The Myth of Dehydration


Those of us who act primarily out of Nurturing Instinct obsess about keeping people alive. Our survival instinct overrides our common sense often to the point of creating irrational fears in ourselves. And, dehydration, is our latest obsession.

Bottled water is everywhere. It's practically a fashion accessory. How did this happen? A drop of instinctive need mixed with an ocean of marketing savvy.

Those of us who act primarily out of Nurturing Instinct will insist that half the country is walking around dehydrated. We believe that people drink too much coffee, tea and sodas containing caffeine, which prompts the body to lose water. And when they are dehydrated, they don't know to drink enough water.

Can it be so? Should healthy adults really be carrying around water bottles to protect themselves from creeping dehydration?

Not at all.

"The notion that there is widespread dehydration has no basis in medical fact,"
says Dr. Robert Alpern, dean of the medical school at the
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Doctors from a wide range of specialties agree: By all evidence, we are a well-hydrated nation. Furthermore, they say, the current infatuation with water as an all-purpose health potion - tonic for the skin, key to weight loss - is a blend of fashion and fiction and very little science.

The notion that we must all drink eight cups of water per day to improve our health is an old one, but it isn't exactly accurate. Although the suggestion dates back to at least the 1940s, the latest to carry the mantel are, unsurprisingly, bottled water companies. Writing in the medical journal BMJ, Glasgow doctor Margaret McCartney pointed out that much of the current recommendations come from companies such as Danone, which owns bottled water lines Evian, Volvic and Badoit.

Water is essential for proper digestion, kidney function and brain function and is required by every cell of the body. But that doesn't mean we need to sip on it all day.


The right amount of water to drink is the amount that quenches your thirst.

"When you think about the way that the body handles water, you pee it out. The body regulates water very carefully and doesn't allow it to accumulate. Extra water is immediately excreted," says Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a professor of medicine at University of Pennsylvania and an expert on fluid management.

What's more, our bodies tell us when we require water - that's what the thirst mechanism does. Thirst doesn't mean you've reached a dire level of dehydration either. Explains Goldfarb: "When you get thirsty, the deficit of water in your body is trivial - it's a very sensitive gauge. It might be only a one percent reduction in your overall water."


There is no scientific proof stating that you need to drink anywhere near eight glasses a day.

One doctor who has made this his research focus, Dr. Heinz Valtin, searched through electronic databases and consulted with nutritionists and colleagues who specialize in water balance in the body. In all of his research, no scientific evidence could be found to suggest that you need to drink eight glasses of water a day.

In fact, scientific studies suggest that you already get enough liquid from what you're drinking and eating on a daily basis.


We are not all walking around in a state of dehydration.

Kidney specialists agree that the 8 glass rule is a gross overestimate of any required minimum. To replace daily losses of water, an average-sized adult with healthy kidneys sitting in a temperate climate needs no more than one liter of fluid, according to Jurgen Schnermann, a kidney physiologist at the National Institutes of Health.

According to most estimates, that's roughly the amount of water most Americans get in solid food.

In short, though doctors don't recommend it, many of us could cover our bare-minimum daily water needs without drinking anything during the day.

Drinking when you're thirsty is a fail-proof method of staying hydrated, says Dr. Timothy Noakes, professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and author of 'Waterlogged'.


"You don't tell your dog or your cat when to drink,
they've got a thirst mechanism.
Why should it be that humans should be the unique animal in the world
who have to be told when to drink?"

He attributes this "you're doing it wrong" attitude largely to the bottled-water and sports drink industries. "Commercialization and industrialization have told us that humans are weak," he says, when in reality our ability to run in the heat helped us outsmart our ancient predators like lions and tigers, he says. "We should never have survived, and suddenly we're told no one knows when to drink?"


For those who act primarily out of Nurturing Instinct,
to be blindly lecturing others about the need to stay hydrated,
is insulting to their intelligence.

Especially when they have done no research to find out the truth.

That's not logical or rational behavior. It's Instinctive.