Earlier this summer, my mom, little sister and I were about to embark on an eight-day rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. The first thing said when we boarded the boats was, “If you’re feeling cranky, or sick or tired, the most likely culprit is dehydration!”
Our sprightly boatman, Bobby, hopped across the raft, filled up a bottle of water and promptly chugged it.
“Down here, we like to judge how well a trip is going by how much water you folks go through,” he said.
I filled up my own water bottle and took a swig. For the next eight days, any moodiness was met with the patronizing inquiry: “Are you dehydrated?”
Thus, my infatuation with water began.
Adequate hydration is associated with hundreds of benefits — it improves your mood and cognitive functioning, aids digestion, powers exercise, prevents disease and plays a role in every process that takes place in our body.
I recently surprised my father by telling him that water tops my hierarchy of health priorities. It’s more important than healthy eating, quality sleep, plenty of exercise or meditation. I think the single most beneficial health habit one can adopt is to always keep water handy.
The need for water, however, has been getting a lot of negative press lately. Although most people still accept the necessity of drinking water when exercising or when it’s hot out, I’ve seen several articles claiming we don’t need to be as concerned about drinking water as we once thought.
Indeed, there is a lot of conflicting advice about how much water we need. When I was little, I thought everyone was supposed to drink eight cups of water a day. Now, most people I know think the eight cups of water advice is arbitrary, an old wives tale.
The adage started coming into question after 2002. That year, physician Heinz Valtin wrote an exhaustive review concluding there is no scientific evidence for the recommendation that we all ought to drink eight cups of water a day. The review got a lot of media attention, and since then I have heard a lot of different things about hydration. It’s said that we get enough water from food and beverages already, caffeinated beverages don’t count, caffeinated beverages do count, just drink enough so your pee is clear, just drink enough so you pee six times a day, just drink a lot when you’re sick, if you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated, if you drink too much water you’ll die of water intoxication — the list goes on.
Our bodies are programmed to regulate the amount of water we need. Under normal circumstances, most adults’ bodies automatically balance water needs with precision. Thus, most of us only need to be concerned with hydration if our bodies are under a lot of stress, from sickness or strenuous exercise, for instance. According to Valtin’s review, the average U.S. adult gets about nine cups of water per day from various sources, while other studies have concluded that a sedentary adult only needs about six. As a nation, we seem to be pretty hydrated.
So why should we bother worrying about water?
Well, Valtin based many of his claims off of surveys comprised of individuals whom he said were, “presumably healthy and certainly not overtly ill,” but whose health data was not published. In a country where more than 70 percent of the population is overweight and more than 30 percent is obese, merely presuming subjects are healthy could be problematic. One study found the average U.S. individual takes in 3 1/2 cups of water a day, but 5 1/2 cups of other liquids such as coffee, soda, milk, juice and alcohol.
Although we are programmed to balance water levels with precision, our minds can misinterpret a need for water as a desire to eat or drink something else. Ice cream, for instance, is 60 percent water. By relying on our bodies’ natural mechanisms for hydration, we predispose ourselves to overeat or indulge in other beverages besides water for hydration.
These other beverages, including caffeinated ones, can contribute to our water needs. It is important, however, to be discriminating about what other beverages we regularly consume. The World Health Organization suggests that adults eat no more than 50 grams of sugar per day. One bottle of Green Machine Naked juice has 56 grams of sugar.
By always carrying around a water bottle and consistently refilling it throughout the day, we can make it easy for our bodies to take in the water we need without the sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine and chemicals that prevail in many other drink options. In a culture where food and drinks are available almost everywhere, we can help our bodies recognize what nutrients we actually need by staying hydrated with actual, plain water. While there’s no need to force yourself to drink a certain amount of water every day, keeping water by your side will make it easy to hydrate healthfully. Plus, you can avoid the patronizing inquiry, “Are you dehydrated?”
Karen Konkoly, ’17, is a columnist for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]