Li Ming was a retired woman who enjoyed working in her garden. Even the unusual heat wave that hit her region one summer didn’t deter her from tending her flowers and other plants. The temperature rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity teetered at 90 percent. On the third day of these record-breaking temperatures, Li Ming called her daughter, Kim, but she sounded confused on the phone. Kim became alarmed and rushed to Li Ming’s house, where she found her mother lying on the kitchen floor unconscious. Apparently Li Ming’s large fan wasn’t enough to fight the effects of the heat and humidity, and she suffered heatstroke, which can be life-threatening.1
One can lower the risk of heat-related illness, such as heatstroke, by drinking plenty of liquids, particularly water. Next to air, water is the most vital element needed for survival. By weight, a newborn infant is approximately 75 percent water, and an adult about 70 percent.
The gray matter of the brain is approximately 85 percent water, blood is 83 percent water, muscles are about 75 percent water, and even hard marrow bones are 20 to 25 percent water.2 Almost every cell and tissue of the body not only contains water but is continually bathed in fluid and requires water to perform its functions.
Water, the liquid of life, is a medium in which metabolism takes place. It is:
About two thirds of the water our body requires come from ingested liquid, about one-third from our food, and a small amount of liquid is synthesized during food metabolism. Fruits and vegetables generally have higher water content than other food groups.
Ideally the body maintains a balance between the amount of water lost each day and the amount taken in to replace it. The amount of water lost each day depends on climatic conditions and physical activities.
When we don’t provide our bodies with enough water, they attempt to avoid dehydration by decreasing sweat and urine output. If this compensatory mechanism proves inadequate and insufficient fluid intake persists, dehydration occurs. Dehydration causes an impairment of the body cooling mechanisms, along with a possible rise in body temperature and an inefficient clearance of body waste. The blood thickens and blood flow becomes impaired, increasing the risk of intravascular clotting. This may manifest as stroke or heart attack. Drinking an inadequate amount of water also increases the risk of developing kidney stones and gallstones. It’s estimated that adequate hydration of older people could save thousands of days of hospitalization and millions of dollars each year.
Insufficient water intake also leads to constipation, to the delight of the laxative industry. Exercise and fiber intake play a role as well.
In a healthy person, a practical guide to water intake is to consume sufficient amounts throughout the day to ensure that the urine is a pale color. (Urine may be a bright-yellow color after taking certain medications, including vitamin pills.)
Begin drinking water in the morning, because the body is relatively dehydrated from insensible (invisible) perspiration during sleep. Then continue to drink water at regular intervals throughout the day.
Be sure to drink water that is pure and clean.It is the most healthfully beneficial liquid we can consume.
Another important use of water is cleansing. Regular bathing removes accumulated dirt and contaminating debris, reducing the risk of infection.
Frequent hand washing may reduce transmission of many infectious agents from person to person.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water as a simple home therapeutic application. It’s best applied as a help for simple muscular aches, pains, and bruises. When dealing with muscular aches, apply hot, wet towels alternated with cold, wet towels (ending with a cold application) to affected areas to improve blood flow. If recent injury and bruising have occurred, cold compresses are more appropriate.
Water is a precious and indispensable resource. It’s therefore important to conserve it:
Life cannot exist without water. All body functions require it. Similarly, in our spiritual lives, we cannot live eternally without the Water of Life—Jesus Christ.
May we be transformed as we drink, bathe, and are soaked in His compassion, love, and acceptance.
Kathleen Kuntaraf, M.D., M.P.H., now retired, was an associate director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.