During an initial intake at Alchemist Clinic, we ask patients lots of questions…gathering as much information as possible so we can plan the best course of treatment.
One of the things that strikes me is how, when asking people about eating and drinking habits, quite a few fess up to “not drinking enough water.”
The confession usually goes something like this: “I know I should be drinking eight glasses of water a day, but I’m not. I need to work on that.”
(Meanwhile, others who’ve overcome this “problem” sometimes declare: “I drink water all the time. I keep a big bottle with me and always stay hydrated.”)
Well, I totally get where this “eight, eight-ounce glasses a day” thing is coming from. Conventional wisdom is all over that myth.
Did I say myth? Yep.
Turns out, the “8×8” notion is not backed by science and for most people just isn’t true. You (probably) don’t need eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day.
There are exceptions.
Perhaps, for example, you’re sweating profusely and losing lots of fluids (practicing hot yoga, for instance).
Or maybe you have a particular medical condition and your doctor has instructed you to up your fluids (whether because of the condition or to counteract diuretic medications).
Perhaps there are other special circumstances to take into account, such as strenuous physical activity, hot weather or a long airplane ride.
But the majority of people with healthy kidneys and endocrine function just don’t need eight, eight-ounce glasses every day.
Here’s the deal.
Our kidneys and thirst do an excellent job of regulating hydration. Yes, believe it or not, you can let thirst be your guide.
Physician Heinz Valtin, MD, one of the world’s leading experts on kidney function and hydration, explains more about this here.
The conventional adage that “by the time you’re thirsty, it’s too late”? Not true.
Think your pee needs to be clear to indicate adequate hydration? Duped again.
Turns out, even when water intake fluctuates significantly, a healthy endocrine system and kidneys do a stellar job of maintaining optimal fluid levels in the bloodstream.
When we experience even slightly higher than normal concentration of blood volume (due to lower fluid levels), antidiuretic hormone gets busy increasing water absorption from the kidneys and returning it to the blood.
Only when blood becomes concentrated by 5 percent does medical dehydration become a concern. And, thing is, if blood becomes concentrated by just 2 percent, our thirst mechanism kicks in like crazy. Smart thing in that situation: take a drink.
So, sure, dark urine may indicate the need to drink a glass of water. But the notion that urine must be clear to show sufficient hydration is false.
What’s more, drinking too much fluid with or close to meals can impede digestion by diluting stomach acids. (We actually see this quite a bit at clinic, with people drinking too much water or juices around meals to properly digest their food.)
Taken to extreme, excess water intake can even cause a serious, potentially fatal condition called hyponatremia, in which blood sodium levels become too diluted. Perhaps you’ve heard about this happening to athletes, sometimes causing mental confusion, seizures and even death.
So how much water should you be drinking?
Well, for starters, not all of your fluid comes from water. Other beverages—and foods—are a significant source of needed liquids.
The water content of food, amount of exercise and sweating, hot temperatures and even body weight are all factors to take into account. So too, of course, are any health conditions or prescribed medications.
But, for most people, paying attention to thirst is key. Our bodies want to move toward balance—often we just need to listen to them.
How much water do you drink a day? Do you let yourself feel thirsty before taking a sip? Why or why not? Ever wonder why little kids (who are often more attuned to their bodies than us big people) don’t worry about it so much?
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