COLUMN: Another Kind Of Drinking Problem
Health & Science
Published: Sunday, February 2, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 2, 2014 22:02
There are 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, but it still seems like there is never enough time to do everything we need or want to do. We often find ourselves having to make time in order to stay healthy, whether that means waking up early to go to the Plex or staying up late to avoid the midday rush. There is one basic health necessity, though, that many people forget about, and that requires only a few seconds to address: staying hydrated.
Dehydration occurs when the amount of fluids the body passes out, mainly through sweating and trips to the bathroom, exceeds the amount of fluids taken in through food and drink. According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration can cause headaches, fatigue, and dizziness in more severe situations, and it can occur even when you don’t feel thirsty.
The chemical formula of water is “H2O,” but there is more that goes into what you drink than just the dihydrogen monoxide (read: water) that we know and love.
F, Na, Cl, K, Ca, and Mg are just a few atomic symbols for what are called “electrolytes.” When you dissolve salt in a glass of water, you get sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl) ions floating around in the water—these are electrolytes. These electrolytes are crucial to muscle and brain functions, and shortages can cause cramping.
Electrolytes are lost through perspiration, as exhibited by the Gatorade commercials that show athletes sweating out fluorescent green, blue, and orange liquids. This is why sweat tastes so salty—this is the sodium and chloride in particular.
While the average person only produces about one gallon of sweat per day, it is possible for some people to produce over three gallons of perspiration in a single day—add this to the amount of water lost in trips to the bathroom, and you’re pretty short on electrolytes and water.
Fortunately for most people (and unfortunately for sports drink producers), electrolytes are abundant in many foods, so unless you are in the “Three Gallon Club,” then Bobby Boucher is right, Gatorade isn’t better, and you are probably fine ditching the Gatorade.
The classic health advice for staying hydrated is to drink eight glasses of water per day, or one gallon of water. According to the Mayo Clinic, the actual amount of water needed to replenish the average amount lost per day is a little higher, and any fluid, not just water, can count toward your daily total.
Some ingredients in popular drinks, however—namely, caffeine and alcohol—can increase the total amount of fluids a person loses, and therefore the amount they need to drink. These two chemicals are called diuretics, which means that they cause you to make a few more trips to the bathroom than if you hadn’t ingested them.
Even when it comes to choosing where to get your water, there are decisions to be made. Is bottled water more pure? Do you buy a Brita filter, or just drink your water straight from the tap? The short answer is that no commercially available water is going to land you in a hospital, but there are subtle differences that can make some options more attractive than another.
Bottled water is not always subject to the same scrutiny as tap water, which means that it theoretically is more prone to containing contaminants. Additionally, most tap water contains the American Dental Association-recommended amount of fluoride (F), an electrolyte that fortifies the same tooth enamel that the acid in coffee and soda breaks down, while bottled water does not always contain fluoride.
As far as Brita and other similar water filters go, they don’t remove the fluoride put into tap water by local municipalities, and they claim to cut down on the chlorine taste that comes from the process used by water companies to purify water. The filters themselves, however, do not kill viruses or bacteria, and only filter out heavy metals like lead that are already filtered out of tap water. So while filtering tap water doesn’t hurt, it also isn’t clear how much it actually helps.
Regular tap water, though it sometimes gets a bad rap, is safe to drink, guaranteed (in most places) to have fluoride, and depending on the natural water source, could contain calcium and magnesium, two more (you got it) electrolytes that your body needs.
The age-old adage of “Everything in moderation” applies to more than just smoking, drinking, gambling, and the other typical vices. It can be applied to one’s diet—specifically, one’s choice in beverages—just as easily. Water makes up about 60 percent of the human body, so drink up, and keep it that way.