A distinctive difference between our bodies and brains
Since every cell, tissue and organ require water to work properly, it is crucial to hydrate your body. Removing waste, maintaining proper body temperature, and lubricating your joints are just a couple of the important benefits.
On average our bodies contain 60% water, 20% protein, 15% fats, 2% carbs and some vitamins and minerals. In case of our brains, water content is even more prevalent. The figures approximately look like this: 80% water, 11% fats, 8% protein, 3% vitamins and minerals and a pinch of carbs. As a result, it is safe to say water is one of the most important brain nutrients of all.
The thirsty brain
Beside constituting most of its weight, water plays an important role in every chemical reaction in the brain. In fact, brain cells require a delicate balance of water and other elements such as minerals and salts to work properly. (Amiry-Moghaddam M, Ottersen OP. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2003; 4:991–1001) Further, water is indispensable for energy production. It carries oxygen, which is needed for your working cells to breath and burn sugar to produce energy. H2O also has a structural role and it fills in the spaces between brain cells and it helps to absorb nutrients and get rid of waste products.
When water supply is too low we become dehydrated and the body can’t carry out its normal functions. This can be extremely dangerous, especially to our brains. As little as 3 to 4 percent decrease in water intake can reduce our cognitive functions. As a result, it can cause brain fog, reduced energy, headaches and mood swings. (Popkin BM et al. Nutrition Reviews 2010; 68:439–458) 3-4 percent sounds like a very small amount of water, you say?
This is especially disconcerting, since dehydration can actually accelerate the brain shrinkage that occurs with aging and dementia. MRI studies show that several parts of the brain appear to get thinner and lose volume due to not enough water consumption.(Streitburger DP et al. PLoS One 2012; 7:e44195)
How much water do we need to drink?
Fortunately we can completely eliminate the effects of dehydration by simply drinking enough water. But what is exactly enough to hydrate your body and mind? This is definitely a controversial topic and there is probably no accurate answer. However the often recommended eight 8-ounce glasses a day is backed by researches from a mental performance perspective. (Benefer MD et al. European Journal of Nutrition 2013; 52:617–624). We can’t substitute water, but a couple of other fluids can help keep hydrated. (Read my other post on Matcha Green Tea.)
Some real hands on brain benefits please
In an experiment in the UK several participants completed a mental test. One of the groups only consumed a cereal bar alone before the test and the other also had 3 cups of water. The latter team had significantly faster reaction times compared to those who didn’t drink water. (Edmonds CJ et al. Frontiers Human Neuroscience 2013; 7:363)
The advantages of thinking faster can be rewarding. Think about an exam with a strict deadline or a day in the office when you receive 100 emails.
So the prescription is quite simple: keep your body and mind hydrated.