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Common Misconceptions of Healthy Living Part II: Water Consumption

Vancouver has always been deemed a "health-conscious" city, with its citizens following closely to the most current diet trends and active workout routines. From raw foods to aerobic exercises, every Vancouverite may think this is as healthy of a living as they can achieve. Although these trends undoubtedly were designed to promote healthy living, are they as beneficial to the body as they claim? How does Traditional Chinese Medicine view this type of lifestyle? Let's take a look at several key factors that construct a healthy lifestyle, including diet, water consumption, exercise, and sleep patterns.



Part II: Water Consumption

Health education has always taught us to drink 8 cups of water a day, but is this necessarily healthy for everyone? Does habitual water drinking actually improve one's health? This may be true for certain constitutions, but cannot be equally said for everyone. The idea of flushing out toxins from the body through stimulating the water metabolism is undoubtedly correct, yet doing so by intaking excessive amounts of water may not be the most ideal method.


In Chinese Medicine, water metabolism is conducted through the collaboration of 3 organs: the lung, spleen, and kidneys. The water is transported through an organ that is only mentioned in TCM, termed "San Jiao", in which connects upper, middle, and lower sections of the torso. In modern medicine, this can be seen as the cavities that exist between organs, and a sector of the lymphatic system associated with these cavities. The lung controls the dispersion and descent of water, the spleen governs the transportation and transformation of fluids, the kidney is responsible for Qi transformation for water excretion, and San Jiao acts as the passage that connects the three organs, facilitating the water flow in the body. Hence, if an imbalance occurs in any of these organs, the metabolic process will be disrupted, resulting in an accumulation of fluids in the body, in which we refer to as dampness and/or phlegm.


Factors that may cause the disruption include the environment, diet, and constitution. In places like Vancouver, a city with an abundance of rainfall and higher humidity levels, people are more prone to having dampness and phlegm accumulation in the body, and along with the cold temperatures, water metabolism will be greatly decelerated. In terms of diet, as mentioned in part I, cold foods will also hinder the metabolic processes, and additionally, an over consumption of fatty foods will also achieve a similar effect. Lastly, some people may be predisposed to such a syndrome, especially with individuals who may easily become overweight. This signifies that the body is constitutionally weaker in metabolizing fluids, and may take longer courses of treatment to recover.


So how would you know if this applies to you?

The symptoms that reflect dampness and phlegm syndromes include fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal bloating, dizziness, headache, indigestion, lack of thirst, loose stools, edema, puffy eyes and face, and a thick tongue coating. Amongst the myriad of symptoms, a lack of thirst or desire to drink is a major flag to be aware of, as this is the body signaling to stop the water intake due to a reduced metabolic rate.


In this case, it is highly recommended NOT to consume 8 cups of water a day, as this will only increase the burden, further depleting the metabolic process. Instead, the more beneficial consumption method is to drink warm to hot water in sips, and swallowing slowly. Decreasing the amount of ingested fluid will minimize the burden from the additional input of water, yet suffice to stimulate and hasten the metabolism. Slowing the ingestion process will effectively allow the body to absorb water more efficiently, further preventing an accumulation of water in the stomach. By doing so, patients have felt more nourished and moisturized as compared to forcefully consuming 8 cups of water.


What are the most ideal times to drink water?

It is best to drink half a cup to one cup of warm water (depending on your thirst level, as previously discussed) first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, and 2 hours before bedtime. Drinking warm water in the early morning acts as a kickstarter to the body's mechanism, and will improve digestion and metabolism throughout the day. Afternoon is the time of day when most people become slightly dehydrated from a day's activities, and hence is also beneficial to replenish the body with fluids, ensuring the body to function smoothly. Nourishing the body at night is also very important, especially in Vancouver, as moisture levels are lowest at night, mainly due to the use of heating systems, so providing an appropriate amount of fluids to the body is crucial for a good night's sleep.


How about for those who are always thirsty and constantly desires to drink water?

Definitely, if this is the case, do not hesitate to drink water as needed, as this may signify dehydration in the body. In this circumstance, 8 cups of water is not at all problematic, since the body will quickly absorb any fluids consumed. Nonetheless, it is still recommended to drink slowly to improve the efficiency of absorption. If constant consupmtion of water fails to quench your thirst, it is highly recommended to seek advice from a TCM practitioner or acupuncturist, as this is a sign of imbalance in the body.


Therefore, the core concept of water consumption is to understand how much water is required to regulate a healthy metabolism, and, as long as one is attentive, the body always provides signals in the amount of water it needs in order to function smoothly and efficiently.

Part III will be about sleep patterns, and what sleeping hours are the healthiest for the body. Stay tuned!

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© 2020 by Adrien Ip, D.TCM R.Ac