Sunday, April 20, 2008

Water Torture

The Albertson’s in Green Lake finally succumbed to whatever terminal illness was eating it alive. Before it did, I ducked in once or twice on urgent errands only. Its funk felt contagious, and the folks I saw shopping generally looked as if they’d already been infected. I think the entire place was built with asbestos, painted with lead paint and further enhanced by exotic molds growing under the bread isle next to wayward shopping lists on post-its. Yes, it was downright cursed and you always had the ‘I shouldn’t have ducked down this alley’ kind of feeling. Now that it’s closed, I’m not sure where you’d go to buy refreshments that wash away the taste of methadone or that feed the kind of munchies one tends to get after posting bail.

This grocery store was so desperate that you could buy cases of Top Ramen and have nearly enough money left over to treat the inevitable fatty liver at a walk in clinic. On my final errand, I stood in line worrying whether the crazy muttering man ready to check out in front of me would open fire armed with some concealed weapon and a clearly hostile relationship with the rest of humanity. If he did and I ended up being first to ‘check out’, would my friends always wonder if I had some sick bag-a-day Funyun habit that I hid from the world by getting my fix where nobody would ever recognize me. And even if they pried from my hands the emergency box of tampons that cleared my name, that Albertson’s would still be a stain on my obit.

The problem is, the overpopulated promenade that is Greenlake, will inevitably mourn the loss of a last-resort restroom in which to duck. That was likely the only other reason you might find yourself there. Back in the days when I was overhydrated, I loved stores like that where you could rush in and not have to ask for a code or walk around with a key attached to a garden gnome. Mind you, unlocked restrooms require precision hovering especially when you're peeing like a racehorse, but the hyperhydrated have given up the right to be particular.

Thank God I gave up the gallon a day habit many, many years ago. First, most of my water bottles were about as sanitary as sucking up street puddles with a bendy straw; second, my bladder was wussy and cried like a girl and third, leaving water bottles to stew in the car or under my arm so that the heated bottle would brew a carcinogenic tea seemed counterproductive to my whole ‘live long and prosper’ life plan with an ‘Into The Wild’ style retirement. Though I’m not overly religious, I also had a hard time buying the statement that when you’re thirsty it’s already too late. ‘The spiritual being of your choice’ did a fine job of orchestrated endocrine systems as well as all that other complex mush of guts, how the heck would thirst - something key to our survival - be the glaring bug in our operating systems? It was all an evil conspiracy by Evian was all I could figure.

In truth, we can link this right back to the Department of Agriculture who, if you haven’t noticed by now, is clearly trying to kill us. Big strapping corn-fed folks produce big piles of corn-fed poop (pause here until my sister stops laughing and we can move on) and we needed to do something to keep all that fiber moving. That monster bran muffin? Yeah, I’m going to need that with a large coffee – black, a liter of water and perhaps the lifestyle section of the paper.

If you read Omnivore’s Dilemma you know all the grain wreaks havoc on a cow’s digestive system and we’re not fairing much better with our Supersize McTurds. Though I live in a neighborhood where the next comment will start a hearty debate, our colons are not meant to accommodate such girth. Without all that fiber, nobody would be drinking all that water but now we’re being ravaged by both. And the reason there’s no book called ‘Pooping for Dummies’ is that after the urge hits, it all seems pretty straightforward with no powerpoint presentation necessary. Once you’ve flushed away the evidence, there's nobody around to tell you that you’ve been doing it wrong. We’re all pretty much operating under the assumption that all’s well that ends well, so to speak. Let’s all drink to that.

The water issue comes down to the chirping of the sound-byte ‘eight glasses’ without anyone really examining what that looks like. Konstantin Monastyrsky, who explains the issues with hyperhydration in the book Fiber Menace, breaks it down like this:

“A person weighing 70kg [155 lbs] requires at least ca. 1,750 ml [59 oz] per day. Of this amount ca. 650 ml is obtained by drinking, ca. 750 ml is the water contained in solid food, and ca. 350 ml is oxidation water. If more than this amount is consumed by a healthy person it is excreted by the kidneys, but in people with heart and kidney disease it may be retained.

As you can see, only 1,400 ml (47 oz), or about six glasses of water, are required every day from food and drink in almost equal proportion. The rest – the hidden oxidation water – is derived from the body’s internal chemistry.

Also, please note one crucial point: 1,750 ml is equal to about seven and a half glasses of water. This is where the initial round figures of “eight glasses” (1,890 ml) originally came from. What Human Physiology makes plain is that only 650 ml, or about two and a half glasses of water ‘is obtained by drinking’. Not eight, as we have been told to drink. Here’s another excerpt, this time from the Merck Manual of Diagnostic and Therapy, which is considered the gold-standard medical reference source and “must have” manual for any physician and researcher worth his or her salt. The Merck is even more miserly and specific:

. . . a daily intake of 700 to 800 ml is needed to match total water losses and remain in water balance . . .”

So if you’re walking around like Sponge Bob Damp Pants, what’s the impact other than your blunted IQ caused by the habitual reading of public bathroom graffiti and the potential Hantavirus you picked up off the doorknob? Here’s the laundry list provided by Monastyrsky:

Constipation: Potassium is a principal electrolyte, responsible for water retention inside human, bacterial, and plant cells. Overhydration causes the gradual loss of potassium through urine. Potassium deficiency, not shortage of water, is the principal reason behind stool dryness. The dry stool causes constipation because it is hard, abrasive and difficult to eliminate.

Kidney disease: It doesn’t take a medical degree to understand that kidneys pumping two, three, four or five times more water than normal will wear out faster. (The resources of our internal organs was determined by evolution long before Coke, Pepsi, and bud came on the scene.) Kidney stones in particular are associated with calcium deficiencies that may result from either a deficiency in one’s diet or from loss related to overhydration.

Urinary Disorders: Urinary infections are a common side effect of overhydration. With too many carbs and too much water in the system, urine alkalinity drops, acidity goes up, and the bladder and urethra become hospitable to pathogenic bacteria, which have an affinity for an acidic environment. Elevated glucose in the urine from too many dietary carbohydrates greatly stimulates these infections by providing plentiful feed for pathogens – a warm, dark bladder becomes just as hospitable to bacteria as a sweet-and-sour Petri dish.

Digestive disorders: the more you drink right before, during, or within the first few hours after a meal, the more difficult and time-consuming digestion becomes, because it requires correspondingly more hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to bring their concentration up to the optimal level. The high volume of liquid in the stomach is prone to causing heartburn, which results from the spillage of acidified content into the unprotected esophagus. Indigestion, or delayed digestion (gastroparesis) causes gastritis – an inflammation of the stomach’s mucosa, which may eventually lead to ulcers. Chronic indigestion may also result from a chloride deficiency, especially when excess water consumption is accompanied by reduced or salt-free diet.

Digenerative Bone Disease: a loss of minerals in general, calcium in particular. Leads to bone softening – osteomalacia in adults, scoliosis in young adults, and rickets in children. (Osteoporosis is a bone tissue disease, and not a mineral deficiency condition, as mistakenly thought by most people, including most medical professionals. A loss of bone tissue – collagen that makes up the bone matrix – leads to bone brittleness, not softness, as from the loss of minerals.)

Premature aging: Facial bones determine our overall appearance and create a perception of age that no makeup or plastic surgery can hide. Because of a comparatively low physical load, facial bones experience the fastest loss of bone tissue and minerals.
Muscular disorders: Calcium and magnesium are key regulators of muscle contractions . A deficiency of these two minerals is broadly associated with fibromyalgia, fatigue, cramps, tremors, involuntary flinching, and many other conditions that affect not just body muscles, but also the eyes, blood vessels, intestines, heart, womb, and all other organs that are controlled by the muscles.

Unstable blood Pressure: Hypertension and hypotension naturally follow water binges. First, as the volume of blood plasma increases from absorbed water, blood pressure rises. As long as the kidneys remain healthy, the excess is quickly removed, along with the minerals. As the minerals become depleted, the volume of plasma goes down in order to maintain its chemical stability, and low blood pressure sets in.

Back in the 90's I had an 'incurable' disorder called IBS which this book covers in detail but that had nothing to do with why I read it. I wasn't searching for information about IBS because I completely recovered from the 'incurable' disorder over ten years ago by eliminating grains from my diet and reducing my water consumption. The doctors, on the other hand, had recommended that I eat refined carbohydrates for their 'digestability', drink plenty of water and take prescription drugs for the rest of my life. I wonder now if the drugs where made from corn and manufactured by the Department of Agriculture.

No it's not why I read the book. Frankly, aren't we all just looking just for a compelling page-turner that leaves us peering into toilet bowls for the rest of our days and dumping factoids about feces at dinner parties? Oh, that explains it.