Are you dehydrated? How dehydration can influence blood pressure (Pt. 1)
We have seen how the body is a pressurized system that depends on fluidity to perform many important functions: transport of oxygen and nutrients, and detoxification. Good circulation means the body can receive oxygen, nutrients and can remove toxins. On the contrary, poor circulation translates into lack of oxygen, starvation and build up of toxins. For this reason, proper circulation could be said to be the key to good health. Health is movement and movement creates electrical energy to power our heart, brain and other organs.
The importance of this is shown in the composition of the body itself: 70% of the body’s weight is made out of water, 25-26% is made out of protein, fats, and carbohydrates and the remaining 4-5% is made out of minerals, trace elements and electrolytes.
In this blog, we will see look at the importance of proper hydration for heart health. We will focus on the importance of salt and the role it plays in water balance and healthy blood pressure.
The body’s hydraulic system
The word ‘hydraulics’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘water pipes’ and it is defined as the power exerted by pressurized fluids (1). The body’s circulation system is designed as the most advanced hydraulics system (2), with its miles of arteries and capillaries. This hydraulics system makes sure that water is distributed promptly wherever it is needed in the body.
In this sense, the vessels of the body are designed to cope with the fluctuation of their blood volume and the tissue requirements by opening and closing. When the total fluid volume in the body is decreased, the main vessels also have to decrease their aperture, otherwise there would not be enough fluid to fill all the space allocated to blood volume in the body (2).
Blood volume fluctuates regularly as the body’s needs change, and it is influenced by the ‘blood-holding capacity of the capillary bed that determines the direction and the rate of flow to any site at a given time’ (2). This process is naturally designed to cope with any priority work without the burden of maintaining an excess fluid volume in the body.
As a general rule, where there is a higher demand of blood, circulatory systems are kept fully open for the passage of blood. This is the case of digestion. When we eat, more capillaries are open in the gastrointestinal tract and fewer are open in the major muscle systems. This is why we feel less active after a meal. When digestion is finished, less blood is needed in the digestive tract so the circulation to other areas of the body can open more easily (2).
This shunting of blood is highly orchestrated by a mechanism that establishes the order of priorities for the capillaries to open or close. This order is predetermined according to a scale of importance and function: The brain, lungs, liver, kidneys and glands take priority over muscles, bones and the skin in blood distribution(2).
Water shortage: dehydration
Dehydration is a serious health problem. In normal circumstances, the water we drink gets inside the cells, and regulates the volume of a cell from the inside. Salt regulates the amount of water that is held outside the cells. Water balance is kept in the right place by a self regulating mechanism in the brain. However, dehydrating beverages like alcohol, tea, coffee, juices, and other commercial drinks, processed and denatured foods with chemical additives and not enough water can influence this water regulating mechanism negatively. Even milk in great quantities can cause greater volume of urine to be excreted that is ingested (3).
What is more, when we don’t drink enough water to keep all the needs of the body going, some cells become dehydrated and release some of their water to the body’s general circulation. ‘The capillaries in some parts of the body then have to close’ (2). This is because there is a very delicate balancing process in the design of the body in the way it maintains its composition of blood at the expense of fluctuating the water content in some cells of the body. When there is a shortage of water, some cells will go without a portion of their normal needs and some others will get a predetermined rationed amount to maintain function. However, the blood will normally retain the consistency of its composition. It must do so keep the normal composition of elements reaching the vital centers. Under circumstances of dehydration the body will favor blood even if it means to shut down some vascular vessels (2).
Loss of this self regulating brain mechanism (loss of thirst sensation) (2) is characteristic of the elderly (3), and it always translates into blood volume loss. When this happens, 66% of the water lost is taken from the water volume normally held in the cells, 26% is taken from the volume held outside the cells and 8% is taken from blood volume (2).
How dehydration can lead to hypertension
Under circumstances of water shortage, the blood vessels close to deal with the loss in blood volume in the less restrictive areas. This allows the body to keep the balance needed to keep other capillaries open. When the capillaries are closed and offer resistance, only an increased force behind the circulating blood will ensure the passage of some fluids through the system. This extra force increases blood pressure as it requires the heart to work harder to ‘push through’. To improve this condition, the capillaries must remain open and full and offer no resistance to blood circulation. Activities like exercise will allow the capillaries to open and hold a greater volume of blood within the circulation, relieving hypertension (2).
In this respect, high blood pressure is ‘an adaptive process to a gross body water deficiency’ (2). Essential hypertension should primarily be treated with an increase in daily water intake. When we don’t drink enough water, the body’s only way to keep its water volume is by keeping sodium in the body, only this way will water remain in the extra cellular fluid. This is not the healthy normal status of water balance, but a last resort way of retaining some water in cases of emergency needs.
Diuretics are ‘scientific absurdity’ (2) because they force the body to get rid of its water, making the body even more dehydrated. Water is the best natural diuretic.
Dr. Bernard Jensen also believed that not taking enough water before eating may cause the circulating blood to be too concentrated with nutrients, which could affect the liver, heart and lungs negatively. He recommended people with high blood pressure to increase their water intake with added potassium and magnesium, especially after heavy meals.
Dehydration, therefore, explains the need to increase blood pressure to build a ‘filtration force’in the body. The precaution to keep in mind is loss of salt from the body when water intake is increased and salt intake is not. Dr. Batmanghelidj’s recommendation is as follows:‘After a few days of taking six-eight-ten glasses of water a day, you should begin to think of adding some salt in your diet.’(2)
Water is also needed for digestion, assimilation, elimination, circulation, nutrient transport, temperature control and as a solvent and medium for chemical reactions to take place. But the body needs a certain amount of water, no less and no more. All but 1.5 quarts of the water in the body is recycled. The 1.5 quarts represent water plus waste that must be excreted from the body as urine (3).
The role of salt in fluid balance
We just mentioned how water stays in the inside of the cell, while salt stays on the outside of the cell. When we are talking about dehydration, both water and salt are of equal importance. ‘Salt is a most essential ingredient in the body’ (2). The body’s wisdom dictates the need to retain salt in order to keep water inside the system. It will take a gradual increase in urine to pass the excess salt out. Meanwhile, the ‘edema fluid’ many people are concerned about when they start supplementing with salt, is explained by the body’s need to ‘filter some of its water and flush it through the cell membrane into some of the cells’ (2). It is the same principle as a water osmosis purification system used in cities. This also explains the rise in blood pressure to build a ‘filtration force’.
Functions of salt in the body
Salt is a most essential ingredient of the body. ‘In order of importance, oxygen, water, salt and potassium rank as the primary elements for the survival of the human body.’ (2)
Salt has many functions:
About 27% of the salt content of the body is stored in the bones in the form of crystals. Thus, salt deficiency in the body also could be responsible for the development of osteoporosis, because salt will be taken out of the bones to maintain its vital normal levels in the blood.
Low salt intake will contribute to a build up of acidity in some cells. High acidity in the cell can damage the DNA structure and be the initiating mechanism for cancer formation in some cells. Experiments have shown that quite a number of cancer patients show low salt levels in their body.
Muscle cramps at night are a sign of becoming salt deficient. Also, dizziness and feeling faint might be indicators of salt and water shortage in the body. In these circumstances, an increase in vitamins and minerals intake is recommended, especially vegetables for their water soluble vitamin content (2).
Other health care professionals also believed in the importance of salt for health. Dr. Bernard Jensen had this to say about salt:
‘Sea salt (food sodium) is assimilated and stored especially in the walls of the stomach and the bowel where it neutralizes excess acids and protects the stomach and bowel wall from tissue damage due to acids. Sodium is also stored in the joints where it helps keep the joints supple and prevents calcium from coming out of solution to deposit in the joints as spurs.’ (3)
Differences between table salt and sea salt
Table salt is mainly sodium chloride and a caustic alkali with chlorine. Sodium chloride is not found alone in nature. In its natural state, it is mixed with other minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, sulfate, etc. that have to be separated in order to produce the kind of table salt that we buy at the store. This refining is done through a series of chemical procedures including bleaching and added chemicals. This kind of salt used excessively can rob calcium from the body, cause water retention, high blood pressure, loss of elasticity in blood vessels and hardened tissues (3).
Table salt enters the body in a concentrated form that the body cannot assimilate so it is sent to the kidneys. Food sodium, on the contrary, is not concentrated so it enters the system in an amount that can be controlled and directed to the right organs and tissues. The stomach and the intestine are sodium organs and are in need of constant food sodium.
Sea salt is the closest thing in nature to a natural mix of different mineral salts. It disperses little by little into the blood as it is broken down, digested and assimilated. Table salt, on the other side, overdoses the body with sodium which is more or less useless in the functioning of the various tissues and its main effect is to cause more water to be held in the tissues.’ (3)
Sea salt mineral composition
‘Sea salt comes from evaporated sea water…as a result, …sea salt has as many as 75 minerals and trace elements.’ Among them we can find:
– Sodium and chloride: The most abundant ions in sea salt, representing about 33% and 50.9% of total minerals, respectively. They are both essential substances our body needs for normal function and nutrient absorption. Chloride specifically helps with muscle and nerve function. Sodium also acts in muscle function and helps regulate blood volume and pressure.
–Potassium: Another important macro-mineral that works with chloride to help regulate acid levels in the body.
A quarter-teaspoon of Celtic sea salt contains 601.25 milligrams of chloride, 460 milligrams of sodium and 2.7 milligrams of potassium (4).
–Calcium and magnesium: They both play essential roles in several chemical reactions in your body. Magnesium, for example, intervenes in energy production and the synthesis of RNA and DNA. Calcium helps give structure to bones and teeth, in addition to regulating heartbeat, normal muscle and nerve function. Both are present in sea salt at the approximate concentrations of 1.5 milligrams and 5.2 milligrams per 1/4 teaspoon, respectively (4).
–Sulfur: It is the third most common mineral in sea salt. There is about 9.7 milligrams per quarter-teaspoon of sea salt. Even though it is not an essential mineral, sulfur plays an important role in the immune system and detoxification. Every cell in the body contains it, and it helps give structure to two amino acids. According to researcher Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D., sulfur is the eighth most common element in the human body and is important for normal metabolism and heart health (4).
–Trace Elements: Trace elements are metals with very specific electrical and chemical properties. As such, they have electrical effects in our body and take place in particular and unique reactions. This is the case of many enzymes, where trace elements are found embedded deep within. Enzymes could not function without trace elements: On enzyme structures they serve as valuable spark plugs that help speed up chemical reactions. They also act on proteins like hemoglobin (carries oxygen in the blood) and myoglobin (which stores oxygen in the muscles). These reactions, despite being subtle, are very powerful, therefore, although needed in very minute amounts, trace elements, work with the rest of minerals to create health. Since processing removes all vitamins and minerals from food, it is important to eat fresh foods (3).
Trace elements are also essential because they work with other minerals to maintain optimal function in your body. Among the trace minerals found in sea salt are: Phosphorus, Boron, Zinc and iron (used by the body to make enzymes involved in metabolism), Manganese, Copper, Silicon and phosphorus. Phosphorus typically occurs in trace amounts in sea salt, but it is actually an essential macro-mineral. Our body uses it as a structural component of bones, teeth and cell membranes, as well as for energy production (4).