Water for Digestion: When and How Much to Drink for Better Gut Health

Research shows that a person's health is related to how stable, or resilient their microbiome is.  A lot of common diseases are linked to changes in the types and amounts of microbes in the gut such as immunity, mental health, heart disease, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and even body weight (Singh R et al 2017). Interestingly, people with the same disease have some similar bacteria in their gut and when their health changes, so does their microbiome.  

Is water essential for gut health and digestion? The connection between water and your digestive system is something that is often forgotten about. Below are 5 reasons how being well hydrated can improve your gut health.

  1. Water is essential for digestion.

Most foods contain fluid in the form of water. Foods like fruit and vegetables and dairy foods contain a lot (up to 80% in foods such as melons) but even solid foods such as bread, cakes and biscuits contain up to 30% fluid. So even if you are not drinking with your meals, your digestive system is getting fluid which helps soften the food into a paste which is necessary for food to be able to pass from your stomach to your small intestine. 

  1. Water or fluid is essential to absorb nutrients.

When the digestive enzymes break food down, they need it in a finely divided form, suspended in enough liquid so that every particle is accessible to be absorbed through the gut wall. So, drinking a glass of water with your meal can help make digestion easier and more efficient.

  1. Water keeps you regular.

After water has been used to help your body absorb nutrients from food, it ends up in the large intestine. Being hydrated means that less water needs to be absorbed back into the body from the large intestine which leaves more in your poo, making it soft and easy to pass.  Being dehydrated is one of the most common reasons people end up with constipation (dry and hard stools) which become a pain in the butt to get rid of (literally!).

  1. Hydration is good for your microbiome.

While we know that probiotics and prebiotics can be good for your gut health, did you know that water could also be helpful (and is free!). Recent research on a large sample of people in the US and UK found that people who drank a lot of water (daily or usually) had different gut bacteria than people who drank little water (never, rarely, or occasionally). For example, people who drank a lot of water had fewer Campylobacter bugs, which has been linked to gut infections.  


  1. Hot drinks can get things moving

If you are feeling a bit sluggish, having a nice warm or hot drink may get things moving again. Warm drinks stimulate the gastrointestinal tract to move all the way along from the top to the bottom. So, if you are having issues with heartburn, constipation or even just the hiccups, try drinking a mug of your favourite hot drink (even if it is a bit of warm water with lemon which is a favourite!) and see if that gets things flowing again.

We have all known that water is an essential elixir for life. We can’t survive long without it, but the benefits go beyond staying alive. Generally, if you are dehydrated you may find yourself tired, constipated and put greater strain on your kidney health. But hydration is also important for the health of your microbiome and gut. So, as it starts to heat up, remember the drink bottle and fill it with anything that you can to stay hydrated. All drinks (apart from coffee and alcohol) count so include some variety to find something you enjoy! And remember your fruit and vegetables – they are important sources of fluids too!

November 24, 2023