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Why Water Is the Underrated Treatment for Digestive Health

Image of Why Water Is the Underrated Treatment for Digestive Health
Image of Why Water Is the Underrated Treatment for Digestive Health

If you suffer from chronic gastrointestinal (GI) conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or acid reflux, you’re always looking for solutions to help with the discomfort and pain. You’ve probably reached out to medical specialists and tried different medications, but did you know one common, non-prescription remedy is right under your nose?

That’s right: While it’s sometimes overlooked, water can be a key component to healthy digestion—and it’s totally free and accessible!

What are the signs you’re having digestive issues?

Digestive problems vary, but there are some common GI issues that are symptoms of multiple conditions, including chronic ones like IBS, IBD, and acid reflux.

For example, diarrhea, incontinence, stomach pain, heartburn, constipation, bloating, and nausea are frequent side effects of GI problems. Blood in the stool is another, potentially more serious, symptom.

Bear in mind that most people experience some or all of these problems from time to time, and they’re not necessarily symptoms of serious or chronic GI conditions. But if any of the above or related issues are becoming frequent and disrupting your life, there could be something bigger at play.

Why does hydration help?

So, how does drinking water aid digestion?

The body is around 60% water. Every day, we lose some of our fluids through breathing, sweating, urinating, and bowel movements. Drinking water allows us to replenish these fluids. When we don’t get enough, it can result in a host of problems in our bodies, including indigestion.

In addition to rehydrating our bodies, drinking water keeps the intestines working properly. Moreover, dehydration and constipation are closely linked. If you don’t drink enough water, your large intestine will hoard the water found in the food you eat, resulting in dry, hard stools. This won’t affect the speed of digestion, but it will make it more difficult to pass your stools.

But drinking water alone won’t cure constipation, although it will help you pass bowel movements. Other factors, such as your fiber intake, are important, too.

Can I drink anything I want?

Water is best.

And it doesn’t have to be cold water, either. But it’s not the only beverage that has digestive health benefits. Herbal tea, for one, has no caffeine and offers the same hydration benefits.

While coffee and other caffeinated drinks can contribute to your water intake, be careful about overdoing it. Also, know that caffeinated beverages can exacerbate GI conditions like IBS and acid reflux. Carbonated beverages, meanwhile, can contribute to bloating, so if this is an issue for you, try to avoid soda, seltzer, and other bubbly drinks.

We also get a fair amount of water from food. Fruits and vegetables, including celery, zucchini, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, and lettuce are just a few great sources of water.

Juice can be helpful, too, although it does have a lot of sugar, so try to keep your juice intake to a minimum. Milk is another good choice.

And a fact that typically doesn’t go over well but is important to know: Alcohol does not assist with hydration. It’s a diuretic that can lead to dehydration. (It’s a bummer, we know.)

OK, what’s the best kind of water to drink?

Tap water is usually fine. Many areas have purified water running through their faucets, but if you live in a region where the tap water is unsafe to drink, try distilled water.

It doesn’t have to be plain water, either. To make your water tastier, add fruit, herbs, or vegetables—like cucumber, orange, lemon, mint, or raspberries—to your glass.

How much should I drink?

The amount of water individuals need for healthy digestion varies from person to person and depends on different factors, such as physical activity, sex, food eaten, and more. That’s why the National Academy of Medicine doesn’t offer a concrete number of glasses to drink.

One helpful guide is the color of your urine. You should aim to see fairly clear urine. If it appears highly concentrated (a.k.a golden yellow), you’re probably not drinking enough.

The commonly touted eight glasses a day can give you a rough guideline to follow, too, but because all our bodies work differently, you may need more or less. For example, if you’re a regular exerciser, you’ll need more, because you’ll be using up your fluids.

Listen to the signs your body is giving, too. If you have a headache, that’s a sign of dehydration. Constipation, as we’ve touched on, often also indicates that you’re not drinking enough.

Does drinking water during or after a meal disturb digestion?

It’s a myth that drinking water during or after a meal disrupts digestion. In fact, the opposite is true. According to experts, drinking water with your food will actually help with digestion because it helps break food down and pass it through your body more easily. Remember, many of your foods contain water already, so you’ll be ingesting it anyway.

How fast will it take for all this hydration to help?

The amount of time it takes to rehydrate your body to aid digestion also varies from person to person. Either way, you should avoid drinking water too quickly or “chugging.” If you do, you’ll expel most of the liquid through urination. Instead, replenish your fluids gradually, sipping slowly throughout the day.

Clearly, hydration is important for your digestive health. But what if you’ve been drinking plenty of water and are still having GI problems?

Hydration is just one part of your treatment plan. If you have a chronic condition or if you’ve been experiencing painful symptoms that are disrupting your life, you should definitely speak to a healthcare provider for more advice so you can better treat your symptoms.

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Photo by Allie Lehman via Death to Stock