Too Much Water, Not Enough Water—Why I Think We Need to Drink More

Thursday Apr 9 | BY |
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Pretty brunette drinking water on couch at home in the living room

Recommendations are mixed, but I think on the whole, most of us can benefit by drinking more water.

It’s a natural miracle worker: plain old water.

It has the power to reduce the risk of heart disease, soothe pain, boost your weight-loss efforts, and ease digestion.

According to recent research, though, nearly half of Americans aren’t drinking enough.

Maybe it’s because of the experts who say all the talk about drinking water is just that—talk, because we have few studies to prove that drinking extra water will really benefit you health wise. You can get just as much of your fluid requirements from other drinks, they say, like tea, coffee, and even fruit.

You need eight glasses of water a day?

A myth, these experts say.

Here’s why I think they’re wrong, and why most of us—except for those who are really hydration-conscious—need to drink more water, not less.

How Much Should We Be Drinking?

Just how much is “enough” water?

The Mayo Clinic says it depends on things like your health, how active you are, and where you live, and that there’s no one recommendation that fits everyone.

In a 2004 report on dietary intakes of water and electrolytes like potassium and sodium, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended about 3.7 liters (about 15.5 cups) of total water (from all beverages and food) daily for adult men, and 2.7 liters (about 11 cups) for adult women, with more suggested for those involved in physical exercise and living in warm or hot climates.

The CGS Network has a handy “water requirement” application that takes your body weight, exercise time, and environmental conditions, and spits out your suggested daily consumption of water (in approximate glasses, even).

Studies Suggest We’re Not Getting Enough

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from nearly 3,400 U.S. adults who participated in the National Cancer Institute’s 2007 Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey. They’re results showed the following:

  • 7 percent of adults reported no daily consumption of water at all.
  • 36 percent reported drinking only 1-3 cups.
  • 35 reported drinking 4-7 cups.
  • 22 percent reported drinking 8 cups or more.
  • Overall, nearly half of respondents drank less than 4 cups per day of water.
  • The likelihood of drinking less than 4 cups a day was higher among those participants 55 years and older than those aged 18-34.
  • Those who ate one cup or less of fruits or vegetables a day were also more likely to drink less than 4 cups of water a day.

A later 2013 study using data from the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), including over 15,000 participants, found that while younger adults exceeded or came close to satisfying the daily recommended intakes for water (following the IOM’s recommended levels), older men and women failed to meet these values. In addition, a total of 83 percent of women and 95 percent of men over the age of 71 were not getting enough.

How Do They Know What is “Enough?”

Though these studies are using the IOM’s recommendations to determine whether or not we are getting enough water, how do we know that “enough” by those standards makes any difference?

The truth is, we don’t know for sure how much water is ideal for optimal health because it varies so much from person to person, and from location to location. Someone who weighs 225 pounds and runs five miles a day in the desert heat is going to need more water than someone who weighs 150 pounds and takes leisurely walks through a shaded park about five days out of the week. How much fluid these two people get from their daily diet makes a difference, too, as well as their overall health condition at the time.

We do know, though, that in many instances, increasing intake of water can produce health benefits—particularly since our culture has drifted away from drinking water to consuming more sugar-sweetened beverages.

10 Potential Health Benefits of Drinking a Little More

Though the studies haven’t always been consistent, we do have a lot of research showing that increased intake of plain water can be really good for us:

  1. Weight loss: A 2010 study review found that a) when participants drank juice, soda, or milk instead of water with meals, they consumed more calories; b) when women replaced other beverages with water, they consumed fewer calories overall—by an average of 200 calories a day; c) those who maintained weight loss drank more water than those who didn’t, and d) those who drank water before meals for 12 weeks experienced a significant decrease in total fat mass. “Overall this review suggests promising results for promoting water,” the researchers concluded.
  2. Headaches: Several studies have found that adequate water intake can help reduce risk of headaches. In 2012, for example, researchers followed two groups of participants for 3 months, with one of the groups increasing daily water intake by 1.5 liters (about 6 cups). Drinking more water resulted in a significant improvement in reported headaches per month, with nearly half of the group reporting “much improvement.”
  3. Gout: A 2009 study found that drinking plenty of water (a half-gallon a day) could reduce the risk of having a gout attack. Participants who drank more than eight 8-ounce glasses a day had a 48 percent reduction in gout attacks, compared with those drinking one glass or less of water per day.
  4. Heart disease: Researchers have found that intake of water may help reduce risk of heart disease. In 2002, for instance, they looked at intake of water among over 8,000 men and over 12,000 women, aged 38 to 100 years. None of the participants had heart disease to begin with. Over a 6-year follow-up, researchers found that daily intakes of water (five glasses or more) compared with low daily intakes (two or fewer glasses) were associated with about a 41 percent reduced risk of dying form a heart attack in women, and an even greater reduced risk in men.
  5. Mood & energy: In a 2014 study, researchers found that water intake could affect mood and energy levels. When participants who normally consumed 2.5 liters of water were restricted to only 1 liter a day, they experienced reduced contentedness, calmness, and vigor. When participants who normally consumed only 1 liter were bumped up to 2.5 liters, they experienced decreased levels of fatigue, sleepiness, and confusion. Researchers concluded that increasing water intake helped participants to feel more awake, improved moods, and encouraged more positive emotions overall.
  6. Hydrates skin: You may have heard that drinking more water can have a positive effect on skin. A 2007 study showed it was true. Researchers examined the skin from 93 subjects, after having them increase their water intake to 2.25 liters a day (of either tap water or mineral water). They found that participants drinking tap water experienced a significant increase in skin density, which is associated with more youthful skin. (Decreased skin density is associated with aging—“thin” skin.) Those drinking mineral water didn’t experience the same results, except for those who weren’t drinking much water before the study—they also saw an increase in density.
  7. Memory and cognition: In a 2009 study, researchers found that in school children, intake of water was associated with improved memory. Researchers assessed children’s cognitive functioning once after drinking 300 ml of water and on another day when no water was provided. They found that recall was significantly better after drinking the water. In a later study, researchers found similar results. Participants who drank about three cups of water before taking several cognitive tests performed better than those who didn’t drink the water.
  8. Stress: Drinking more water may help you feel less stressed. Researchers noted in a 1998 study that 5 liters of fluid intake per day increased the level of cortisol—the stress hormone—in urine. A later 2012 study also found that even mild dehydration was associated with reduced mood, lower concentration, headaches, and frustration in women.
  9. Blood sugar: If you don’t drink enough water, your blood sugar levels may be more likely to rise. These were the findings from a 2011 study. Researchers found that adults who drank only half a liter of water—about two glasses—or less per day were more likely to develop pre-diabetes than those who drank more water. Researchers cautioned the study did not show cause and effect, but that the findings were based on over 3,600 adults aged between 30 and 65, and that there are good arguments to suggest a real cause-and-effect relationship between water intake and blood sugar levels.
  10. Kidney stones: If you’ve suffered from kidney stones, your doctor probably suggested you drink more water. In a 2012 study review, researchers found evidence that increased water intake reduces the risk of recurrence of kidney stones and prolongs the average interval for recurrences. Researchers noted that more studies were needed.
How to Get More Water Into Your Day

Though we have a lot of studies showing the benefits of water, there are some conflicting results, as well. We still don’t know for sure the optimal level for varying populations, and we don’t have absolute proof that drinking such optimal levels will necessarily reduce risk of disease.

We do have a lot of evidence that water is good for us, and that a lot of us aren’t drinking current recommended amounts.

Taking all that into consideration, here’s the main reason why I think many of us could use more water in our daily lives:

We forget.

I know I do. I get busy working and I forget to drink. Come the end of some days, I’ve consumed maybe 1-2 glasses.

And it’s usually on those days that I’m more likely to feel tired, or to suffer a headache.

We’re all extremely busy, with our attention pulled a million different directions. Without reminders, we can end up drinking a lot less water than we think we are. We’re also tempted with many other beverage alternatives that are usually not as good for us.

If you find it a little difficult to remember to drink enough water, here are a few times that may help you out.

  • Drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning.
  • Drink at least one full glass before each meal. You’ll not only get more water, but you may cut down on how much you eat.
  • Keep a stainless steel water bottle with you in the car, at the office, and other locations where you spend a lot of time.
  • Take a water break every 30 minutes and refresh your glass. (Use a timer if necessary.) Fresh water tastes better anyway, and getting new water will get you up out of your chair—extra bonus.
  • Use water as your go-to drink for most all occasions. Keep track—drink something else only as a treat.
  • Jazz up your water with flavors that make it more interesting. Try adding in some fruit, cucumber, ginger, sparkling water, or other natural flavors you may like.
  • Eat more water-rich fruits and veggies, like lettuce, tomatoes, watermelon, oranges, and grapes.

Do you think you get enough water every day? Please share your thoughts.

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Sources
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“Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate,” Institute of Medicine, February 11, 2004, https://www.iom.edu/Reports/2004/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-Water-Potassium-Sodium-Chloride-and-Sulfate.aspx.

Alyson B. Goodman, et al., “Behaviors and Attitudes Associated with Low Drinking Water Intake Among U.S. Adults, Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, 2007,” Prev Chron Dis 2013; 10:120248, http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2013/12_0248.htm.

Adam Drewnowski, et al., “Water and beverage consumption among adults in the United States: cross-sectional study using data from NHANES 2005-2010,” BMC Public Health, 2013; 13:1068, http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/13/1068.

Melissa C. Daniels and Barry M. Popkin, “The impact of water intake on energy intake and weight status: a systematic review,” Nutr Rev., September 2010; 68(9):505-521, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929932/.

Spigt M, et al., “A randomized trial on the effects of regular water intake in patients with recurrent headaches,” Fam Pract., August 2012; 29(4):370-5, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22113647.

John Gever, “ACR: Drinking Water May Wash Away Gout Attacks,” MedPageToday, October 21, 2009, http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/ACR/16548.

Jacqueline Chan, et al., “Water, Other Fluids, and Fatal Coronary Heart Disease: The Adventist Health Study,” Am J Epidemiol., 2002; 155(9):827-833, http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/155/9/827.full.

Nathalie Pross, et al,. “Effects of Changes in Water Intake on Mood of High and Low Drinkers,” PLoS One, 2014; 9(4):e94754, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3984246/.

Williams S, et al., “Effect of fluid intake on skin physiology: distinct differences between drinking mineral water and tap water,” Int J Cosmet Sci., April 2007; 29(2):131-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18489334.

David Benton and Naomi Burgess, “The effect of consumption of water on the memory and attention of children,” Appetite, 2009; 53:143-146.

Caroline J. Edmonds, et al., “Subjective thirst moderates changes in speed of responding associated with water consumption,” Front Hum Neurosci., July 16, 2013; 7:363, http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00363/full.

M. Veronica Mericq and Gordon B. Cutler, Jr., “High Fluid Intake Increases Urine Free Cortisol Excretion in Normal Subjects,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, February 1998; 83(2):682-4, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9467592.

Lawrence E. Armstrong, et al., “Mild Dehydration Affects Mood in Healthy Young Women,” J Nutr., January 1, 2012; 142(2):382-8, http://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2011/12/20/jn.111.142000.abstract.

Amy Norton, “Shunning water linked to high blood sugar,” Chicag Tribune, October 24, 2011, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-10-24/lifestyle/sns-rt-us-shunning-watertre79n6l1-20111024_1_blood-sugar-vasopressin-levels-water.

Bao Y and Wei Z, “Increased water intake may help reduce the risk of recurrence of kidney stones but more studies are needed,” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2012; Issue 6, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0012675/.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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