Ask Dr. David
by Dr. David Olarsch
Practice of Naturopathic Medicine
Q: Dr. David, why do I get the runaround from every doctor I see; it seems as if no one knows what they are talking about. The specialists are even worse. I am frustrated and feel like a medical reject.
A: I hear this often. Many of my patients feel they are at “wits end,” or that our clinic is their last resort. They have been ill for a long time and have not improved under the disease care system we have in Western culture. Naturopathy is a true health care system in that it seeks to help the entire body, mind and spirit, not just a singular health issue. It can be an empowering experience to learn how to listen to what your body is trying to tell you and how to treat it. Quick fixes that suppress and/or alleviate symptoms have terrible consequences such as side-effects, the problem still being there after treatment ceases, and even worse, valuable time wasted when one could be enjoying a higher quality of life.
Naturopathic Doctors spend a great deal more time getting to know their patients and in addition, their training is more oriented towards prevention, finding the cause of a problem and helping your body heal itself.
Q: How much water should one drink? Everyone seems to have different opinions regarding what is a healthy amount to consume daily.
A: There is no magic, precise amount of water that is correct for all human beings. How much water we need depends on many factors. Some of these factors include: level of activity (varies daily), climate (temperature, humidity, altitude, etc.), diet (dry foods such as flour products increase fluid needs), our health (how well our urinary tract functions, any diseases, ailments or illness) and even how well rested we are, to name a few factors. These all account for our biochemical individuality, a cornerstone of naturopathic philosophy. By now we have all heard, ad nauseam, how good and important water is. Every cell is bathed in it. Our lymph system and virtually every organ and system needs water to function, and we can live longer without food than we can without water.
No discussion about water would be complete without commenting on salt. Excess sodium displaces water from our cells, causing our body to send out the thirst signal to dilute the sodium. Often, people that are constantly thirsty add salt to their food or consume high-sodium foods such as chips and canned foods. Salt is used to mask rancid, tasteless food. It was used as a preservative in Biblical times. If one is never thirsty, I suggest trying a slight increase in natural sodium to the diet. Celery and cucumber are excellent sources of this vital nutrient. Table salt is toxic, chemically treated and barren of trace elements necessary to make salt a balanced food. One exception is “Celtic Sea Salt,” available on the web and from some health food stores. It is delicious, unmolested, gray in color, and contains over 100 trace elements missing in conventional table salt. Sodium deficiency, which I do see in my office practice, may result in low energy, achy joints, excessive perspiration, dizziness and muscle cramps.
Good sources of water, in order of preference: vegetables, fruits, spring or well water. I feel more rehydrated from an apple than from a large glass of water. Distilled water is best reserved for auto batteries! I have seen many patients that became sickly because of distilled water consumption. Carbonated water is not the best choice on a regular basis. The carbon dioxide used to carbonate the water causes bloating and puts pressure on the G.I. tract. I am often asked what is wrong with waiting until we are thirsty. Unfortunately, the thirst reflex is not a good indicator. By the time you feel thirsty, you are dehydrated. Folks who are “always thirsty” should read this and try the suggestions. Those of you who don’t consume enough water know who you are! Drink enough to make your urine almost clear. If your urine is becoming dark, strong smelling or very cloudy, you may need to increase fluid consumption.
By the way, coffee, alcohol and soft drinks actually make us thirstier as they are dehydrating, another insidious action they have on our body! These beverages are just plain bad for us, no matter what excuses society comes up with. If you are bored with plain water, try herb teas (hot or cold); there are some delicious fun herb teas available. Also, adding fresh lemon or lime juice to your water makes a nice flavor while at the same time adding liver cleansing properties to your drink! Fluids too hot or too cold are not good for the stomach and can inhibit digestion. Too many ice cubes should be avoided for that reason. In my experience, some fluid with meals actually helps digestion, as long as it is water or herb tea and a moderate temperature. Just make sure you chew food well and swallow it before taking a drink—the digestive juices in your mouth that mix with the food should not be diluted.
I am a big fan of having adequate humidity in our homes and particularly in the bedroom. Keeping a window open a crack (the moist, damp air is actually quite good for us, even helping children & adults with respiratory ailments), having live plants (particularly in the bedroom) and keeping the heat low when sleeping are vital. There are times when a large amount of fluid intake could be advantageous. When you are not feeling well, consuming a large amount of water over a short period of time might help flush out any toxins, germs, bacteria or viruses that are trying to gain a foothold in your body. In addition, those who suffer from kidney and bladder infections (urinary tract infections, or UTI’s in doctors terms), might do well to flush out with a lot of water upon the first sign of a brewing infection. While we are here, I will share that 2–4 teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar (raw has the cloudy stuff on the bottom that is good for you!) added to some warm water, 2–3 times a day, is good for most of us in general, and especially helpful for urinary tract infections, arthritis and stomach aches.
Can we drink too much water? Absolutely. I am concerned about those who carry a water bottle with them at all times, drinking constantly. Too much water washes out of the body vital trace elements, called electrolytes, and this depletion can have serious consequences, such as kidney failure, heart attack and even death. I recommend and use a product called Trace-Lyte™ liquid electrolytes, both for athletes and anyone concerned about healthy cells, which requires a particular mineral balance for healthy cell integrity (called osmotic pressure). Read the Trace-Lyte™ link for more information. Incidentally, frequent thirst can be a sign of diabetes, which is currently at pandemic (beyond epidemic) levels in “civilized” western countries.
David G. Olarsch, N .D.