HEALTH: It's the Real Thing ; Drinking Water Can Protect Your Health, Improve Your Concentration and Even Prevent Depression. Yet Only One in 10 of Us Is Getting Enough, According to Research. KATE HILPERN Hears Why Fizzy Drinks, Tea and Coffee and Even Fruit Juices Just Won't Do the Trick
Hilpern, Kate, The Independent (London, England)
Practically the only time I drink water - I mean in its pure form, not as squash, tea, coffee or alcohol - is when I'm working out at the gym and can feel my body crying out for it. Like millions of people, the rest of the time I simply prefer some flavour to my beverage. It is a serious problem, according to scientists, who claim that anyone drinking less than eight glasses of pure water per day is at risk of dehydration. The consequences, they say, include poor performance at work, depression, allergies and even some cancers.
Adding to the problem of getting this message across is that recent studies show drinking too much water can also jeopardise your health, causing "acute water intoxication." Excess water dilutes salt in the blood, depriving the brain, heart and muscles of the amounts they need to function properly. But, says Dr Wendy Doyle of the British Dietetic Association, "It's very unlikely to happen except in the most extreme circumstances. It's far better to drink up and err on the side of hydration."
According to a recent Gallup poll, only one in 10 of us drinks the right amount to meet the body's needs. And it's not only adults who are affected. A quarter of children drink no water during the school day, according to new research by AXA PPP Healthcare, which found that children's performance is affected as a result. Indeed, thirst can cause mental performance to drop by at least 10 per cent.
Studies of primary schools in areas including Edinburgh and Brighton have found that test results significantly improve when pupils are encouraged to drink water throughout the day. There are also risks of longer-term damage, with paediatricians treating increasing numbers of children with bladder and kidney problems related to dehydration.
Fizzy drinks are four and a half times more popular than water among children, according to the AXA PPP study. "But these aren't a patch on water," says Barrie Clarke of Water UK, the umbrella organisation for water suppliers. "Soft drinks, including fizzy drinks, cordial and fruit juices, contain high levels of sugar. This means they are absorbed much more slowly than water so they don't hydrate the brain as quickly." Really high sugar drinks cause a rapid rise in blood sugar level, followed by a sudden dip, which can cause lack of concentration, he adds.
Cola is the worst offender. Some scientists claim that because cola - and other caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee - act as diuretics, they can make your body lose more water than usual. So you'll actually end up needing to drink more water to make up for it. "Most people know that drinking water is good for you," admits Clarke. "And many realise that there are risks to the bladder and kidneys if you don't get enough of it. But fewer realise the huge range of other risks that can affect us every day, including lack of concentration, fatigue and irritability."
By the time you feel thirsty, dehydration has already set in. Some people also feel uncomfortable but don't know why. As the dehydration progresses, it leads to headaches, nausea and physical weakness.
"Making matters worse is that many people mistake thirst for hunger pangs, and eat instead of drinking," says Dr Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, a physician who has studied water for 20 years. He argues that obesity is caused by dehydration.
So why do we need so much water? Dr Batmanghelidj explains, "Water makes up 70 per cent of the body, making up most of our blood, which moves nutrients around the body to get them to where's they'd needed. But we lose between two to four litres every day through urinating, breathing and sweating. This means we need to replace up to 10 per cent of the total water in our bodies every day."
Depression and mood swings are perhaps the least recognised consequences of not drinking enough water. Nutritionist Amanda Geary, who led The Food and Mood Project on behalf of the mental- health charity MIND, says, "Our study found that 80 per cent of people who tried having more water as a way of improving their emotional and mental health reported significant improvements. …