Updated: Oct 5, 2020
By Kirsten Garvin - Team Member and Staff Writer for The Cardiac Bear
Most of us have heard the “Drink at least eight glasses of water a day!” adage from commercials, health and beauty bloggers, and friends. The anecdotal claims of benefits can range from skin and hair improvement to better toxin release.
But how much of the “eight glasses of water a day” adage is actually based on fact, and how much is just fiction?
History of the Phrase
The University of Michigan Health explains that the history of the “Eight glasses of water” adage began In 1945 by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board; they recommended that people drink about 84.5 ounces a day.
A little-realized continuation of their recommendation is the acknowledgement that MANY foods (both prepared and fresh) already contain a lot of water in them. In fact, for those who have pretty well-rounded dietary habits, a considerable amount of their water intake is already being consumed through food intake.
The Mayo Clinic stresses that no single formula fits everyone. But knowing more about your body's need for fluids will help you estimate how much water to drink each day.
The Importance of Water
The Heart Foundation and the Mayo Clinic explain the vitally important role that water plays in basic bodily functions. “Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to work properly. Water gets rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements, water keeps your temperature normal, and water lubricates and cushions your joints. Water is also critical for your heart health. Your heart is constantly working, pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood a day. By staying hydrated – that is, by drinking more water than you are losing – you are helping your heart do its job.” (Source here and here.) Keeping the body hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And, it helps the muscles work efficiently. (Source)
Risk Factors of Dehydration
Mild-to-moderate organ system impacts. Dry mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and mouth; irritability and general feelings of malaise; digestive system discomfort; dizziness; and nausea.
Serious risks. Dehydration causes excess strain on organs; the blood becomes thicker from retaining onto more sodium and makes it harder for blood to circulate efficiently. The heart and blood vessels negatively react under strain and can cause headaches, racing heartbeats or heart palpitations, and blood pressure impact.
How Much is Enough?
Tune-in to your body. Becoming more aware of bodily cues can be helpful in realizing when you’re thirsty. Recognizing which bodily cues are hunger cues and which are thirst cues can be helpful in being tuned in to what our bodies are needing.
Look for the signs. An easily gauged sign of hydration is urine color. Pale yellow urine indicates being well hydrated, and concentrated dark yellow or orange urine indicates that dehydration is present. Megan Schimpf, M.D reassures that urine does not have to be clear or very pale; light yellow post-it note colored is normal and fine.
Taking into account your lifestyle. Athletes, hot climate environments, certain medical conditions, or strenuous activity may mean that there’s a higher need for additional water intake throughout the day.
More isn't necessarily better. Be wary of beauty bloggers boasting excessive amounts of water as the secret to perfect skin. The University of Michigan Health System points out that "There is no scientific proof that, for healthy people, drinking extra water has any health benefits. Scientific research has shown that drinking large amounts of water does notmake skin look healthier or wrinkle free, benefit kidney function, clean out toxins, or make you feel more energetic."
Don’t put a huge amount of pressure on yourself. For those who are used to frequently being mildly dehydrated it can take some time to get used to intentionally incorporating some more water into the daily routine. Making small changes to become more intentional can make a big difference in the ability to keep making lasting changes. Keeping a water bottle on hand can be an easy and convenient way to get used to drinking water a little bit more often. Being patient with yourself and remembering that it takes time to improve health & wellness habits is key!