Television commercials for water are starting to resemble those for diet drugs or medical breakthroughs. But unlike ads for sparkling or bottled water, advertisements for plain old H20 wouldn’t feature crystal streams or snow-capped mountains. Instead, water would be championed as a “revolutionary” weight-loss product. Viewers would learn it’s essential for “healthy, younger-looking skin.” Some ads might even point out that it prevents kidney stones and constipation.
The supposed benefits of drinking water form a very long list. If they appeared on a commercial, would it be false advertising? Does water really work the way some people say it does? How much water do you really need, and how much is too much?
The Eight-Eight Rule
The advice has been given for decades: Drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water daily. That’s around two liters or half a gallon. It’s a substantial amount. Still, plenty of dieters feel like failures when they come up short. Unfortunately, advocates behave as if it’s a medically proven requirement. It isn’t. In fact, it can be detrimental to some who have certain health conditions.
No one is certain who came up with the rule. In 1967, Dr. Irwin Stillman’s self-named diet plan recommended eight 10-ounce glasses of water daily. He believed it would help wash away diet-induced fatty acids. Seven years later, nutritionist Fredrick J. Stare didn’t just lower the target to six glasses. He expanded what counted. Besides water, Stare included coffee, tea, milk, and soft drinks. Because fruits and vegetables are filled with water, he added them to the list. Even beer was included.
Although the 8-8 rule probably began in popular diet books, peer-reviewed studies have examined whether or not water is tied to weight loss. It stands to reason that if you fill your belly with a zero-calorie drink, you’ll have less room for food. To test this, a group of overweight adults over age 55 were told to drink 500 milliliters of water before each meal. Both they and the control group were kept on low-calorie diets. The water drinkers lost an average of two kilograms over three months––a 44% greater decline in weight than the non-drinkers.
It looks like Stare was right about one thing. If dehydration is your main concern, fruits and veggies will do the trick–so will coffee, tea, and diet soda. Because the diuretic aspect of these beverages is low, they don’t dehydrate drinkers as was once assumed. Even beer in moderation is okay, although alcohol is dehydrating. Water consumption has an impact on the recurrence of kidney stones. Increased intake of most liquids may also prevent kidney stones from forming. Although there is less evidence that water will give you younger looking skin, it does reduce constipation.
Doctors often hear from patients worried about excessive urination. In many cases, the individual is using friends and family members as a baseline. While excessive urination can be a symptom for numerous health issues like diabetes, it is more likely connected to water consumption. If you increase your daily intake of liquids, you will also increase how often you “spend a penny” or “see a man about a horse.”
Not drinking enough water is dangerous. Elderly dehydrated patients are more likely to die than those who are sufficiently hydrated. Although darker urine color is one signal that you’re dehydrated, thirst is usually a sufficient indicator. Unfortunately, many of us are so disconnected from our body’s signals that we only pay attention when we are already in trouble.
Athletes must stay hydrated; those who don’t find they perform less well in long-endurance exercises like running or biking. Dehydration also affects mood and sleep. Hot environments and summer outdoor activities also demand more water. Water is sometimes described as a decent pre-hangover cure. It’s a simple formula. Keep a full water glass beside your favorite adult beverage. Match every sip of wine, beer, or cocktail with a sip of water. Since hangovers are caused partially by alcohol’s dehydrating properties, some believe that this is a good way to keep that headache from ever showing up. Numerous studies dispute this, although the extra liquid may help reduce your alcohol consumption.
Interestingly enough, there are risks. It is possible to overdose on water. Frequently seen in people who use MDMA or MDA recreationally along with non-drug users in overheated concerts or raves, hyponatremia occurs when someone drinks too much water. Overconsumption of water causes sodium levels in your blood to drop and your cells to swell. This can be very dangerous, even deadly.
The bottom line is this: Whether you are dieting, exercising, or dancing at a rave, pay attention to your body. Doing so may help guarantee that you drink the right amount every day.
- “Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.” Really? Is there scientific evidence for “8 × 8”?
- Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults.
- The effect of caffeinated, non-caffeinated, caloric and non-caloric beverages on hydration.
- Urinary volume, water and recurrences in idiopathic calcium nephrolithiasis: a 5-year randomized prospective study
- Medical and dietary therapy for kidney stone prevention
- Water, other fluids and fatal coronary heart disease: the Adventist health study
- Hydration and outcome in older patients admitted to hospital (The HOOP prospective cohort study)
- Impact of mild dehydration on wellness and on exercise performance
- Influence of progressive fluid restriction on mood and physiological markers of dehydration in women
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.