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S2E16: Hydration and MTHFR

Water is so talked about that it’s incredibly easy to ignore. Like everyone knows we need a ton of water, so that can’t be the key to anything, it’s just too common. Too simple, too “normal.” I get that. We talk about it so much in every health format, that people just skim right over it because they’ve heard it before. It’s easy to wear-out an idea in this way so that the value of the thing gets lost, and unfortunately that has happened to many of the pillars of health. Things like eating your greens, drinking enough water, exercising regularly, and even mindfulness. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard all of that.

I know. I do understand and I can be guilty of disregarding the simple things too. But I want to emphasize a point here – it isn’t just water, it’s hydration. Hydration matters for MTHFR, in fact, hydration matters for humans, MTHFR or not.

Why Are Hydration and Water Not The Same Thing?

Hydration, the way I’m using it here, doesn’t mean how much water you drink. It doesn’t even mean how much water you absorb. In its most important context, it means how much water gets into your cells.

This might seem like an odd benchmark, so let’s talk it through.

First off, I have seen many, many people who drink a ton of water, but who are still chronically dehydrated. That seems like a thing that shouldn’t happen but it does, and frequently.

Do you remember in chemistry class in high school learning about osmosis? I’ll put a picture of it here to jog your memory.

Osmosis is the diffusion of water through a semipermeable membrane down its concentration gradient. This file is generously licensed under creative commons and is from OpenStax online Anatomy and Physiology Text. https://openstax.org/books/anatomy-and-physiology/pages/3-1-the-cell-membrane

The osmosis experiment shows water moving across a semi-permeable membrane (which is most of what humans are made of, but certainly cell membranes qualify). The water moves so that the concentration of salts, minerals and solutes in general (which means things dissolved in the water) is equal on both sides of the membrane. To say it a different way, it shows water following salt and minerals through a semi permeable membrane.

This is exactly what happens in real life, too. Not just in high school chemistry or biology. Water follows salt and minerals and goes where those concentrations are the highest.

Great! So What Does This Have To Do With Hydration?

Well, everything. The goal is not just getting water in, but getting it into your cells. This means that salt, minerals, or some other good things that your body likes to pull into your cells could actually pull water with it.

Let’s say, for the sake of a vivid argument, that you drink distilled water all day long. Distilled water has no or extremely little of anything other than water in it – it is very pure and free from mineral contamination. That sounds good, and as you drink it, your body absorbs it into your bloodstream. Also good.

Now it’s in your bloodstream diluting your blood so your body pushes some of it into your cells. This seems good – it’s all going according to plan. Except, as you continue to drink more, the balance is getting too watery on the bloodstream side so your body does something that most semi-permeable membranes can’t do. It pushes salts into your blood to help balance things out because our cell membranes have active transporters as well. That wasn’t in the chemistry experiment.

So now salt is going out of the cells, and that’s not great. That means the cell won’t draw in as much water in the near future until it gets its salts and minerals back.

What are these salts and minerals of which we speak? They’re electrolytes, and the reason why most sports drinks have them is that they do actually help to push water into cells because your cells are hungry for them so they grab them up, then water follows along behind.

The Key to Hydration is Electrolytes.

Electrolytes are irresistible to cells and the higher quality the electrolytes, the better. Every time you drink water, try to remember to put a dash of electrolytes into it. You’ve got a few options.

  • Himalayan pink salt or good quality sea salt. These are rich in sodium, but also balanced with other minerals including the trace minerals your body might be lacking the most. Just a pinch in a 16 oz glass will do. The water shouldn’t taste salty like sea water, it’s just a small amount to help absorption.
  • A squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Hydrating and yummy at the same time. Total bonus. Lemons and limes are rich in minerals, have small amounts of fruit sugars (which your cells also gobble up) and will also help that water get to the right places in your body.
  • A splash of organic apple cider vinegar. Again, this doesn’t have to be enough to make your throat burn like hellfire, just enough to add a good healthy dose of minerals and yeasts from apples.
  • “Half-salt” or “No-salt.” This is actually a potassium-sodium blend (or potassium only) and is great for those on a sodium-restricted diet.
  • Powdered Magnesium. There are a number of magnesium powders you can add to your water and these are perfect if you tend to be tense or anxious. Remember, we’re not looking for the dose on the package here, we’re just adding a pinch to make your water more hydrating.

Now, I know you’re thinking that there are sports drinks for this type of thing. That is true, but anybody who drinks 64 ounces of sports drink daily isn’t going to be in good health. Sports drinks are pretty good for during or after activity in which there is a lot of sweating and burning of calories, but for sitting behind a computer they’re pretty much the salty equivalent of a big gulp.

Sports drinks are meant to replenish a large amount of electrolytes in a short amount of time and aren’t appropriate for all-day drinking. We’re looking for much smaller doses spread through a lot more water.

Just remember, it isn’t how much you drink, it’s how much you get into your cells that matters. Keep your cells nice and plump and watery with simple additions to your drinking water.

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