Tapping essentials

MARQUETTE – Jenn Hill, education program manager at the Superior Watershed Partnership – who knows a thing or two about water – walked away from the Thursday “Science on Tap” program, acknowledging she didn’t realize much water consumption affects the human body.

Most likely, the packed house at the Ore Dock Brewing Company didn’t either.

Scott Emerson, M.D., a medical toxicologist and integrative medicine physician, spoke on “Water: The Most Essential & Mysterious Nut” as well as Flint’s poisoned water during the latest event in the series, which features science in a laid-back, pub setting.

Science being a main focus, cellular activity and water were part of Emerson’s talk.

Water has an interesting effect on a body’s metabolic activity, Emerson said. If a cell is hydrated, it wants to take in glucose and build glycogen, while if a cell is dehydrated, it wants to break down glycogen.

Hydration, then, has an insulin-like effect while dehydration is the anti-insulin, he pointed out.

“It’s known that obese people have a tendency for fluid imbalance, dehydration and type 2 diabetes, so could the hydration of the cell be part of the effect of having type 2 diabetes?” Emerson asked. “This is an area of intense study right now.”

Water is known, he said, to transport nutrients and wastes, maintain a cell’s shape and act as a solvent, with one of its most important functions the stabilization of body temperature. It also can cool sweat.

Emerson had a crucial piece of advice.

“It’s important to remember that you need to drink before you’re thirsty,” Emerson said, “because by the time you’re thirsty, you’re already way, way dry.”

And even when people drink water and rehydrate, they’re still dehydrated even after the thirst sensation goes away, he said.

It’s recommended that men in the 19- to 70-year-old range drink 3.5 to 4 liters of water per day, with women drinking 2.5 to 3 liters per day, according to Emerson, who stressed infants can become dehydrated quickly because of their various issues, such as fever and vomiting in addition to their small size.

For instance, in the Third World, the use of formula instead of breast milk is the main cause of dehydration – another reason the latter is the best food for infants, he said.

“It’s got the proper balance of water, everything,” Emerson said.

The elderly also are at particular risk of dehydration, with Emerson pointing out it’s estimated 5 to 10 percent of all nursing home patients are severely dehydrated because of risk factors such as diuretics and a poor appetite for wet foods, among other reasons.

A dish of lime Jell-O might come in handy in this scenario.

“It’s important to remember, if you’ve got someone who doesn’t like to drink water, that gelatins are 90 percent water,” Emerson said, “so that’s a good source of water if they don’t like just plain water because it doesn’t taste good, because it doesn’t have any taste.”

For anyone, though, dehydration can have bad side effects.

“We’ve all been really thirsty, working on a hot day,” Emerson said, “and the first thing that goes is your mind.”

However, the real “400-pound gorilla in the room,” he said, is the sweating loss. That can result in decreased concentration, problems with short-term memory and headaches.

“Again, the mantra is: Drink before you’re thirsty,” Emerson said.

In fact, drinking a 16-ounce glass of water – cold in the summer and tepid in the winter – the first thing in the morning is a habit to which he’s become accustomed.

“Even if I’m not thirsty, I just pound that right down,” Emerson said.

Case in point: Getting brain fog during the day in the past, he said, was alleviated not by drinking more coffee, but by drinking water.

So, water could be considered good medicine.

“It does have mental effects,” Emerson said. “It’s like a brain tonic. If you’re dehydrated, you’re not thinking properly.”

Emerson also touched on the Flint water crisis, which resulted when the use of corrosive Flint River water, with no anti-corrosive agent added, eventually resulted in lead seeping into tap water.

“There’s basically no good use for lead in the body,” said Emerson, who noted Flint levels were in some areas 100 times greater than what is considered an “actionable” level. “It’s a poison.”

It’s also difficult, he said, for treatment to reverse the effects from lead poisoning.

“This is why it’s so disastrous with kids,” Emerson said.

The American College of Medicine, in a recent news release, indicated children are particularly vulnerable to lead’s harmful effects because they absorb it more readily than adults.

Emerson said people make donations to help children affected by the Flint water crisis by visiting flintkids.org.

The “Science on Tap” series, which is free and open to the public, takes place on the second Thursday of each month at the Ore Dock Brewing Co., 114 W. Spring St., giving people the chance to hear about topics like regional geology of the Precambrian Era and how weather affected the Edmund Fitzgerald – while tossing back an artisan brew.

The series is sponsored by the Northern Michigan University Chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society. The creative poster design is handled by Emily Weddle Design, LLC.

Norma Froelich, assistant professor in NMU’s Department of Earth Environmental and Geographical Sciences, is involved with the series, which has been going for just over a year. She said the series shows students how NMU is active in research and not just involved in teaching.

Why is the relaxed setting appealing?

“Not having to memorize all the details,” Froelich said, “and partly to see some of the fun parts of science, targeting kind of the ‘Hey, now, that’s really kind of cool’ kind of stuff a little bit.”

Examples of that cool stuff used in past presentations, she said, included a pile of toothpicks and gumdrops used to “make your own molecules” and actual rock collections.

The next talk, “Tapping the Future: Research by NMU’s Student Scholars,” is set for April 14. A special “Angry Bear edition” event is scheduled for 3 p.m. April 9, featuring Kevin Swanson, bear and wolf specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.