Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hydration: Attempt Only Under Medical Supervision

I've noticed how the word "hydration" has crept into the popular lexicon in the last decade or so. Before that, we were so primitive, we just "drank water". Now you need a PhD just to put a glass to your lips. I'm not sure I'm qualified!

I've been hearing so many people, including health professionals, tell me to drink 8 glasses of water a day for my entire life. In my middle school health class, I was told by my hydrophilic teacher that I should be urinating every hour and my urine should always be clear. For my whole life, I've thought it was nonsense. Yet the message has reached people. Walk around any college campus and you'll see undergrads faithfully carrying around their endocrine-disrupting plastic-water everywhere they go.

You see, our bodies have this very sophisticated mechanism to ensure water homeostasis. It's called thirst. If we need so much water to be healthy, why aren't we thirsty more often?

I skimmed through a paper today in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology that reviews the evidence for health benefits from drinking more water than your thirst demands. Their conclusion: there's no evidence to suggest it helps anything. Water is just a nice harmless placebo.

The term "hydration" has helped fuel a whole industry to satisfy our need for hydration technology. Gatorade claims it hydrates better than water. It must be the high-fructose corn syrup and yellow #5... And make sure to bring your "hydration pack" when you go on your 20 minute jog; you might get lost and end up in the Kalahari desert!

I actually think the water craze isn't totally harmless. Drinking large amounts of water with a meal interferes with digestion by diluting digestive enzymes and stomach acid. Drinking a tall beer does the same. Wine is better because it tends to be a smaller volume.

As far as I'm concerned, with minor exceptions, the only thing to drink is water. I'll have an occasional glass of wine, beer or whole raw milk, but 99% of what I drink is good old-fashioned dihydrogen oxide.

The only time I drink a large amount of water without being thirsty is if I'm about to do vigorous exercise or spend time outside in hot weather.

Thanks to Snap for the CC photo.