Why am I writing about hydration during February, when Maine is a frozen landscape? Warm weather screams “thirsty,” whereas during the cold months it is easier to forget to drink a tall glass of water (8 ounces) almost every hour of the day. Since my heart transplant, I have noticed that my skin is especially dry during winter and my GI system isn’t cooperative if I fail to drink those 6 to 8 recommended glasses of water every day. So, I set up a simple system to ensure daily hydration. All you need is a thermos, a sports water bottle, and a jug. Also, while doing a little research on hydration, I learned that how we drink water affects how well it is absorbed deep into our bodies. Read on for support in your effort to drink plenty of water every day and make it count.
As important as taking our medications, drinking enough water every day is vital to cardiac patients’ health. Among many other benefits, proper daily hydration helps move meds and their toxic side-effects through and out of our bodies. When I keep up my daily hydration discipline, my skin clears of med rashes and I have fewer leg cramps. The importance of hydration increases if you catch a bug. This is easy to do during cold/flu season, especially if you are a heart transplant patient living on medications that suppress the immune system, as I am. When slayed by a combination of viruses this winter, I nearly blew my health to smithereens by not drinking enough water. I had thought I was doing a good job with broth, herbal teas, and glasses of water—but I forgot that I was asleep for most of the day! The result: dehydration and dangerously low sodium levels, followed by a few hours at the hospital hooked up to a saline drip—thankfully before thyroid, renal, UTI, and other complications piled on.
Tips to Speed Water’s Absorption into your Body and Make It Count
I am fairly ecumenical in my approach to managing the side-effects of cardiac medications and procedures—only if I receive approval from my clinicians. For the most part as MDs in the allopathic tradition, they may not always fully understand what I propose trying, but they always know if an experiment will interfere with my meds and well-being. My highly respected massage therapist is a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine, which is one of several healing traditions that I selectively integrate to counterbalance the sometimes toxic impact of allopathic medications and procedures (particularly post-transplant). The following Ayurvedic tips on hydration seem to be working well for me:
1) Boil your drinking water first, when possible. Boiled water, cooled to warm or room temperature, takes about 3 hours to be absorbed fully into our bodies, whereas cold water takes at least 6 hours.
2) Drink a tall glass of warm or room temperature water 30 minutes before a meal. This habit not only only adds to your daily tally of fluid intake but also prepares the stomach for proper digestion. Drink small sips of water throughout meals because taking in lots of water with food interferes with the digestive juices doing their job.
3) Never guzzle water. It just runs through you. Practice the art of steady sipping.
Tools to Help You Drink Plenty of Water Every Day
Because morning can be hectic and distracting, I prepare my water load for the next day every night after dinner, while tidying the kitchen. It’s just part of my routine, which I recommend to you.
1) Bring a full kettle of water to boil for a few minutes, then fill a 16-ounce thermos with the boiled water and place it on a little tray with a mug and a piece of fruit to eat in the morning. (See picture above.) To the thermos add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or more and at least a teaspoon of local honey, both according to your taste. I often add an herbal tea, depending on my needs, but honey and lemon are sufficient. Lemon increases fluid absorption and cleanses the liver and kidneys; local honey minimizes hay-fever and other environmental allergies, as well as thins mucus, helping to alleviate congestion that can lead to bronchial/sinus infections.
Put the prepared tray on your bedside table. While you are blinking yourself awake in the morning, drink the warm, soothing contents of the thermos, then eat your fruit—another source of hydration that also gently stimulates your GI system. Tough assignment, eh? Before you even put your toes on the floor, you have taken care of yourself, helping your body purge toxins while you log your first 2 glasses (or 16 ounces) of water for the day.
2) Still in the kitchen tidying up while the kettle comes to a boil, fill your 16-ounce sports bottle with tap water for the next day, adding 2 more tall glasses of water to your tally. (My bottle holds about 14 ounces, but this is close enough.) Stick it in the refrigerator, ready to grab when you go out for exercise or errands. It will be room temperature by the time you drink it. Plain tap water contains nutrients, some of which are lost in boiling, so my daily water intake combines both.
3) Pour the remainder of the boiled kettle water into a jug that holds about 32 ounces, or another 4 or so tall glasses of water. I cover my jug with a little piece of cloth to keep dust out. In the morning, your core drinking water for that day is waiting for you. The deal is, that jug must be empty by bedtime, bringing your combined total water consumption to 8 tall glasses, the recommended total of 64 ounces. Up here in the wilds of western Maine, some days are just too cold for drinking cool water, so I drink herbal tea, which counts in the tally.
Easy access to your jug of water is the key to success
Typically, I bring the jug to my desk, where I spend a good part of the day. I used to keep it in the kitchen to force myself to leave my chair to refill my glass. It was a good idea, but if I am deeply engaged in writing, I end up forgetting to take a break. One friend brings her water to the office in a thermos; another friend uses a big mason jar and tosses it into his truck. Whatever works for you!
Thirst of Another Kind
In 1974, I bought the pictured jug from a potter’s shop within the walls of the medieval French village of Carcassonne, just north of the Spanish border. My boyfriend and I were hitch-hiking our way to Barcelona for New Year’s Eve, for reasons I can no longer remember. On the Eve itself, the Ramblas promenade was crowded with cages of boisterous birds, flower stalls spilling over with blossoms, and revelers. It was intoxicating.
Around 11, we found ourselves in a second-floor dining room of long tables packed with men eating hot roasted chicken in straw baskets lined with newspaper. Without being given a menu or asked for our order, the waiter placed before us two baskets of chicken, crisp skin sparkling with salt. That was all the restaurant served—in addition to copious amounts of cold, gently fizzy cava. On the stroke of midnight, the men rose and began clapping. They gathered around us until we figured out what they wanted. When we kissed across the table, the men went wild. I have always wondered why they were not in the company of wives and girlfriends. But I did not speak Spanish and I was too shy to join my boyfriend in gamely trying to communicate through gesturing and shouting.
Years later I met the boyfriend again. We were happy to see each other, as well as happily married to other people. It was fun to reminisce. But he had no memory of eating chicken sparkling with salt in Barcelona—high on my list of life’s most romantic events. I felt crushed in the moment, and then a little sad for him. You see, every time I pour water from that pitcher, I still feel the intoxication—which has taken me years to realize had nothing at all to do with the boy or the cava.
Join me in raising a few glasses of water to love, in all its forms, during Heart Month! xox Deborah