I had hoped to get this out a couple of weeks ago but things have been a little hectic as I recently moved house, and also got a dog. My life has revolved around packing and unpacking boxes and throwing sticks in the park. Thankfully, things have now settled down and work (and this blog) is now back on track.
A concept that I have been looking into lately is the effect of water on blood sugar levels. This was something brought to my attention by Matt Stone, one of my favourite bloggers on nutrition. We have all heard the advice to drinks 8 cups of water a day and it is advice I used to follow religiously. But over the last couple of months I have been changing how much water I drink and re-evaluating the blanket advice.
Anyone who knows me well knows I have the bladder of a child or an elderly lady. Even as a grown up when going on family outings my Mum would check to see if I had gone to the toilet before we left. When I had an office job every day I would barely make it to work without having to break into a sprint to get to the toilet. It would be the same situation when I got home – entering the front door, throwing everything on the ground and running to the toilet.
I would talk to people who said they urinated 5 or 6 times a day and this amazed me. Most days I would have easily urinated 5 or 6 times before lunch, sometimes having to go 2 or 3 times in a single hour.
So when I came across Matt’s theory (you can see one of his posts on the topic here), it really perked my interest. He states that if you are getting really frequent urination, urgency to go, and profuse amounts of urine that is clear, it is a fair indication that your blood sugars have dropped or crashed. Often around the same time your body temperature will be cooler, especially getting cold hands and feet.
This described me perfectly, especially in the early part of the day (a time he states is worse for a lot of people). He suggests for anyone who is suffering with these symptoms it’s a good idea to not drink liquids at this time. He even takes it a step further and mentions the liquid content of food. For anyone who has real blood sugar issues the water content of something like an apple or an orange or the milk used on a bowl of cereal can be enough to cause problems.
He also suggests liberal use of sugar during the times of the day you get the most problems. For me this means using lots of maple syrup, honey, and black strap molasses – good natural sugars that have been minimally processed and so contain lots of vitamins and minerals. Liberal amounts of salt are also useful, either as salty snacks or heavy salting of foods and drinks.
Like lots of new concepts I come across in nutrition, I decided to try this out on myself. For my new regime when I would wake up in the mornings I might have a sip of water but that would be it. No tea, no coffee, no hot water and lemon.
I have been trying to have drier foods for breakfast, things like scrambled eggs on toast, French toast or homemade pancakes with maple syrup. Instead of a mid morning snack of things like celery, cucumber, carrots and peppers, I have been having dried fruit (dates, sultanas, raisins) with something salty or savoury like cheese or oat cakes. I often even have a more substantial mid morning snack like baked potatoes with butter and cheese or quinoa with lots of salt, pepper and olive oil.
So how have I been getting on? So far I have been getting less frequent crashes. The urgency to urinate has basically disappeared and frequency has dropped to every 3 or 4 hours, even in the second half of the day when I am doing most of my drinking. The problem hasn’t been totally solved, as I am still getting periods of cold hands and feet but they are less frequent and my general body temperature has become warmer. Most of the time when I do get a crash, it has been because I have been busy and have forgotten to eat a snack.
When the blood sugars crash, it sends the body into a stress response. The cold hands and feet are a sign of increased glucocorticoids, stress hormones that are used to increase blood sugars. They are trying to get sugar stored in the liver to be used for energy. Failing this they start breaking down tissue and organs to be converted into glucose. In short, this is not a state you want to be in.
The quickest way to remedy this is give the body what it needs – sugar and electrolytes. I normally have a spoonful of honey, maple syrup or black strap molasses with a bit of salt that I dissolve under my tongue. This is a temporary measure that helps to give the body energy and shut off the stress response. From here I know I need to eat some proper food and will have a meal that includes some protein, fat and carbohydrate. Normally within 15-30 minutes my hands are back to being nice and warm.
I know not drinking any water for the first half of the day might go against the normal mentality but if water is flushing out the sugars from your system then it really makes sense. And I know it’s not everyday that you hear a nutritionist telling you to eat straight sugar, but it serves a purpose. The stress response in the body causes much more damage then any spoon of sugar. You then follow it up with proper food that is more substantial – a much better tactic then what most people do, which is have a can of coke (or diet coke) with a packet of crisps or chocolate bar.
Every now and then I still have water in the morning just to test it out. Even if I have a small glass of water, I find that I will pee 4 or 5 times in a 2-3 hour window, and way more fluids then what I have taken in. The same happens even if I make a fresh juice, which has lots of natural sugars in it; unfortunately the water content is just too high and it causes problems.
After lunch it seems to all change. I find it much easier to stay warm in the second half of the day. My urine has become a stronger colour of yellow and I can now drink fluids without it causing me problems.
The second half of the days is where I drink most of my water, as well as orange juice and other fresh juices. I am definitely drinking a lot less water than I used to and feeling much better for it. When I do have water I normally sprinkle in a pinch of sea salt. It helps me to hold onto the water better and because I am also taking in some electrolytes, the water doesn’t have such a flushing effect on my system (I do the same when I have orange juice).
At the other end of the time scale is night time urination. If you are waking in the night to pee it can be caused by the same problem; you blood sugars have crashed, and you wake up to urinate. This can often be the reason for children wetting the bed. A simple tip is to have something sweet or sugary before going to bed. This could be anything from a little bit of dried fruit, through to a bowl of ice cream depending on the severity.
If you are someone who suffers from night time urination, then during the evening you should limit your water intake. Try having no fluid with dinner and see how it helps. Avoid having teas (even if they are herbal) in the later part of the day or at night time.
From my experiments on myself over the last couple of months and using this advice with clients I really am convinced that Matt Stone is onto something with the water and blood sugar connection. It’s something that is so simple to change but can have such a big impact. While frequent urination might seem trivial, it is just the tip of the iceberg in a sense; it is a window that shows you that stress response that is occurring in the body. And it is a stress response that you can easily avoided.
Caution: I am not telling people to stop drinking water by any means; there is plenty of truth in the warnings about dehydration. What I am suggesting is for you to use your own body to work out how much water (and fluids) that you should be drinking, rather than just following the 8 cups per day rhetoric. You should be urinating every 3 or 4 hours and it should be straw coloured, not too dark but not too clear either.
Follow Chris on Facebook and Twitter.
Chris Sandel is the founder of www.seven-health.com. He is a nutritionist, working with clients on a one-on-one basis, as well as creating online trainings and products about health and nutrition. He is the author of The Health Trap: Why "Healthy" Eating Isn't Always Healthy which is available on Amazon UK and Amazon USA.
Chris has three free emails series. One is on how to quit dieting. One is on simple tests you can do at home. And the other is his take on the world's healthiest foods.