By Dr. Mercola
Dr. Zach Bush is a physician and researcher with a practice in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bush is triple board-certified in internal medicine, endocrinology and metabolism, as well as hospice and palliative care, giving him an unusually broad range of expertise. Before he switched his focus to nutrition and natural medicine, he was a cancer researcher.
In our last interview, we discussed intracellular communication and the importance of soil microbes in the growing of food. Here, our focus is on hydration.
“A lot of our discussion last time was around the gut. There’s rising awareness in the medical industry, as well as in the lay public, of the importance of gut health for human health.
However, even though this general correlation has now been largely assumed, if not proven, there remains a disconnect between understanding why gut health is so important and how it impacts so many phases of health and disease. Hydration, this topic we’re covering today, is a huge piece of that puzzle,” Bush says.
Your gut is an important part of the hydration cycle. The question is, how do you move water from the intestinal lining into your bloodstream and, more importantly, into your cells? As noted by Bush, when we talk about hydration, we’re not simply talking about drinking enough water throughout the day but, more specifically, getting water inside your cells.
“That’s two vastly different things,” he says. A common recommendation to ensure hydration is to drink water until your urine runs clear. Unfortunately, even most medical professionals are stuck in this simplified mindset. “It’s not unusual to put 5 liters of water into somebody’s vein in a matter of hours in the operating room or the emergency room,”
Bush says, “And so, we have this huge infusion into the bloodstream, but unfortunately, that does not necessarily translate into water inside the cell. That, as it turns out, is really a crux of what we call the aging process.”
About two-thirds of your body is composed of water, and a majority of that water — about 66 to 70 percent — is within your cells and lymph system. With age, your body tends to lose its ability to get water from the vasculature, the extracellular environment, to the inside of your cells. “If we could stay perfectly hydrated in the intracellular environment, our aging would slow down if not reverse,” Bush says. The reason is because water is an important mechanism by which you remove toxins and naturally-produced oxidants from your body.
Intracellular Hydration Is Key for Health
So, the crux is to hydrate your cells, and simply drinking water is not typically the most effective strategy to achieve this. Oftentimes the water you drink will simply be urinated out before it has a chance to get into your cells. And, without proper intracellular hydration, your health suffers. Bush explains:
“The obvious thing around hydration is the inflammatory processes. Chronic inflammation is the accumulation of oxidative compounds within our cells and then, ultimately, within the bloodstream. That is largely the result of a lack of interaction of hydrogen that’s within the water system. Water is one of the main carriers of hydrogen. This affects every signaling system in your body, and perhaps most notable, beyond the [cleansing] part, is actual fuel production.
Your cells run on ATP, adenosine triphosphate. ATP is produced by the mitochondria, which look like bacteria, but they live inside your cells. They’re about 100 times smaller than bacteria. These mitochondria take the sugar and fat out of your food system and turn that into ATP. They do that through a series of enzymes. The respiratory chain is a series of enzymes in the wall of the mitochondria that is the one that will ultimately result in the production of ATP.
Interestingly, the F1F0 [ATP synthase] pump, a tiny molecular structure at the end of this enzyme pathway, is what will convert one adenosine diphosphate to one molecule of ATP. That last step requires four hydrogens, two oxygens and two electrons …
When you think about the structure of water, which is going to be a combination of two hydrogen [molecules] for every oxygen [molecule], you basically have two H2O molecules, and their concerted electrons are going to be necessary for that last step of fuel production.
The clinical manifestation of aging and inflammation is ultimately one of the loss of fuel production at the mitochondrial level. As you get dehydrated, as you fail to get oxygen and hydrogen in the form of water inside the cell, you lose the ability for those mitochondria to be cranking out all of that energy … used for cellular repair, replacement and the whole anti-aging effort.”
Oxygen Derived From Intercellular Water
In aerobic respiration that occurs in the mitochondria, the ultimate electron acceptor is oxygen. A common belief is that oxygen is derived from the air we breathe. But Bush contends that oxygen is also derived from hydrolysis of intercellular water into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O), and that to consistently get the proper ratio of oxygen to hydrogen, you need to liberate the oxygen from the water (H2O).
“[T]he H2 molecule is now recognized to be one of the best selective antioxidants for the hydroxyl free radical. What that means is that the hydroxyl free radical, which is the most noxious to the cell membrane and our ability to do cell maintenance, can be scrubbed or picked up by the H2.
In this way, the water you’re drinking is a delivery of both oxygen and hydrogen in a nice ratio where you can release the O’s with their electrons. They become O2. They release H’s in the form of H2. They become a scrubber of inflammation and substrate for the ATP pump.”
According to Bush, all of his patients are dehydrated. Indeed, he believes virtually everyone is dehydrated to some extent. In his clinic, he measures hydration by measuring phase angle. Phase angle is measured in a way similar to that of a whole body bioimpedance that is typically done to measure body fat. It uses electrocardiograph leads placed on your limbs and allows you to measure the electrical resistance to a standardized current running through your body tissues.
How to Measure Your Hydration Level
For the phase angle, leads are placed on your wrist, finger, ankle and toe. Lying flat, the resistance and reactions across your entire body are measured. This measurement gives you a good ides of your cells’ ability to hold an electrical charge and there’s a direct correlation between the phase angle and an individual’s hydration level.
As explained by Bush, “An electrical charge across the single cell membrane is a very powerful measure of your capacity to intracellularly hydrate, to get water inside of your cells … I’ve never seen somebody coming in with a health complaint with a phase angle better than 7.” In the general public, the angle phase bell curve is between 3.5 and 10. Death tends to happen around 3.5.
“Interestingly, all of our cancer patients tend to come in around 4.5 or below, which is interesting because it suggests, from a hydration standpoint … cancer doesn’t happen until you’re so dry that you’re nearly dead. In this way, cancer is not a disease that pops out of anywhere.
It’s simply a lack of water within the cells. You get an accumulation of oxidative damage, which will then do the DNA injury and all of these other things that we think of as being the cancer process … Ideal health is up around 10. Death is around 3.5. Most of us in the U.S. are living between 6 and 8, and those are people in good health.”
The Health of Your Cellular Membranes Influences Your Ability to Properly Hydrate
Bush has done a lot of work on tight junctions — Velcro-like proteins that create macromembranes that hold the cells together. One of the primary tools used to measure the health of these membranes is transepithelial electrical resistance (TEER), an ohmmeter with microscopic filament attachments that allows you to measure both the inside and outside of the membrane, giving you an indication of the resistance across the epithelial layer. Bush explains:
“That epithelial layer is acting as a resistor, if you will, just like the rubber on a copper wire. That plastic or rubber coating on the wire is insulating it so that the electricity stays inside the wire and doesn’t short out. In the same way, your macromembranes, the barrier systems of your gut lining, of your blood vessel tree, the blood-brain barrier, all of these create an electrical gradient across them at the macrolevel.
What we’ve shown, with regard to hydration, is that the higher that electrical charge across that membrane, the more likely you are to pull water across … You’ve got over a billion cells forming your gut lining. If you just take one of those cells … the electrical charge across that [cell], when you’re healthy, when you’re up around the phase angle of 10 to 12 … that charge is above 10,000 volts.
Imagine the electrical energy of a lightning bolt being held across a barrier that’s just a few microns in space. It defies our normal understanding of Newtonian physics. It’s absolutely down in the quantum physics realm that a cell membrane that tiny is able to hold that enormous electrical charge. What builds that electrical charge is ultimately the mitochondria.
We talked about the mitochondria cranking out ATP. In the process of taking glucose or fat and turning it into ATP, the electron transport chain, Krebs cycle — all of these mechanisms of fuel production — create electrons. You’re creating this high electrical force within the cell through mitochondrial energy production. That leads to a gradient. A high electrical gradient is going to pull water inside the cell …
[So,] you can’t talk about mitochondrial health or mitochondrial production or fuel production without talking about water. Those two are absolutely inseparable …
If you start taking a bunch of supplements but you don’t have that electrical charge across the membrane, you can’t get the [nutrient] to transit into where it needs to be, because you’re lacking all of that intracellular commerce that’s being driven primarily by the electrical charge that’s driving water that will pull the rest of it with it.”
Your Phase Angle Provides a Sense of Your Biological Age
About a year and a half ago I visited Bush’s clinic and had a phase angle test done. To locate a practitioner that can provide this service, see RJL Systems’ Locate a Practitioner page.1 At the time, my phase angle was about 5.6. I was quite annoyed because I thought my healthy lifestyle would result in a better reading.
But it motivated me to make some changes and in about nine months I got it up to about 6.4 and more recently it has climbed to 7.0. It’s a rather slow process, as it’s not influenced by temporary situations but a rather long-term reflection of your biology. According to Bush:
“The phase angle … is the best technique for really developing a sense of biologic age. You went from a 5.6 to a 6.4 over about a nine-month period … So, in just nine months on some very simple interventions, you reversed your age by 10 to 15 years biologically by getting that phase angle up. The chance of you developing a chronic disease, something like cancer, just went dramatically down because you’re getting water inside the cell — you’re scrubbing the whole system out …
We’re all very aware that we have toxin accumulation in our body … But all of our detox efforts are ineffective if we’re not getting water inside the cell. With your phase angle going up, now all of your detox efforts are going to be far more potent and effective.
Why is it so slow? It’s slow because it’s literally showing you the mitochondrial potential in the reservoir of your ability to repair in 70 trillion cells … It’s mind-boggling huge numbers. It’s one thing to say, ‘I improved kidney health today by hydrating,’ or, ‘I stopped drinking alcohol, so now my liver is healthier.’
We’re not talking about a single organ with the phase angle. We’re talking about the total global population in your body of 70 trillion cells. How do we affect that and what is it doing? That’s where the phase angle is a powerful tool.”
Improving Hydration Does Not Require Drinking More Water
It’s important to note that I was able to improve my phase angle without increasing the amount of water I drink. Again, when we’re talking about hydration, it’s not a matter of just drinking water, because you’re likely to just pee the extra water out if you don’t have a sufficiently high electrical charge. To actually improve the electrical charge across your membranes, Bush recommends:
• Taking terrahydrite humic compounds such as Restore,2 which helps support your macromembranes, allowing for greater intracellular hydration. Restore also works on the mitochondria to ramp up the reactive oxygen species production in damaged cells, which takes the stress off healthy cells. All of that helps shift the electrical potential of your mitochondria to increase the electrical charge, which allows more water to enter the cells.
• Reducing electromagnetic field (EMF) toxicity. “What is the relationship between hydration and EMF? This is a really cool subject,” Bush says. “The tight junction is actually helps maintain … the integrity of the cell-to-cell adhesion, allowing maintenance of the gap junctions that lay behind the tight junction barrier system.”
As explained by Bush, you have tens of thousands of gap junctions between one cell and the next cell — tubules that resemble fiber optic cables when viewed under electron microscopy. These gap junctions pass electrical light energy from one cell cytoplasm to the next cell without ever exiting into the extracellular matrix. In other words, a healthy cell population is one concurrent “mass of electrical energy” that can pass through this virtual “electrical circuit board” of the cells.
A number of environmental stressors can damage your gap junction system, including pesticides and other chemicals, EMF, alcohol and drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. “These compounds are very noxious to the tight junction systems,” Bush warns. And, when the gap junctions are disconnected, you end up with a decrease in electrical energy coherence, and a reduction in the frequency resonance between your cells.
In a dehydrated state, you end up accumulating toxins due to a lack of electrical energy flow. When you add in exposure to cellphones, Wi-Fi routers and other wireless technologies that output high amounts of electrical resonance, your already disconnected cells become prone to resonating to the wrong frequency.
“This is one of the critical realities. We cannot talk about tight junction damage or dehydration without mentioning this third toxicity that we’re exposed to, which is environmental frequency resonance that’s nonhuman,” Bush says.
The Importance of Water, Electrolytes and Fiber
According to Bush, a good rule of thumb for water intake is 1 ounce of water per kilogram of body weight. “So, if you’re a 75-kilogram, i.e., about 150- or 165-pound individual, you should be drinking around 70 to 75 ounces of water a day,” he says. However, as mentioned, cellular hydration goes beyond the need for water.
You also need to address the electrical charge within your cells. Two important measures were just discussed above (supporting your macromembranes with Restore and reducing EMF exposure). Drinking electrolyte-rich water is also important, as it too helps build electrical charges.
“The classic electrolyte in our American diet is sodium chloride (table salt)” Bush says. “Sodium chloride has a positive charge around the sodium and a negative charge around the chloride. That chloride anion, or negative charge, is one of the mega potentials there for hydration … Of course, there are many other important sources.
For example, potassium chloride is a classic delivery system for chloride. However, potassium chloride can stop the heart at a certain dose. There’s a fine line between dose and overdose when it comes to just about anything in nature. But certainly, the electrolytes are one of these … The easy way to titrate your electrolytes is by your bowel movements. If you start to develop loose stools when you’re adding electrolytes, you’re probably adding a little bit too much electrolyte.
You can get electrolyte powders at any natural food store. Some of them are liquids. Some of them are powders. I don’t have a brand preference overall. I would say, think about mixing it up, and see what your body tolerates. Some of the liquid ones are so concentrated that they can cause nausea.
A lot of people will get diarrhea or loose stools on them … Find the dose at which your bowel is tolerating that electrolyte load. It’s important to note that you don’t only want to drink electrolyte water. You’d want to drink both free water and electrolyte water intermittently throughout the day …
When I’m going through a hydration protocol with my patients, for three days they’ll do an intensive hydration protocol where they’re drinking 4 ounces every 30 minutes. They’ll do that from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Then they’ll give their body a break. They can pee off what they need to before they go to sleep at 9:30 or 10 p.m. In that 12 hours of intense hydration every 30 minutes, every other [4-ounce dose] has electrolyte in it.”
Another important component is fiber. “Fiber is one of the most important mechanisms by which your fruits, vegetables and, ultimately, your body, are going to manage water,” Bush says. Fruits and vegetables also contain other valuable micronutrients, including silica, which not only benefits your gut microbiome, but also helps improve hydration inside your cells. An herbal supplement that provides high amounts of organified silica is horsetail. Avoid mineral silica, as it actually promotes oxidation and is very dehydrating.
Come and See Dr. Bush Speak in November in Orlando
I first met Dr. Bush at the Academy of Comprehensive and Integrative Medicine (ACIM) in Orlando two years ago. It is by far my favorite professional event to attend as there is just a stellar group of clinicians sharing their insights on how to optimize health with natural strategies that are typically ignored by conventional medicine.
Of course, I will also be speaking along with a list of many other outstanding clinicians, such as Drs. Dietrich Klinghardt, Lee Cowden, Daniel Amen and many others that you can see here. If you are a clinician, I could not encourage you more strongly to join me in Orlando November 8 through 11. If you are an interested lay person, there will be a two-day event for you that last year had 500 attendees, at which I will also be sharing my latest strategies on how to improve your health.
To learn more about Bush’s work, products and educational events, see his website, ZachBushMD.com.