|Reflections on Vichy Catalan mineral water.
|By Dr. Jordi Carbonell Abelló
Former Head of the Rheumatology Department and former Coordinator of the Musculoskeletal System Unit at
HOSPITAL DE LA ESPERANZA, BARCELONA
Medical Director of the Municipal Health Care Institute
HOSPITAL DE MAR, BARCELONA
To talk about water is to talk
about the essence of life itself.
All the life-forms that we know had
their origins in the sea and, by
means of a slow, continued process
that covered a substantial part of
our planet's history, the most elementary
forms of life evolved into the complex
forms we see today, including us
If there is anything that all living things, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, have in common, it is that in each and every one water is the single most important element, in terms of both quantity and quality, as it is irreplaceable. A lack of water means certain death to any living creature and its shortage is responsible for the malfunctioning of all the biological chains and functions.
Our automatic water metabolism control
mechanisms are always on the alert
for even the smallest changes in
our body's water balance. Any disturbance
in it sets in motion highly complex
adaptation mechanisms which trigger
sensations as common as, for example,
thirst, a symptom which compels us
to take in fluid and which is the
result of a water deficit.
We are a complex, sophisticated
life structure, perhaps the most
complex life-form on the planet.
Despite this, we are still desperately
dependent on water and, unlike simpler
life-forms, are equipped with sophisticated
control mechanisms which govern the
quantity and composition of our body
fluids, with a multitude of mechanisms
ready to act in the event of any
modification in our body's water
balance and to correct it before
a catastrophe, that is, irreversible
damage, can occur, thereby ensuring
that our life may continue.
WATER IN HUMAN BEINGS. QUANTITY AND DISTRIBUTION
Water is the most abundant molecule
in living matter. It is the vehicle
that carries all kinds of foods to
the cells in order to nourish them,
and carries away with it the cells"
waste products to those areas of
the body specialised in their removal".
Water is also responsible for maintaining body heat within a constant range which is compatible with life and allows its regulation by means of perspiration.
Men and women are essentially water, the amount varying proportionately with age from around 75 % of the body weight at birth to around 50 % after middle age. In women, the quantity of body water is slightly (5%) lower at all ages owing to their greater proportion of body fat.
In the body, water is distributed
in different territories. Most of
it is found inside the cells (40%
of total body weight) and the rest
between the cells (16 % of total
body weight). A small proportion
is inside our veins and arteries,
forming the liquid component of our
blood (4 % of total body weight).
To make it easier we could say, for
example, that in a person who weighs
80 kg the cells contain 32 litres
of water, and there are about 13
litres of extracellular fluid, while
the blood contains little more than
3.2 litres. As early as 1913 Henderson
wrote in "The Fitness of Environment":
"Water is taken in greater quantities
than all other substances together.
(...) Because of its (water's) properties,
there is no physiological process
in which water does not play a fundamental
So we must always bear in mind that,
as living beings, we are water, that
it is inside our cells, is the essential
medium in which our cells live and
is the vehicle via which our cells
are nourished and the toxins we produce
are eliminated. If we are so concerned
about the value and quality of our
solid foods, should we not be so
too about the characteristics and
properties of our essential food
THE DYNAMICS OF WATER
The amount and composition of our body fluids must remain constant in order to allow our cells and, consequently, our organism, to function properly. That is, that for us to stay alive and fully enjoy life, the amount of fluids in our organism must remain stable.
This stability must be maintained whether we have a temperature, are in a state of physical exertion, have eaten a heavy meal, are newborn, are old, etc. That is, whatever our situation in life, we must keep a stable inner balance, otherwise we are open to disease and, in the case of a severe disturbance in our inner environment, our very existence may even be at stake.
The water our organism needs is acquired through our intake of liquid, the water contained in solid foods and what is manufactured by our own body during the chemical reactions that take place inside it. Under normal conditions, intake of water in a liquid state is greater than that from the other sources put together, that is, that of solid foods plus that manufactured inside our body.
We loose water through urine, tears, faeces, perspiration and respiration, the loss through urine usually being greater than through all the other means combined.
The key points of the whole process are, in health, the intestine for intake and the kidney for elimination. The control mechanisms acting when any disturbance occurs in the quantity of water or the salt concentration in it are multiple and involve nervous and hormonal changes which basically affect the kidney, regulating the amounts of salts and water excreted.
In a living being everything is relevant.
Despite the existence of higher centres
in the hierarchy, all the system's
elements are or may be essential
in health, and even more so in the
case of disease. For example, if
the outside temperature is very high,
water loss through perspiration is
of capital importance, as are the
losses through the faeces in the
case of diarrhoea or through respiration
if one is breathing too fast for
a long period of time.
WATER AS A VEHICLE
The intake of water provides us with the element itself and all the other elements dissolved in it. In other words, we drink the water, which is what we want, plus whatever products it contains in dissolution.
We are aware of the water we swallow but are pretty much unaware of the fact that it provides us with elements which are very important for our body, in both the positive and negative sense.
The water cycle means that it reaches our body only after a long process. Rainwater, a supposedly pure element, falls to earth through air which is potentially rich in solutes from earth blown up by the wind, or even from the sea, as well as from industrial or natural fumes.
The water, on reaching earth and before it gets to our organism, passes through a number of terrains, drawing some of their components along with it. This process of incorporating solutes drawn along by the water on its journey is called leaching and is essential for understanding the characteristics of the waters we have at our disposal for meeting our vital needs.
Water will carry along with it part of everything it comes across on its journey and this, in the case of rainwater, means atmospheric components such as dust or smoke, substances pertaining to the terrain that absorbs it, such as manures, fertilisers and minerals, plus whatever else gets in its way en route to our lips. So, the longer its journey the more components it will pick up, be they the kind that we consider positive or the kind that give rise to concern and that we do not wish to drink.
We know that through solid foods we take into our organism essential substances such as vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, etc. On the other hand we are barely, if at all, aware that along with each glass of water - that lovely clear liquid -, we are also taking in other very important substances which may be good for our health or potentially toxic, or that time and new technology may eventually prove to be toxic.
So, we have to realise that the routine act of drinking is essential in order to maintain life and that for life to be enjoyed to the full it is important that the water we drink should be a harmonious combination of excellent flavour with a certain amount of health-promoting substances in solution.
Water tapped from terrain where conditions are optimum is classed as mineral water and reaches the consumer without undergoing any form of physical, chemical or biological treatment, that is, it reaches our lips just as it is when it emerges from the ground.
Such water is subject to continuous checks in order to guarantee its properties and salubriousness at all times. This type of water is the very epitome of ecology as it is so clean that no preservatives of any nature are required.
As the purity of this water requires the utmost care on the part of the bottler, and is invaluable, the water-bearing strata are carefully controlled to the extent of supervising the surface crops in order to avoid contamination from fertilisers.
Mineral water contains the elements it has washed out of the terrains through which it has passed since its source, thus providing a rich pattern of its passage over rocks and through different soils. It is on these elements carried in the water that popular wisdom, from Roman times to the present day, based the idea of its healing properties.
Nowadays, scientific medicine has managed to clear a path in this somewhat difficult field in order to ascertain exactly how right tradition has been and which qualitites pertain more to the realm of myth or fable than to scientific knowledge.
In our country the tradition of water worship goes back to ancient times. We have always loved the properties that certain waters offer and this formed the basis for the spas and spa culture that took root during the last century.
The area of La Selva in Catalonia is not just a beautiful part of the world which is home to a rich and varied biotope, it also harbours some geological microcosms gushing with waters that are renowned for their organoleptic properties and mineral content.
This natural wealth flows hidden under the ground to burst forth in the Montseny massif and the surrounding area, helping those communities blessed with its presence and which have a time-honoured art in gaining benefit from it, to flourish.
San Hilari Sacalm (Fontdor) taps the water at the summit, while Arbúcies (Font del Regás), Santa Coloma or Caldes de Malavella (Malavella, Vichy Catalan) tap it from the adjacent plain. All these different waters have purity and salubriousness in common but differ in their mineral components, each of them having a personality of its own.
Some of the towns, such as Caldes
de Malavella, take advantage of a
particular characteristic with clearly
healing properties, such as the temperature
at which the water emerges. This
surprising "property" has been used
since the dawn of mankind, is at
the root of many place names in our
country and now, having successfully
run the gauntlet of science, is acquiring
new vigour in its applications through
the combination of the medicinal
effects of damp heat with the tranquillity
of peaceful surroundings which facilitate
one's awareness of illness and the
necessary reflection on the importance
of fighting it with every means possible.
THE WATER OF CALDES DE MALAVELLA
The use of waters containing sodium
bicarbonate in the treatment of lithiasis
(gallstones, kidney stones) was one
of the few effective measures not
too long ago. Nowadays, there are
effective treatments for gout which
make the patients' diet more palatable
and avoid all the complications of
hyperuricaemia, banishing joint pain
and "stone" colic.
Despite this pharmacological success, there is no doubt that maintaining a certain level of urinary alkalinity helps to reduce the risk of colic. If, moreover, this can be done while enjoying a pleasing drink, then it is easy to agree that drinking Vichy Catalan mineral water will be a good habit for the hyperuricaemic patient.
Conversely, the water of Caldes will not be a good habit in patients prone to calcium stones, owing to a greater precipitation in an alkaline medium.
These ancient waters, besides helping to keep life going as others do, have other properties too which the author finds interesting.
My doctoral thesis was an attempt
to "ascertain" whether these waters,
with which I had been brought up,
had any other properties of medical
The study was centred on whether the fluorine content of Vichy Catalan could enhance the quality and quantity of bone in our body.
Why? The reason lies in the special greediness that hard tissues show for fluorine, which is why it becomes deposited in the teeth and bones.
As in everything else, where health
is concerned it is all a question
of quantity. We know that small amounts
of fluorine help to combat dental
caries and improve the development
of children's teeth, while large
excesses over long periods can be
Similarly with our bones, moderate amounts of fluorine stimulate their growth, while too much can be harmful. With Vichy Catalan matters are simplified as it supplies fluorine in low quantities for the use made of bottled water, and its consumption could help us to reach our old age with healthier, less fragile bones.
With this aim in mind the bones of the inhabitants of Caldes de Malavella were examined and compared with similar data from Cellera Ter, a twin town where the water is low in fluoride.
At the end of the study we found that the population which drank Vichy Catalan daily had larger amounts of mineral in its bones.
Following this study, we could say that the habit of drinking Vichy Catalán mineral water is not only highly pleasing to the senses but is also a habit which, if enjoyed in moderation, will be good for our health.
So what is it that Vichy Catalan has to offer that makes it so recommendable?
For me, as a doctor, there are two
aspects to the answer. The regular
consumer in me would say that he
prefers it for its flavour and tradition.
Its flavour leads me to drink it
from a champagne glass if necessary,
as it is the perfect accompaniment
for a party or for any dish, except
dessert. The fact that it is good
is evidenced by its longstanding
permanence in a tough, difficult
market, its constant placing among
the "Top Ten" and its always being
available in good restaurants.
If the doctor in me is to give his opinion, then he must handle the matter with care as his opinion, and in this case his text, becomes gospel once it is in print. He must therefore be concise and restrained.
Vichy Catalan mineral water is an
excellent drink that can prove "particularly
useful" in cases of gouty patients
and for the millions of us who hope
some day to be able to enjoy our
retirement thanks to its bone-promoting
effects. Its possible use in this
sense means we ought to continue
to investigate this route.
Water is essential for life. We must try and maintain the purity of certain essences if we wish to have a future at all. Mineral waters avoid the pollution and depollution of the waters that reach our cities. They are treasures bequeathed to us still by Mother Earth; treasures in glass bottles, which reach our tables and our lips.
Where serious things are concerned, we really must be sensible. As stated earlier, water is our very essence, what we mostly consist of. Water enters and leaves our bodies, bathing our cells, nourishing them, collecting their waste products, balancing our temperature, etc. Its missions are essential; perhaps after reading this short text you will understand how this pressing need gives rise to the sensation of thirst.
Thirst is the signal for us to supply our organism with water. This need developed the sense of taste, which is what makes us meet the demand with water in a wide range of forms or drinks.
Our country is rich in mineral waters, springs and hot springs. Our peoples have always paid tribute to some waters because they were better or healthier than others.
One of these treasures of nature
emerges in Caldes de Malavella, in
the region of La Selva. Vichy Catalan
brings it to our table to accompany
our feasts and help keep us in good
health. Here's to our enjoying it
in good health for many years!