Oxymoron (noun): a figure of speech in which opposite or contradictory ideas or terms are combined (Webster dictionary)
I had intended this blog to be entirely about the health benefits of pure water and hydration, but like nearly all my posts, there is always a flipside. So I want to review the concept of the figurative oxymoron of when something healthy for you, like water, can actually become unhealthy and vice versa.
As part of my studies on holistic nutrition, we had to review the effect of water balance by drinking an adequate amount of water for 7 days. I determined my water needs based on recommendations per audio lectures to “take half your body weight in ounces” for someone living in a hot environment (like Reno, NV summer) and eating a high protein diet (I am paleo inspired and generally eat 50-50 protein-plant ratio, maybe not high, but higher than the standard American diet).
That turned out to be 80oz (approximately 2.35 L) daily with additional metabolic water to come from my food sources. (Don’t do the math, you don’t need to know my actual weight) I even used a free app for the iphone to help remind me to drink water.
Upon further investigation, after my 7 days, I found the below article which summarizes the total water (from beverage) intake recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for an adult woman to be 1.8 L (approximately 61.2 oz). 1
Dietary reference intakes (adequate intakes) for total water set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM)
We already know that true dehydration can be fatal, but is extremely rare unless you are stranded in the middle of the desert without water or food. More the point is that there is potentially a risk of being over-hydration called hyponatremia. A case of something healthy gone unhealthy, or the good gone bad so to speak.
A physician colleague of mine recently shared an article with me during this weeklong assignment about a fatal case from severe hyponatremia (a condition of low blood sodium as a result of excessive water consumption) in the Grand Canyon. 2 This woman had completed a 5-hour hike into the Canyon and shortly after the hike died. Her attempts to stay hydrated in such a severe condition resulted in over hydration and losing her water-electrolyte balance resulting in death. Although this is an extreme case, it demonstrates the importance of balance. You can definitely have “too much of a good thing” and not enough of a vital component. Balance is critical. Avoiding such extreme conditions, weather and extreme activities at high heat times may be one way to avoid the risk of fatal water imbalance.
With further analysis of the articles I came across, there was a case reported of hyponatremia for marathon athletes who were simply told to “drink until your urine is clear” or “do not wait until you are thirsty to drink.” 3 It seems true “water balance” is difficult to objectify, especially during exercise. In the end in keeping with my personal and business model of keeping it simple, it seems that the best advice is to simply drink pure water when you are thirsty. There is truly no single number amount to apply across the board. The likelihood of both true dehydration and hyponatremia are slim. The safest way to “water balance” is to drink pure water when you are thirsty and stop when you satiated.
Another case of good gone bad is related to a newer diagnosis called orthorexia nervosa. It is described as a “pathological obsession with proper nutrition that is characterized by restrictive diet, ritualized patterns of eating, and rigid avoidance of foods believed to be unhealthy or impure.” 15 You may be wondering if I consider myself to fall into this category, and I do not. Trying to be healthy by eating whole nutrient rich foods, adequate exercise, restorative sleep and connecting to people is NOT a disorder. I would actually choose the word THRIVE to describe how I live my life. However, clearly there is a shifting point when you can take it to an unhealthy level and it does become a disorder. When you start pulling away from society, stop living your normal life and become obsessed rather than simply aware. It is still an oxymoron of an idea that healthy eating can actually turn unhealthy.
What about other oxymorons, or cases of the bad gone good?
A few months ago, I wrote a blog regarding Aspartame poisoning (http://www.renosoar.com/holistic-health-tips/june-10th-2015). Overall, it was clear that the effects on the circulatory system 4-7, digestive system 8,9 (specifically the liver and gut microbiome), and the neurological system 10-14 (the brain) was entirely negative. Yet, even something as toxic as aspartame can actually help to decrease blood clotting for a patient with blood clotting disorders 7. Something even as unhealthy as aspartame could be come healthy for the right person and help keep him or her alive.
Although this next story is anecdotal, it still fits the bad gone good oxymoron. Today I was connecting to a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is the form which the body attacks it’s own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, meaning that your body is unable to produce insulin. Insulin is critical to absorb glucose for your body’s energy source. This parent was extremely brave to share her story with me, as it was clear that it is a daily if not hourly struggle that she never gets a rest from.
Keeping this child’s blood glucose levels in check is critical to his life. They can’t run too high or too low. If they get too high, he needs insulin. If they get too low, he needs glucose (sugar). He carry’s glucose tablets in his pockets for urgent needs when he may get too low. It was curious to find out that the glucose tablets work better than say fructose from an orange (another type of sugar). Even more interesting was that lactose (a sugar in milk) is also an effective and efficient strategy. Non-fat milk has the highest amount of sugar (lactose) as all the fat has been removed leaving white sugar water. The pasteurization and removal of fat actually leaves only sugar and little nutrients. Generally, non-fat milk can stimulate an immune response for a normal individual by spiking the blood glucose and with the refining process, the milk appears as a foreign substance. For a normal person, non-fat milk is unhealthy, whereas for this young boy with Type 1 Diabetes, this white sugar water could help him stay alive at a moment of need, and quickly take him away from danger.
What is the take home message?
Anything can become destructive if you don’t pay attention to balance.
Not too little. Not too much.
If we listen to our bodies, we can achieve balance.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove the idea of perfection. Trying to look or be perfect often results in a disordered life and unhealthy behaviors.
Replace with moderation. Not too little. Not too much. Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry. Drink when you are thirsty. Stop when you are satiated. Exercise regularly but don’t beat yourself up.
Eat well. Move well. Sleep well. Thrive on.
1. Gandy J. Water intake: Validity of population assessment and recommendations. Eur J Nutr. 2015;54 Suppl 2:11-16.
2. Myers TM, Hoffman MD. Hiker fatality from severe hyponatremia in grand canyon national park. Wilderness Environ Med. 2015.
3. Hew-Butler T, Rosner MH, Fowkes-Godek S, et al. Statement of the third international exercise-associated hyponatremia consensus development conference, carlsbad, california, 2015. Clin J Sport Med. 2015;25(4):303-320.
4. Horio Y, Sun Y, Liu C, Saito T, Kurasaki M. Aspartame-induced apoptosis in PC12 cells. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2014;37(1):158-165.
5. Kim JY, Park KH, Kim J, Choi I, Cho KH. Modified high-density lipoproteins by artificial sweetener, aspartame, and saccharin, showed loss of anti-atherosclerotic activity and toxicity in zebrafish. Cardiovasc Toxicol. 2015;15(1):79-89.
6. Pretorius E, Humphries P. Ultrastructural changes to rabbit fibrin and platelets due to aspartame. Ultrastruct Pathol. 2007;31(2):77-83.
7. Scheffler JE, Berliner LJ. Aspartame and aspartame derivatives effect human thrombin catalytic activity. Biophys Chem. 2004;112(2-3):285-291.
8. Alkafafy ME, Ibrahim ZS, Ahmed MM, El-Shazly SA. Impact of aspartame and saccharin on the rat liver: Biochemical, molecular, and histological approach. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2015.
9. Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, et al. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 2014;514(7521):181-186.
10. Rycerz K, Jaworska-Adamu JE. Effects of aspartame metabolites on astrocytes and neurons. Folia Neuropathol. 2013;51(1):10-17.
11. Abu-Taweel GM, A ZM, Ajarem JS, Ahmad M. Cognitive and biochemical effects of monosodium glutamate and aspartame, administered individually and in combination in male albino mice. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2014;42:60-67.
12. Abdel-Salam OM, Salem NA, El-Shamarka ME, Hussein JS, Ahmed NA, El-Nagar ME. Studies on the effects of aspartame on memory and oxidative stress in brain of mice. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2012;16(15):2092-2101.
13. Lindseth GN, Coolahan SE, Petros TV, Lindseth PD. Neurobehavioral effects of aspartame consumption. Res Nurs Health. 2014;37(3):185-193.
14. Ashok I, Sheeladevi R. Biochemical responses and mitochondrial mediated activation of apoptosis on long-term effect of aspartame in rat brain. Redox Biol. 2014;2:820-831.
15. Koven NS, Abry AW. The clinical basis of orthorexia nervosa: Emerging perspectives. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015;11:385-394.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.