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Public Encouraged to Drink Too Much Water, Expert Says

Tim Boyer's picture

What may be among one of the biggest myths of health is the popular and oft-repeated notion that if you feel thirsty, then you are dehydrated. However, this is not necessarily true and does not have clear scientific backing as there is no set minimum intake of water that encompasses all of humanity.

This is but just one point of several made by Spero Tsindos from La Trobe University in an editorial in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Mr. Tsindos sets the tone of his editorial by writing:

Thirty years ago you didn't see a water bottle anywhere, now they appear as fashion accessories. It supports the emergence of a new status; as May called it, ‘the new cultural class.’ As tokens of instant gratification and symbolism, the very bottle itself is seen as cool and hip.

What Mr. Tsindos’ editorial provides for the reader is a step back from peering too close into the crystal glass (or more likely, plastic bottle) of reportedly magical water and ask ourselves, “Why do I drink so much water? And, “Is it really necessary?”

Mr. Tsindos takes the reader back in history when the idea of consuming and being constantly immersed in water as a very popular health notion called “hydropathy” promoted by alternative medicine practitioners in the 19th Century. These “hydropathists” believed that water in great enough quantities was curative for many ills, which then resulted in a floodgate of water sanatoriums in Europe, the U.S, and Australia.

For the past several decades, the public has been told and encouraged to drink up to eight glasses (approximately 2 liters) of water a day to be healthy—advice quite often promoted by the bottled water industry in TV ads and print. However, how the water should be taken is not always clearly instructed, thereby causing many to gulp down large quantities in a short time period and/or not consider other sources of hydration.

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According to Mr. Tsindos, drinking a lot of water in a short time may not be adequately hydrating the body where the water is needed, but rather is flushing the bolus of fluid directly to the kidneys and leaving you less hydrated than if you had consumed the water gradually or through other sources such as fruits and vegetables.

If you realise that you have yet to drink the requisite 2 litres and drink a large quantity within a short time, this will likely mean the water you drink will not reach the extracellular space, where it is needed, and as such has no real effect on hydration; all it does is dilute the urine. So, if using urine specific gravity to measure hydration it will indicate the urine is of a low concentration of electrolytes and, as such, there is normal hydration, but it is possible the body is hypohydrated and still requires fluid.

Mr. Tsindos also points out that the common public perception that drinking caffeinated beverages such as tea or coffee adds to a person’s dehydration is really a myth and that studies have shown that fluid intake from caffeinated beverages outweighs the diuretic effects of caffeine.

He concludes that he believes that the recommended 8 glasses of water a day is an overestimation of the daily health needs of individuals and that more study needs to be done to look at the how that better health and hydration can be achieved by eating unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

A copy of his editorial is available free online.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “What drove us to drink 2 litres of water a day?” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health June 2012, Vol. 36, issue 3, pp. 205-207; Spero Tsindos.