by Sydney Stephenson
Just like a growing plant, the human body needs water to survive. Lots of water.
The concept is nothing new. But one medical researcher has a new twist on the idea that eight to 10 glasses of water each day helps keep the doctor away.
Iranian-born Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj (pronounced Batman-gel-edge), says water not only keeps people healthy, but when "prescribed" correctly, can cure common ailments such as asthma, allergies, high cholesterol, hypertension, chronic fatigue syndrome, morning sickness and ulcers. Drinking two eight-ounce glasses of water before each meal can also help people control their weight.
"People know water is good for them but they don't know why," says Batmanghelidj, of Falls Church, Virginia. "People don't know what happens to the body if it doesn't receive enough water. Even doctors do not know enough about the critical role water plays in the physiology of the human body."
Like the plant that begins to wilt and eventually die without enough water, so too our bodies begin to severely dehydrate for lack of moisture.
"If your body indicates that it's thirsty by way of 'dry mouth'," you're already dehydrated," says Batmanghelidj. The dehydration process only becomes more severe as the body ages, he says, because people lose their thirst sensation as they get older and stop drinking water -- yet the body still needs liquid.
Why is water so important? According to Batmanghelidj, water regulates all body functions. Cells in the body need water to efficiently transport proteins and enzymes to nerve endings. But that's not all. The flow of water in the body also acts as an important adhesive material between cells and transports sugars for energy.
When there's not enough water in the body, a sort of water rationing process kicks in, says Batmanghelidj. The brain is first in line to receive available water, followed by the kidney and liver. After that, it's every organ for itself.
"If there isn't enough water in the body, certain parts such as the glands or joints become dehydrated," says Batmanghelidj. "Those areas are then more susceptible to problems and that's how people get arthritis or become injured."
For example, in the case of an ulcer, excess acid has built up in the lining of the stomach because there hasn't been enough water to flush the acid out through the kidneys in the form of urine. For asthmatics, a lack of water in the body means less water evaporation into the lungs and breathing becomes even more difficult.
Dr. Batmanghelidj, known simply as Dr. Batman to his friends, received his medical training at London's St. Mary's Hospital Medical School. After his education, he returned to Iran to practice medicine, build hospitals and construct youth sports facilities.
Batmanghelidj's first foray into the world of water as a pain killer came during his incarceration as an Iranian political prisoner after the fall of the shah in 1979.
"Late one night, a man suffering from an untreated ulcer came to me with excruciating abdominal pain," remembers Batmanghelidj, who rarely talks about his days inside Iran's notorious Evin prison. "The man had swallowed an entire bottle of antacid," to no avail.
After determining that the man's ulcer had not caused an abdominal perforation, Batmanghelidj gave the man two glasses of water -- the only "medicine" available at the time, he says.
"Within 15 minutes the man's pain began to recede," says Batmanghelidj. "After drinking two glasses of water every three hours for several days," the patient's abdominal pain permanently subsided."
Batmanghelidj's discovery proved to be his salvation. By submitting an article on the medical uses of water to a prison trial judge, he was able to successfully defend 32 charges leveled against him. Any single guilty verdict carried the death penalty. His life was spared and he was given a three-year sentence. During that time he was allowed to continue his research among the confines of the prison. In all, Batmanghelidj treated more than 3,000 people with ulcers. He also claims to have treated hypertension and a number of other stress-related conditions, the prison being a "most ideal stress laboratory."
Batmanghelidj's research into water metabolism continued after his release from prison and his eventual escape from Iran in 1982. He's been advocating water as a cure to everyone from scientists at international conferences where he's been a guest lecturer to neighbors and friends.
"When I first started on [Dr. Batmanghelidj's] program I was overweight with high blood pressure and suffering from asthma and allergies," says Michael Peck of Austin, Texas.
"Today I have my weight and blood pressure under control. The program reduced the frequency of asthma and allergy-related problems to the point of practical nonexistence. I also experienced fewer colds and flus and generally with less severity."
Inspired by testimonials such as these, Batmanghelidj recently compiled his clinical observations and research into a book "Your Body's Many Cries for Water," which details the problem of dehydration and its impact on the body. His theories have also been published in scholarly publications like Anticancer Research and the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology.
"If people begin to correct their water habits we could reduce health care costs in the U.S. by 50 percent," states Batmanghelidj. "Hypertension alone is a $100 billion disorder. Back pain costs the nation $80 billion annually."
For most ailments, water takes several days to take effect as the cells in the body soak up water like a sponge, says Batmanghelidj. Headaches, however, may disappear in a few minutes after two glasses of water. With water, arthritis pain may subside in a few hours.
Most people who hear Batmanghelidj's ideas immediately worry that they'll spend more time in the bathrooms. But, he says, the kidneys eventually get used to the extra water and visits to the restroom are no more frequent than usual.
"It's important to remember that coffee, tea, soda and alcohol do not count as 'water' simply because they contain water," says Batmanghelidj. "All of these products are diuretics and can actually encourage dehydration."
But despite his confidence in the medical properties of water, Batmanghelidj still recommends people continue to visit the family physician.
"A doctor is needed to guide the individual," says Batmanghelidj. "Not all diseases can be cured by water such as infections and broken bones."
Doctors themselves, however, have been slow to embrace Batmanghelidj's less-than-mainstream theories.
"I know of no evidence that the average person does not get enough water," says Dr. Walter Mertz, a medical doctor who specializes in nutrition at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While water is the "second most important nutrient after oxygen," says Mertz, "I have seen no evidence that not drinking eight glasses of water each day has a significant harmful effect on the health of the average American."
Such skepticism has been difficult for Batmanghelidj to understand, particularly since the advice he's giving -- and the treatment he's advocating -- come free.
"I have abandoned tremendous personal fortune to bring this information to the West," he says with a shrug of indifference. "I no longer wish anyone would come to me and say 'here's this money'. I have conducted my research and seen its results firsthand. Now, I want to share my knowledge with society." He is also looking for his research to become widely accepted and utilized by physicians treating certain conditions.
Batmanghelidj's research is currently being examined by medical researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). One of the groups interested in his theories is housed in the Office of Alternative Medicine. Joe Jacobs, the office's director, calls the water theory "intriguing in terms of the enhanced clinical benefit that may be derived from drinking water." Jacobs would like to see Batmanghelidj test the hypothesis further with other clinicians.
"The U.S. medical community's reliance on the pharmaceutical industry amounts to large-scale and egregious fraud and misinformation," says Batmanghelidj. "The exorbitant rise in the cost of this nation's health care makes it critical to look for responsible options to traditional health care practices."
Even though he may have to wait for more Americans to take notice of his and other nontraditional medical research, at least the 62-year old doctor has his health -- thanks, he says, to water.
"I don't get sick," says Batmanghelidj. "In the past ten years, I've never had occasion to use the U.S. health care system."
That's something to drink a glass of water to.
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