What You Don't Know About Drinking Water

30 October 2018

How complicated can hydration be? Just fill up a glass with water once in awhile and drink, and that should be enough, right? But you might be surprised at how much information there is to absorb about drinking water.

Health Benefits of Drinking Water

Drinking water helps to replace the water our bodies lose not only from obvious functions such as sweating and elimination, but even from breathing. Additional benefits of drinking water include helping with proper kidney function and waste removal, keeping skin healthy and smooth, increasing the joints’ ability to function (therefore reducing pain), and maintaining proper brain activity.

How Much Water Should People Drink Per Day?

The generally accepted advice is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses per day, but many studies indicate that most adults don’t need that much. Often we forget that food can be an additional source of water--particularly raw fruits and vegetables. Other beverages we drink, such as coffee, tea, and milk, provide hydration as well. So, how many ounces of water should you drink a day? One rule of thumb from The National Academies of Sciences recommends 91 ounces of water per day for women and 125 ounces per day for men, from all sources including food, water, and drinks other than water. But since needs vary depending on age, health, and even climate, the best guide for how much water to drink is your thirst--so drink until you’re not thirsty, and aim for well-hydrated pale or colorless urine.

Symptoms of Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when your body loses fluids faster than you’re taking them in, often from vigorous exercise or certain illnesses. Symptoms of not drinking enough water include extreme thirst, less frequent (and dark-colored) urination, fatigue, and dizziness.

Is It Possible to Drink Too Much Water?

What happens if you drink too much water? Fortunately, this is a very rare problem, as more people are dehydrated than over-hydrated. But drinking multiple gallons of water more quickly than the kidneys can handle risks “water intoxication,” which causes a dangerous drop in the levels of sodium in the blood and eventually swelling in the brain.

Symptoms of drinking too much water are similar to symptoms of heatstroke and exhaustion and include feeling hot, having a headache, and general feelings of physical malaise.

When to Drink Water

There’s almost never a bad time to drink water. Drinking water in the morning helps to wake up your circulatory system, and drinking before and after workouts helps protect against dehydration. Avoid drinking water before bed in any significant amount as it may wake you up to urinate--causing harmful interruptions to your sleeping patterns. But you may want to keep a glass of water on the nightstand in case you wake up parched. If you can’t get into the habit of drinking water regularly, install a water drinking app on your phone for reminders to hydrate and track your water drinking.

Drinking Water to Lose Weight

Ready for a simple weight loss secret? Drinking water before meals helps to curb hunger and reduce the amount of food you consume. Water consumption also boosts metabolism, therefore helping to burn more calories. In addition, substituting water for sugary drinks like juice and soda is a great way to reduce calorie intake.

What Kind of Water to Drink

Drinking water seems simple enough, but investigating the many sources of water available raises a multitude of questions:

Is tap water safe to drink?

Can you drink distilled water?

Is drinking cold water bad for you?

Is there a “best” water to drink?

The short answer is that any clean, safe source of water is beneficial. In the Western world, tap water is generally safe to drink--but if you’re unsure, the Environmental Working Group has created a zip code-lookup tool to search state water records for pollutants.

Bottled water, while decreasing slightly in popularity due to the environmental impact of plastic bottles, is still trending thanks to innovations such as alkaline water. The benefits of drinking alkaline water include relief of stomach acid-related conditions and mineral retention due to its higher pH level--but costs to purchase the water or an in-home filter to create it are prohibitive for many.

Distilled water is completely pure, so it offers the benefit of no contaminants or bacteria--but conversely, it offers none of the healthy minerals and nutrients of other forms of water.

Drinking hot water has no particular benefits aside from personal preference (and perhaps tooth sensitivity, as cold drinks are harder to handle than warm). Drinking cold water while exercising can help lower your body temperature back to normal.

While people may prefer water in different types, temperatures, and times of day, the most important tip is to drink enough. Soda, beer, and wine may be tasty--but can’t trump drinking water!