.
The kidney system, specifically the adrenals are responsible for handling stress via the secretion of stress hormones. When stress is chronic; however, the adrenals produce excessive amounts of hormones. When your body is chronically stressed, the adrenals overproduce aldosterone, causing an excess of sodium to circulate in your system. Once aldosterone levels fall back to normal the sodium then leaves your bloodstream. As the excess sodium passes through the kidneys to leave the body via urine, it takes excess water with it, leading to dehydration.
In this way, chronic stress can lead to dehydration. So, for many people who still drink enough water, but are highly stressed, they will remain dehydrated.
11 TCM Tips for Staying Hydrated
As you can see, optimal hydration is a bit more complex than just drinking enough water. We are all unique, with different ways to responding to stress, and unique biologies. With that in mind, a holistic approach to hydration is best, here are a few tips for properly hydrating your body:
- Hydrate first thing: Drinking the bulk of your daily water in the morning is best for a few reasons. First, it is generally best to consume water on an empty stomach, and it is usually the most empty in the morning. This will ensure complete hydration and not to interfere with the digestion of food. Secondly, as far as time goes, it is generally easier to slowly hydrate with a full liter of water during the first 30 minutes before breakfast than trying to squeeze it in while rushed throughout the day. Also, having water before eating anything will help to hydrate your stomach lining to prepare your body to secret HCL and digestive enzymes for proper digestion throughout the day.
- Small sips, don't chug: Drinking too much water at once can "dilute" your kidney system, causing a stress for them. Also, chugging your water can lead to poor fluid metabolism (yes you have to metabolize water too), and if you have any food in your stomach, it can disrupt the digestion of it. It is a classic TCM and Ayurvedic tip to gradually sip smaller amounts of water through the day, rather than drinking large amounts all at once. Aim to drink 1 liter within the first 30-60 minutes of waking, then slowly drink water throughout the day, according to your thirst.
- Handle the stress: As we learned, chronic stress throws off fluid and mineral balance, leading to cellular dehydration. You can utilize adaptogenic herbs like Ginseng, Gynostemma, and Ashwagandha to decrease the overstimulation of the adrenals and stress hormones.
- Eat juicy fruit: While you want the bulk of your fluids to come through clean water, ripe juicy fruit and raw fruit juices like watermelon, apples, oranges, pineapple, and berries can assist in cellular hydration. Fresh fruit contains a variety of minerals and electrolytes that support cellular hydration.
- Support your Kidneys: Because the kidney system rules the fluids, you want them to be in good shape. Handling the stress is major, but you can also utilize Kidney tonic herbs like He Shou Wu and Rehmannia. Also, acupuncture, QiGong, meditation, and any calming "yin" activity will support the health of the kidneys.
- Limit alcohol: This might seem like an obvious one, but excessive alcohol leads to dehydration. Alcohol in general is anti-metabolic and interfere with proper fluid metabolism. Decreasing your regular intake of alcohol is a great way to support the health of the kidneys, liver and overall health of your cells, while eliminating a potential cause of dehydration.
- Drink enough water: If you are applying the previous tips, the only other thing you will need to do is drink enough water. While the correct amount of water depends on many factors, including weight, age, gender, climate and your unique health condition, a good rule of thumb is 3 liters daily. Also, it would be helpful to get in your daily water intake before 3 pm. This will be helpful for avoiding having to urinate late through the late or while sleeping, which would lead to stress.