Rethink Health July-August 2011

Health Issues through the Good HealthKeeping lens

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Sugar, Water and Junk

Bottled water had a good outing at Wimbledon - and that was just the spectators. The habit of carrying a bottle of water everywhere and taking regular swigs, seems to have caught on. A Times journalist had a go at dispelling the myth that this is good for you, but rather missed the point.

Body fluid is not water, but a solution rather similar to dilute sea-water. There is a good reason. To cope with living on land, we have to carry around an aquarium in which our cells can thrive. These cells can't cope on water alone, they need the nourishment and minerals it delivers.

Your body is very good at maintaining the concentration of this solution, because much dilution or concentration will cause the cells to shrink or swell - much less happy either way. Perspiration is salty but relatively dilute, so sweating raises the concentration of your body fluid and creates thirst. Water restores the concentration, but does not replace the lost salt. And because salt is reduced, the concentration required is achieved with a slightly lower overall volume of fluid.

Perhaps you lost me there, but the result is that drinking water to replace sweat, leaves you still a little dehydrated. You need to replace the salt as well. Remember that warning, from your youth? We hear less of it now, because salt has a bad press. It's supposed to raise your blood pressure. It may, very slightly, but getting dehydrated will raise it a lot. Your blood gets thicker, and the arteries get narrower (because their volume is less), so the resistance to blood flow increases. Your heart has to pump harder to keep your circulation going, which shows as raised central blood pressure.

If you have not been sweating, then drinking water just makes you want to urinate. Urine also contains salts, so drinking water alone actually reduces your hydration. Maybe that's why it becomes so addictive.

This is not a reason to drink hard, mineralised water. Calcium and magnesium in water are uneasy in the body, apt to deposit chalk where chalk should not be. Water should be drunk pure, and bottled water with high total dissolved solids is not worth buying.

You actually need to consume soluble salts, as well as pure water. Sport drinks that contain them are not worth the price - just allow yourself some sea salt on your food, according to your relish. In winter, drinks of vegetable bouillon in hot water will do the job. If they make you thirsty you have slightly overdone it, but no harm results - just drink water.

Sugar has no more place in water than added to food. It just dulls your senses, and makes other food and drink taste drab - so you eat and drink more of it, and less good but subtle food, in a vain search for gratification. That's good news for corner shops, but bad for you - that way lies diabetes. Juices can be overdone too, because removal of the fibrous padding makes it too easy to over-consume them. Drink them well diluted, with 1-4 times as much water. 

Smoothies are too easy to swallow, but at least are whole foods - provided they are genuine. To be sure, make your own.

So: enjoy your summer, relish the sun - and the sea salt on your salad!

Puppy Fat

Flabby children are in the news again - queuing in hospitals, spending too much time in pushchairs or in front of TV and computer screens. 

The remedy is obvious, though it slows parents down and is time-consuming. But it is a full-time vocation, after all. Maybe more parents would enjoy the job more if they could see and talk to their offspring, whilst out and about. Too many pushchairs face their occupants forward, into silence.

A few years of this makes a poor start to formal education, and reduces the likelihood that mum and dad will take their part. No amount of state money can ever replace this - the bedtime story, the supervised reading homework, interest in hearing about your day. And that's before we begin to consider the effect on self-discipline, confidence and self-respect. Without these, a child can only become self-centred and unruly.

I've said all this many times before and to regular readers it's all very obvious. But accept a pat on the back - for thinking straight and doing the obvious right. We hear too much about bad parenting, and celebrate good parents far too little.

A New Mansfield

Pamela and I have become grandparents. George Arthur was born in Houston, Texas on 17th July and seems to be doing very well. We shall see for ourselves when we visit from 12-26th August. 

My mobile phone will be on during that visit, but think twice - calls will cost you more. So please try to order anything you need before we go, and leave less urgent messages on the land line call-minder - 0845 644 3485. I expect there will be hundreds of e-mails too, but we may be able to deal with some of those while we are away.

George's arrival is part of the reason this message is so late. However, it makes quite good sense to merge the July and August editions, anyway. 

We wish you a pleasant, restful and glorious summer. (I think Houston in August may be a bit too much of a good thing - thank Heaven for the pool . . .)