Sunday, August 16, 2009


A lot of stuff has been said about the nearly supernatural properties of water. Some people believe that you have to drink eight glasses of the stuff every day or all manner of dreadful things will happen to you.

But water is one of the most likely molecules to form, one of the most ubiquitous. If any biology were to develop, the odds are high that water molecules would be part of it; the stuff is a universal solvent, with a curious spread of thermal and electrostatic characteristics.

The human organism is (like most other terrestrial life forms) a complicated agglomeration of impurities in a blob of water, with interactions defined by the aqueous medium. These impurities — fats, proteins, minerals, and other kinds of molecules — interact with water either positively (hydrophilic) or negatively (hydrophobic); their interactions with each other are often enhanced by mutual hydrophilia or hydrophobia.

Some parts of us repel water; this is not unnatural, because if we didn't repel water, we'd quickly dissolve. In a sense, our continued existence is due to the residual equilibrium and other equilibria we have with water. I remember a medical case some years ago in which a person drank too much isotonic fluid and destroyed his muscles. Sometimes you need a hypertonic solution, sometimes you need a hypotonic one; these are defined by the amount of water relative to the amount of solvent.

Remember, your cells exist in balance with water levels. Too much water, and they will function as badly as if they had too little. The body excretes excess water, because it's bad for you. So perhaps the best rule is what I've learnt over the years: if you're hungry, eat; if you're thirsty, drink; if you need to excrete, do it with celerity.

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