The Most Essential Nutrient – It’s Not What You Think
What do you think is the nutritional element most essential to health? Is it a mineral, vitamin, amino acid or a fatty acid?
Let's start with a definition. A nutritional element is an element that contains chemical substances used by the body to ensure normal functioning, including growth. Vitamins and minerals, as well as proteins and fats (good fats) are therefore nutrients. An essential nutritional element is one which we can not do without - it is essential to maintaining life. Well, so much for the basic definition.
However, I'll add another point. Nutritional components are normally absorbed or consumed orally. Obviously, in some cases they can be obtained in other ways, through a solute for example. But, in general, and under normal conditions, they are consumed orally. I wanted to refine my definition to avoid being told that love or oxygen is the most important element. Certainly, they are important and essential, but for the purposes of this article, nutritional elements should normally be absorbed orally and make their way through a portion of the digestive tract.
The way to assess the value of a substance when it comes to human health is to determine the amount that is present in the body. The table below shows the average percentage of certain substances. It goes without saying that these can vary depending on the age and health status of the individual, but it does give a good idea of the levels of these nutrients in the body.
|Element||% of Body Weight|
|Minerals and vitamins||1,5-2|
|Part of the Body||% of Water|
Another way to assess the value of a nutritional element is to determine the length of time that one can live without consuming it.
|Part of the Body||% of Water|
|Nutritional Element||Days of Life Without Consuming Any|
|Foods (fats, minerals, proteins and vitamins)||+ 30 days|
In all cases, water has priority.
Water, the Essential Nutritional Element
Have you ever noticed that when scientists assess the feasibility of life on a planet they always ask the question, "Does it have water?" Yes, the presence of water on a planet is the sine qua non of the possibility that it can support life. Without water there is no life, on earth as in space.
The amount of water contained in the human body is a key indicator of its importance to human health. Indeed, the body contains more than twice as much water as it does minerals, vitamins, fats and proteins combined. However, its importance is not only quantitative but also qualitative.
The Role of Water
Here are some important effects water has in / on the body.
Water is a humectant that benefits all body tissues. Water and fat, for the most part, ensure that our bodies have a certain cohesion. Omit water from the body and you end up with a dry, dysfunctional mass.
Water protects the body’s organs and tissues. All organs and body tissues benefit from hydration. Water is used, much like oil in an engine, as an agent to reduce friction. For example, keeping the joints lubricated requires water.
Water helps our bodies dissolve minerals and digest proteins. Indeed, the process by which the body digests and uses protein is called hydrolysis. Energy production is also activated by hydrolysis - it is through the hydrolysis of ATP that energy is released from the cells. Hydrolysis can be defined as the "chemical breakdown of a substance by the direct or indirect action of water, such that new molecules appear." (National Center for Textual and Lexical Resources).
Water is essential for regulating body temperature. Without water, body temperature cannot adjust itself. It is by retaining or releasing water that the body controls the temperature of its internal environment. Does it not perspire when very hot?
Water is a solvent. It allows the decomposition and dilution of organic waste and eliminates it through the kidneys and skin.
Finally, water is needed to transport nutrients and oxygen to the cells.
Consequences of dehydration
"Dehydration is the excessive reduction or the virtual elimination of the water in our tissues." (Future Science) There are three forms of dehydration, acute, chronic and sub-clinical dehydration.
Acute and Chronic Dehydration
Acute dehydration is a group of disorders resulting from loss of a large amount of water. It is the leading cause of death in infants. In adults, acute dehydration is usually due to a specific event of short duration that is caused by a significant drop in the supply of water, an important loss of water or both. Think of someone who loses water during a severe bout of gastroenteritis or is dehydrated following a strenuous activity such a marathon. This dehydration can also be due to a considerable loss of water due to excessive consumption of a diuretic such as alcohol.
The signs usually associated with this type of dehydration include:
Fatigue or drowsiness
Urine that is more yellowish than usual (not to be confused here with the bright yellow urine caused by an intake of vitamin B2)
The symptoms of chronic dehydration are similar, but of longer duration, sometimes for weeks or months. This condition may be caused by taking diuretics (certain drugs, some medicinal herbs, alcohol, caffeine or tea). It can also be caused by insufficient water intake or chronic water loss (bleeding diarrhea, vomiting).
The symptoms are the same as those for acute dehydration, but over the long term. One who is chronically dehydrated can also develop major symptoms such as:
Significant drop in blood pressure (hypotension)
Reduced skin elasticity
Convulsions (in extreme cases)
Although naturopaths have always stressed the importance of hydration for human health, it is largely because of the work of an Iranian physician, Dr. Batmanghelidj that we have begun to realize that the effects of dehydration are much more subtle than we had ever imagined. To find out more about this researcher and his discoveries, I encourage you to read his book, Your Body's Many Cries for Water.
One of the things Dr. Batmanghelidj demonstrated is the effect of sub-clinical dehydration. This form of dehydration is, as is a sub-clinical nutritional deficiency, particularly insidious because the individual does not manifest symptoms commonly associated with acute or chronic dehydration. In addition, the symptoms of subclinical dehydration are often confused with other significant disorders. These non-typical symptoms include:
Stomach pain and heartburn
Hypertension (see the book by Dr. Batmanghelidj about this)
Histadelia (excess histamine)
Cognitive problems (poor concentration and / or memory loss)
This phenomenon is even more difficult to define clinically since excess histamine can cause both psychological and physiological symptoms. Indeed, excess histamine can cause allergic reactions, but can also cause insomnia, anxiety or depression.
The body must retain a certain amount of moisture, without which it cannot function as it should. But it also uses water to dilute and remove various waste products. A body having to choose between a potentially dangerous dehydration or retaining metabolic wastes always opts for the
latter. In fact, dehydration can cause what we in naturopathy refer to as an "intoxication", i.e., retention of biochemical waste. This waste retention will, in turn, cause various adverse effects depending on the type and amount of retained waste.
It is obvious that sub-clinical dehydration can be the source of various health disorders with which this phenomenon is not usually associated. If you are struggling with one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, it is possible that dehydration is a direct cause as well as an aggravator. The solution is as simple as getting rehydrated.
How to Know?
Since dehydration of the type mentioned above is not clinical, there is no subjective analysis which can diagnose its presence. There is only one way to assess the role of dehydration in the development or intensification of symptoms. We need to rehydrate! Here's how:
Stop consuming all dehydrating substances for at least 3 weeks to assess the effects. These include sugary juices and drinks, natural fruit juices, energy and soft drinks, alcohol, herbal teas and caffeine. If you are worried about headaches caused by cutting coffee, know that these will only last about 7 days. If that's too long for you, reduce your coffee intake to 2 cups of espresso (1.5 oz. or 45 ml) per day.
If you have not done so already, significantly cut or reduce the consumption of simple sugars, particularly sucrose (white sugar), fructose and dextrose.
Drink at least 3 liters of pure water per day, preferably spring or filtered water. The only other drink that is allowed is vegetable juice, preferably fresh.
See how you feel after 3 weeks.
Some people need to increase their water intake dramatically. These include individuals who:
Have loose stools or frequent diarrhea.
Drink alcohol regularly.
Take drugs that cause increased urination.
Water consumption is a prophylactic and therapeutic tool. Unfortunately, it is a tool that is too simple and affordable for us to remember to include it as a therapy. When we are affected by health problems, our first reflex should be to increase our water consumption and reduce, or eliminate, our consumption of diuretics. Water is, indeed, the most important nutrient, and drinking enough water and limiting its unnecessary loss are two essential strategies in the prevention and treatment of disease.
When I consume a lot of water, I urinate too often. What should I do?
The bladder will adapt to a lesser amount of urine, as the stomach does with food. When the amount of urine increases, it must re-adapt which results in a temporary increase in urination. In most cases this "problem" lasts a few weeks. You can start increasing your water consumption gradually. Some find that increasing their daily consumption by 250 ml over the course of 3-4 days minimizes the "urinary effect."
Can vegetable juices replace water?
Yes and no. High-quality vegetable juices, especially if they are fresh and made from organic vegetables, are a good source of hydration. On the other hand, celery, even if its organic, is
slightly diuretic. That said, most commercial vegetable juices have a negative effect on the level of hydration.
I have high blood pressure. Is it advisable to consume more water?
No, the opposite is true. First, most cases of high blood pressure are not caused by excess water, but by an imbalance between sodium and potassium. There are other reasons for high blood pressure, such as a magnesium deficiency, but this is the one that gets the most medical attention. Second, Dr. Batmanghelidj’s research showed that in most cases hypertension is improved by increasing the consumption of water.
Can a school-age child have subclinical dehydration?
Absolutely. In children, this dehydration can manifest itself in different ways, including lethargy, concentration problems and headaches. The problem is that children often quench their thirst with juices, which only worsen dehydration.
I really do not like water. What can I drink instead?
Try adding flavor to the water to make it more "acceptable". You can, for example, add natural essences of citrus or other fruit. Natural essences, when used in cooking, do not contain sugar or the acidity of fruit. Some have used natural vanilla or chocolate with success. There are also some waters with added flavors, such as lemon or lime. These waters are acceptable if there is no added sugar.
I play sports and I take creatine. Isn’t this enough to improve my water retention?
Creatine indeed improves water retention in muscle, allowing better muscle function. However, we cannot retain what we don’t have! If you are not sufficiently hydrated, there is not much to retain. Therefore, you need to consume enough water. Moreover, studies suggest that creatine consumption greatly increases the need for water.