Sunday, February 19, 2023

Drinking Water is Just a Part of Hydration

You Can Actually Dehydrate Yourself by Drinking More Water

Everyone knows that drinking 8 glasses of water a day is recommended. It’s like a law or something… but is it a good idea? 

After all, a lot of laws are bad ideas. 

Are you “hydrated” by drinking 8 glasses (64 ounces, or two quarts, or 1/2 gallon)? What does it really mean to be hydrated? Do you know? 

The first point worth making here is that the first 40 years of my life, nobody told us to drink water as if you live in the desert or run a marathon every day. Drinking when you’re not thirsty just seems odd and counterintuitive — your grandma probably wouldn’t recommend it, and our grandparents were mostly smarter about nutrition than we are. 

If we all still ate like they did 100 years ago — meat, potatoes, soups and stews, vegetables — we absolutely would not be going through an epidemic of diabetes and overweight kids today. They did not overthink anything, while we overthink a lot of things.

In any case, somehow, we survived. Were we mildly dehydrated some of the time? Possibly. But we ate better, for the most part, and because hydration is about nutrition too, more than just drinking more water, it’s hard to say for sure. 

Being hydrated means having the right balance of electrolytes to keep enough water in your cells where your body needs it. Keeping your blood volume normal so you don’t feel faint from low blood pressure. Etc.

What are electrolytes, anyway? Electrolytes are essential minerals like potassium and sodium that facilitate passing water into and out of your cells.

Yes, sodium. It’s an essential mineral, so be careful with recommendations to avoid or restrict it. In fact, many experts identify the “problem” with sodium as too little potassium. 

Drinking 1/2 gallon of water a day might be a good idea depending on several other factors, but here’s the part they don’t tell you — you need those electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc) too. 

Too much water without electrolytes can actually dehydrate you by flushing electrolytes from your cells.

Dehydrated can also mean decreased blood volume which lowers blood pressure and can cause you to pass out. It also deprives your internal organs of the vital water and minerals they need to work right. Etc.

Low sodium in the blood is called hyponatremia and in severe cases it can actually be fatal.

And when discussing hydration it’s important to note that if you’re like most people, you drink too much soda pop, diet soda, coffee, tea, fruit juice, energy drinks, alcohol, or other liquids that act as diuretics and actually dehydrate your body unless you counter them with water and electrolytes. It’s not that you cannot have any of those things, but consuming each one requires consuming more water with electrolytes — are you doing that? 

Water is good for you, but like anything else, too much is actually bad for you. Your goal should be hydration — balanced and sufficient electrolytes — not just water.