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A water glass raised high in the new year makes for good health

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The first thing the Columbia River tribes do before every
salmon feast is drink water. As one people, those gathered raise their
glasses and thank the Creator for this wondrous life-giving liquid.

The Hopi, living high on their dry mesas in the Southwest, have long
appreciated water as well. The steep footpaths leading down to the springs
tucked in the sides of the mesas are well-worn by women who, for centuries,
made daily treks to fill their clay water jugs. As indigenous people
everywhere understand, water truly is the gift of life.

That's why, even though denizens of the 21st century are further removed
from nature's economy than were their ancestors, keeping a clear bead on
water is smart. According to registered dietitian Barbara J. Gewirtz,
"Water is a critical, but often overlooked, nutrient. Unlike some other
nutrients, water is not stored for times when the body's requirements
rise." Gerwitz added that "the absence of thirst is not a telltale sign of
adequate hydration." So being proactive when it comes to drinking water is
the ticket.

Researchers at Loma Linda University Medical Center in southern California
say that drinking enough water figures significantly into cardiac health.
In a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, lead
researcher Jacqueline Chan, who has a doctorate in public health, stated
that people who drank five glasses of water a day lowered their risk for
fatal heart attacks -- 54 percent in males and 41 percent in females.

Another advocate for water consumption is chiropractic orthopedist James J.
Lehman of Albuquerque, who suspects a correlation between not getting
enough water and back pain. "Normally people have a tendency to experience
some temporary muscle soreness after their initial chiropractic spinal
manipulation," wrote Lehman. "During a hot spell, several patients [who were not drinking enough water] exhibited this muscle soreness not only
after their initial chiropractic treatments, but after their follow-up
chiropractic treatments as well."

Other medical problems are also known to improve when patients stay
well-hydrated. The risk of urinary tract infections and kidney stones tend
to decrease, and successful weight loss increases. The catch is, though,
that while getting one's fluids in the form of herb tea is okay, coffee,
alcohol and soda pop -- all of which actually work to dehydrate the body --
don't count. Moreover, things like milk, juice and sports drinks tend not
to be the best choices because they require more digestion and also have
added calories.

For those who don't like plain water, Gerwitz suggested a squeeze of fresh
citrus like lemon, lime or orange. She also thinks that experimenting with
temperature can help. Storing bottles of cold water in the refrigerator
might be the answer for some, while others might prefer water at room
temperature or hot in a cup of herb tea. Also, to get enough water, Gerwitz
advised people to drink a glass on rising, one with each meal and one
between meals. Eight glasses a day is the goal, and she noted that people
can monitor how they are doing by observing their urine: "Dark-colored
urine often suggests you aren't drinking enough water."

"I remember this one woman back when we were all in school in Flagstaff,"
said Loralinda Tsosie of the Dine' Nation. "I was pretty plump back then,
and she was lean and mean -- a racquetball champion and everything. I
noticed how often she went for the drinking fountain. It was like all the
time. Not like me; I never did. Then sometime in the afternoon I'd start
getting real thirsty. That's when I'd go for the sodas and chips in the
machines. All that stuff didn't do my body any favors and just burned up my
pocketbook as well," Tsosie laughed. "But the Wal-Marts of the world saw me
coming, and these days I just buy bottled water."

Tsosie said that she bought herself a refillable water bottle. "So that's
my New Year's resolution: to take the $500 or more that I used to throw
away on bottled and canned everything and use it toward my health; maybe
some new sweats and nice walking shoes or something. I know heading down
that road will make me feel better and be happier, so that's what I want to
give myself in 2006. Because you know, if mamma's not happy, nobody's
happy!"