Friday, January 13, 2012

The Difference Between Man and Animal? Four Days.

Today we got the big news: they’re on their way… rain barrels.  Now, many people have put up rain collection systems for gardening and to prevent soil erosion around their homes before and, certainly, this is little different.  But, let’s consider this as step one of what it could well be for you one day: Life without running water.
Depending on factors such as our age, gender, weight and simply which source you site, our bodies are anywhere from 50-75% water-based.  As we move about, and just breathe, we lose some of this moisture to our environment because there is no such thing as a truly closed system.  We can limit how much water we lose by keeping ourselves healthy and at a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, conserving our activity intelligently during inclimate conditions and being mindful of illnesses such as diabetes.  However, no matter what we do, we must drink water.  Interestingly, the old myth of “8 glasses a day” has been frequently misinterpreted, as Dr. Heinz Valtin, MD recently reminded us according to a Dartmouth School of Medicine announcement.  Dr. Valtin says that he finds it, "difficult to believe that evolution left us with a chronic water deficit that needs to be compensated by forcing a high fluid intake." And furthermore, he has concluded that the notion began with a recommendation from the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council that a person should consume  "1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food," leading to the hype and forced inundation with water but many people forget, or were never told, that the sentence following in that recommendation stated that "most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”  Our metabolic activity will help sustain us if we’re eating well, but sure enough, we still need water.  So the question then is, if not “8 glasses a day”, then how much?  (

With the prevalence of the poor interpretation of the NRC's recommendation above, which has consumed our national psyche about water and health, it may be hard to truly weed out fact from alleged fact (not, necessarily fiction) in terms of survival data.  Depending on your source, people need 1-3 gallons per person, per day to survive and with judicious use for cooking and cleaning, it works.  Of course, if you’re backpacking across the New Mexican back country, expect to be drinking almost a whole gallon a day if you were this fella at 15 years old.  Your body will let you know when you need water, but a point to consider is that you may not recognize the signs.
The sensation to urinate kicks in when our bladders are one-third full.  That’s early warning at its best, so it could be natural to assume that our body would give us an advanced alert on when we NEED water, not just when we have to let it out.  Wrong.  It takes two hours for anything we drink to have an impact on our hydration beyond wetting our whistles, which is why coaches everywhere cry out that if you’re thirsty, it’s too late.  You’re already low a quart (and perhaps literally), and guzzling to catch up will only make you sick if you’re on the go in a survival situation – which as we’ve been talking about can be anything from “you’re running late after dropping the kids off at daycare and the water pump blow s on your car, leaving you stranded in August with miles between you and help” to “the Maya were right and we’re all simply screwed”.  And if you’re waiting on feeling thirsty, you’ve already missed signs and you’re already showing the effects of dehydration and you probably didn’t even know it.
As little as a loss of 2% loss of your body weight in water (we’re mostly water, remember?) will result in you feeling like you’re doing more work, or working harder, than you are.  Think back a couple of paragraphs… I told you to stay healthy to conserve your water.  That starts with a Positive Mental Attitude according to any Boy Scout leader I’ve ever met.  When you start feeling bad, that negativity stacks on physically feeling bad and then you start making bad decisions and it all gets worse.  Put it in a prolonged stress situation and you are throwing the gates open on the flow of cortisol which is already streaming through your system like a bat out of hell.  That fight-or-flight response suppresses your immune system, jacks up your blood sugar by tapping into your liver’s emergency reserves and plays havoc on your bowels – diarrhea and poor appetite.  You’re getting worse off by the minute.  Stay positive.  Stay hydrated by sipping a little at a time.  If you haven’t caught on by now, you’re feeling some or all of these:
  • Thirst
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Dry and/or Flushed Skin
  • Dark Urine
  • Weakness and Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Head Rushes
So you feel like crap because you lost 2% of your body weight (that’s 4 lbs of water for a 200 lb man, and since fresh water weighs 8.33 lbs, we’re talking about 2 quarts – just about what we lose through the course of one day NORMALLY)… what happens if you lose more?  When we lose 5% of our weight, our blood has changed.  It’s thicker, which we can see by mild elevation in blood pressure because our heart is working harder to pump the now-viscous stuff and thus our heart is beating faster.  Couple that with electrolytes being thrown off balance because of increasing concentrations in the absence of water and we’re heading somewhere bad – and even faster if all you’ve been drinking to recuperate is Gatorade or the like...  (mix CHO electrolyte drinks in HALF with water at most.)  You need the electrolytes, but our bodies run in finely tuned balance.  By now, if you haven’t sought a cool place to rest, gotten yourself water and started cooling down and rehydrating, this is you:
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiration
  • Decreased sweating
  • Decreased urination
  • Increased body temperature
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Tingling of the limbs
So you were tough.  You pushed on.  Now you’ve lost 10% of your body’s water… you’ll experience
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Racing pulse
  • Shriveled skin
  • Dim vision
  • Painful urination
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Chest and Abdominal pain
Then you’ll mercifully go unconscious and not wake back up.  That will be within four days, at the most, of not having access to good, potable drinking water.  That's all it takes before even the best of us will turn on our neighbors trying to stay alive.  Four days, the experts say, and we're animals.

So, now the good news: You have a faucet, you have tasty things to put in it because we are a fortunate people.  Go ahead and get a drink because it is easy to do just that.  Remember though, get prepared.  And to help us all do that, over the next several days we’re going to start exploring the most vital element to survival: Storing and treating our own water.

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