People have long sought the secret to living a longer and healthier life, and researchers believe they’ve discovered part of that equation. It could be as simple as drinking enough water.

A new study published in The Lancet journal eBioMedicine, finds people who stay properly hydrated are less likely to show signs of premature aging and chronic illnesses.

Higher Blood Sodium Levels Linked to Older Biological Age

Researchers looked at health data accumulated for over 25 years from nearly 16,000 adults between 45 and 66 years old from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study to analyze their serum sodium levels—the amount of sodium in their blood—as a proxy for how much water they regularly drink.

Data collection began in 1987, and the average age of participants at the final assessment during the study period was 76.

The findings indicate that adults with serum sodium levels at the higher end of the normal range (135 to 146 milliequivalents per liter, or mEq/L) experienced worse health outcomes than those at the lower end of that range.

Participants with levels above 142 mEq/L experienced up to a 64 percent higher risk for chronic diseases that include stroke, heart failure, peripheral artery disease, atrial fibrillation, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and dementia.

They also had a 10 to 15 percent increased risk of being biologically older than their actual age, compared with adults whose levels were within 137 to 142 mEq/L.

Those with levels between 144.5 and 146 mEq/L showed a 21 percent increased risk of premature death. However, adults who maintained their serum sodium levels between 138 and 140 mEq/L showed the lowest risk of developing chronic diseases.

While these findings can’t prove that staying hydrated can reduce disease risk, the researchers did establish an association between water intake and long-term health.

“Decreased body water content is the most common factor that increases serum sodium, which is why the results suggest that staying well hydrated may slow down the aging process and prevent or delay chronic disease,”  study author Natalia Dmitrieva, a researcher at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said in a statement.

The authors also cited research that finds about half of all people worldwide don’t meet recommendations for daily total water intake, which typically starts at six cups or 1.5 liters.

“I think it [sodium] is one piece of the puzzle,” Dr. Jessica Zwerling, a neurologist affiliated with Montefiore Medical Center, told The Epoch Times. She thought the study did a nice job using sodium as a proxy for aging.

She pointed out that it’s necessary to look at many other factors, like hormones, inflammation, and cytokines (signaling cells), that may also influence aging.

The findings suggest it’s important to keep serum sodium in an optimal range. Researchers found health risks were also higher among people with low serum sodium. This is consistent with previous research that found increased mortality in healthy people with low serum sodium levels.

The findings of that study indicate that regardless of blood pressure status, lower-than-normal sodium levels are associated with more heart attacks, strokes, and deaths compared to average intake.

How Much Water We Need Depends on Different Factors

According to research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), adult women should drink about 2.2 liters of water per day, and adult men should aim for roughly three liters.

However, this doesn’t mean you need to drink those exact amounts.

“There have been good studies looking for ranges in women and men, around the two to two and a half liters per day range,” said Zwerling. “But [only] 80 percent of that [water intake] comes from drink.”

There’s water content in the food we eat that counts toward our daily intake. The recommendation can also be different according to the health conditions we have, or certain medications we’re taking.

“Or if you have an acute infection, which can require drinking more water than the recommended amount,” said Zwerling.

You Can Drink Too Much Water

Electrolytes, like sodium, are vital minerals that act as charged particles to carry electrical current across cells. This electrical current is essential for nerve stimulation, muscle contraction, and fluid regularity.

A deficiency can lead to a variety of undesirable symptoms like lack of energy, extreme fatigue, muscle soreness, blood pressure irregularity, and confusion. So maintaining a balance is essential to maintain overall health.

“Sodium plays one of the most important roles in the body,” said Beata Rydyger, a registered nutritionist based in Los Angeles and clinical nutritional advisor to Zen Nutrients. “However, other electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and calcium also play vital roles and thus require daily maintenance.”

While proper daily hydration is essential for optimal health, drinking too much can pose a health risk and even become life-threatening.

“The kidneys release approximately a quart of fluid per hour,” explained Rydyger. “Excess amounts of water intake can lead to a condition known as hyponatremia (low blood sodium).”

Drinking more than the kidneys can eliminate causes the dilution of sodium, which is an essential electrolyte, and cause cells to swell and inflame.

Symptoms of hyponatremia include headache, nausea, vomiting, and confusion—and in serious cases, seizures or death.

Certain lifestyle factors, like exercise, can exacerbate this risk [by causing excessive thirst], cautioned Rydyger.

George Citroner is a health reporter for The Epoch Times.

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