Whenever I have traveled to tropical countries, I have noticed that only the tourists, mainly from America, drink vast amounts of water. The locals seem to get by on little water. I have not found a good explanation for this, other than the fact that the body eventually adapts to tropical environments after several months or years and electrolyte balance is better adapted to that climate.
But the story doesn’t stop there. It seems so ingrained in the minds of many that we need to drink several liters of water a day, which has led to some extreme beliefs regarding dehydration as the underlying cause of many diseases, and the more recent “gallon of water a day challenge.”
Let’s start with Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, a naturopath whose book “Your Bodies Many Cries for Water” has become a sort of underground classic in naturopathic circles. In this book, he claims that dehydration is indeed the underlying cause of many if not most diseases, and that his water cure can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, beat obesity, eliminate skin problems, increase brain power, lower stress, eliminate headaches, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, prevent heart disease, cure angina, cure asthma, cure multiple sclerosis, and more.
The book relates how he discovered the water cure while serving as a political prisoner in Iran, treating thousands of prisoners who suffered from ulcers with only water. Then, he expanded his water cure as a cure-all solution to most health problems.
There is some bizarre science in the book, such as the claim that the brain and the body use water for energy by “splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen,” which is of course false. Batmanghelidj also claimed that the water in foods, like fruit juice, was different and not “usable” by the body.
In reality, Batmanghelidj has never published a peer-reviewed study or report to support any of his claims. However, it’s true that water can be an excellent pain reliever in many cases of digestive problems, such as heartburn. But although extra water can be useful in some cases, his “cure all” philosophy reminds me a lot of the quack science that got many people into trouble by blindly following an unproven philosophy. The fact that he paraded as an M.D. when he was registered as a naturopath and used extremely dubious science to prove it are huge red flags.
Most if not all of the diseases that he claims to be able to cure using his water cure were not endemic in various hunter-gatherer cultures from around the world, yet none of these tribes and cultures drank the large amounts of salted water that Batmanghelidj recommended. If there’s a common root to all of these diseases, it’s certainly not the underconsumption of water. As far as we can tell, Westerners drink more water than any people on earth.
My experience of Americans, Canadians and some Europeans around the world are that they are the only ones carrying water bottles everywhere, buying cold beverages at every chance they get, in addition to always ordering a drink with their food. In the days before water bottles, when people were on their way, running errands or doing activities, they drank water before leaving and once reaching their destination, if necessary, but rarely underway. Now that we are carrying water bottles everywhere and sucking them dry as if our lives depended on it, are we a tad healthier and more hydrated? The facts seem to contradict the theory.
The current trend of drinking a gallon of water a day, popular among bodybuilders, is only the latest development in decades of misinformation about water and the underlying idea that most people are “chronically dehydrated.”
There’s no scientific basis that we even need to drink eight glasses of water a day (2 liters), this new trend now almost doubles our supposed water requirements. One gallon is 3.79 liters.
The Scientific Evidence
Study after study has proven that it’s not necessary for most people to drink eight glasses of water a day as long as they are getting enough fluids overall in their diet.
The myth of the “we need to drink eight glasses of water a day” came from a 1945 recommendation by the Food and Nutrition Board. Most people didn’t pay attention to the part of it that stated: “Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.”
The body needs a minimum intake of water to function optimally, and not getting enough can lead to dehydration. But most people get around 30% of their water intake through the food they eat, and someone eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables might even get 70 to 80% of the water they need from food. Furthermore, eating a lower salt diet probably reduces water needs, once the body has adjusted to the lower sodium intake. When I avoid salt completely, I feel hydrated with very little need to drink additional water.
Even though coffee and tea are not as optimal as water, it’s not true that they are “dehydrating.” People drinking those beverages get a lot of their water intake that way.
The water present in fruits and vegetables counts as water. So does the water in fruit juice, and even beer.
Of course, water is better than beer, but in the end, 4% beer has a positive hydration effect. That’s because although alcohol increases diuresis, the amount of water in beer is greater than what’s eliminated by the kidneys from the alcohol metabolism.
One study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology concluded that individuals drinking 4% beer were rehydrated, although not as efficiently as those drinking water. Naturally, non-alcoholic beer would be much more hydrating.
Of course, no one is recommending Bud Lite as an optimal beverage to rehydrate, but the conclusion is that people do indeed get water from many beverages they drink, including tea and coffee, and yes, light beer.
Some studies suggested that a higher fluid intake leads to lowered mortality (such as this study on 7th Day Adventists), the “high” water intake was only five glasses a day. There’s no evidence that more is necessary.
Your kidneys will be healthier if you drink the right amount of water for you. That means that the amount of water everyone needs is not set in stone: it’s not eight glasses or one gallon for everyone. The quantity will vary on:
- Exercise intensity
- Sodium consumption
- How much water is in the food that you eat
Some people say that the best way to avoid dehydration is to look at your urine color. It should be light yellow. When it’s dark yellow, it’s a sign that you are on your way to dehydration. Colorless urine all the time may mean that you’re drinking too much.
What About Gatorade and Electrolyte Drinks?
Drinking too much water without proper electrolyte balance can lead to over-hydration — hyponatremia, which is a serious condition that leads to several deaths a year in sporting events.
That’s why drinks like Gatorade have been invented: to counterbalance water intake with enough sodium and potassium. The problem is that the composition of Gatorade is only good for extreme sporting events, such as marathon running in hot weather. The average person doing moderate amounts of exercise probably never needs to drink a high-sodium Gatorade-like drink for hydration.
Instead, I have found a better replacement: Vega’s Electrolyte Hydrator. It’s a great-tasting, sugar-free electrolyte with just the right amount of minerals. Unlike a Gatorade, it doesn’t contain too much sodium, and also includes a broader range of electrolytes.
I use this product when I travel to tropical countries during their hot season. It’s easy to mix it in water and stay adequately hydrated.
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