How Much Water Does Chinese Medicine Say I Should Drink?

August 12, 2019 - by enrica - in Diet Therapy, Lifestyle

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I used to carry a slight sense of guilt that I wasn’t drinking enough water. It had been drummed into me that I needed to drink 2 litres of water per day, and I wasn’t doing it!

This figure seems to have stemmed from the Food and Nutrition Board of the United States National Research Council in 1945 which stated that “a suitable allowance of water for adults is 2.5 litres daily in most instances… and most of this is in prepared foods”. It’s interesting to note that last part of the statement because fruit and vegetables contain a lot of water, so if you eat a largely wholefoods diet, you’re getting more water in than you think. With regards to the amount of water recommended, it was thought that 1mL of liquid per calorie was appropriate so for women having an average daily diet of 2000 calories, that’s 2 litres and for men having an average daily diet of 2500 calories, that’s 2.5 litres. However, there is another guideline that suggests that we should have 35mL fluid per 1kg body weight. On top of that, factors such as sex, body weight, physical activity, diet and living conditions can affect how much fluid we actually need.

What does Chinese Medicine have to say about water intake? In the Chinese Medicine classic text, “Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold”, the renowned Chinese Medicine practitioner, Sun Si Miao, suggests that “those good at health dine when they are hungry and drink when they are thirsty”. This fits in with the Daoist concept of doing things in moderation and paying attention to nature and the body signals in order to live a healthy life. Therefore, we eat when we are hungry and drink when we are thirsty, and only in amounts enough to match our physical needs. Consuming more than that would be going against nature and cause ill health.

When will I need more or less water?

Your water needs will increase with:

  • increased physical activity
  • consumption of more meat, eggs and salty food
  • fever
  • Heat or Excess conditions
  • dry, hot or windy environmental conditions

Your water needs will decrease with:

  • a more sedentary lifestyle
  • consumption of more sprouted foods, fruit and vegetables
  • Cold or Deficient conditions
  • cold or damp climates

How will I know if I’ve had too much or too little water?

Some signs of having too much water include:

  • sensations of coldness
  • weakened digestive system
  • lower energy

Some signs of not having enough water include:

  • constipation
  • tightness and tension
  • overeating
  • dryness
  • kidney damage
  • dark yellow urine
  • heat symptoms such as inflammation, fevers and feeling too warm

The health of the body and its internal functioning also determine how efficiently water is used and distributed so for some people, they might drink the amount of water appropriate for them but it seems like water just passes right through them. This is where Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture can help rebalance your body to use water more efficiently.

What is a good way of drinking water throughout the day?

I remember being at my Chinese Medicine internship in China and the students, the interpreters and the doctors always had a thermos within arms reach, even in summer! I realise now that it was how people there stay hydrated and they take convenient sips throughout the day as they feel thirsty. In China, it is also usual to drink water between meals, rather than at meals, unless people have had a rich and full meal and are relieving indigestion and aiding digestion. The water can dilute your stomach acid, making your digestion to work harder and weakening it in the long-term.

The take-home message is to listen to your body, be aware of your thirst and drink when you are thirsty.

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