We’re floating in a sea of bad science brought to us by memes, sound bites, and simplified reports. I ended up sleep deprived thanks to the hydration myth.
“Hydrate! You have to hydrate!”
My sister-in-law shoved a bottle of water at my 12-year old nephew. He regarded her calmly and said, “I’m not thirsty.”
“You have to hydrate!” She began spouting a list of seemingly random facts about disease and thirst, making it sound like the kid was going to faint if he didn’t stop working in the garden with my husband and down that bottle of water.
True, it was a hot day. True, we were all sweating through our clothes.
But we weren’t marching through the Kalahari desert. We were working in the garden twenty feet from the house and within sight of the kitchen faucet.
No one was going to die of dehydration within the next hour.
Why do people today cart water bottles around with them? The water bottle phenomenon started in the early 1990s. I remember, because I was part of it.
A friend of mine worked for a pharmaceutical company. She had promotional plastic water bottles, the refillable kind with a screw top and a big plastic straw. I was the first college student on campus to trot around with the big blue bottle.
One of my professors questioned it, then abruptly stopped her line of questioning and changed the subject. I realized she thought the medication name on the side of the bottle meant that I needed my big blue bottle to sip medicine from during class.
It didn’t help that I worked as a voice over announcer and script writer at that time. I used my voice excessively, recording radio commercials. I taught night school. I worked as a receptionist. My poor throat was constantly dry. Sipping water soothed it.
Then came Weight Watchers. I remember sitting in the Weight Watchers classroom going over the program with my group leader. She pointed to my diligently completed little booklet where I recorded my food intake and numbers to show I’d kept to the plan. But the boxes under water intake weren’t ticked off neatly in a row.
“You need six to eight glasses of water a day,” she chided gently.
Where did we get this idiocy around six to eight glasses of water a day? When did we start assuming we were all a giant evaporation dish and if we didn’t rehydrate every six seconds we’d shrivel up like a raisin in the sun?
Even scientists are baffled by how out of hand the whole six to eight glasses of water a day thing is these days. The New York Times reported on a paper about “medical myths” first published in 2007. In this paper, the myth of six to eight glasses of water a day was debunked.
Out of all the myths explored in this paper, the one around water intake was the one most soundly criticized by the media.
Yet no one can point to the origin of the recommendation.
My sister, a professor of nursing, claims it comes from the early 1990s. She recalls a study about water intake that claims that people need roughly six to eight glasses of water a day. But this intake, she tells me, can come from food as well as from drink. If you eat salads, fruit, soups and other moisture-rich foods, you’re probably well hydrated anyway and don’t need that ubiquitous water bottle.
Yet we all fall prey to the myth…to our collective detriment.
A funny story. I have always been a poor sleeper. I wake up several times a night. I toddle off to the bathroom around 3 a.m., sometimes twice a night, once at 1 a.m. and another time at 3 a.m.
I thought it was old age. Perimenopause. Just a fact of life.
Then I realized I was drinking close to 32 or more ounces of water a day.
I’d gotten into the habit while I attended those ill-fated Weight Watchers meetings of always sipping water. A large glass of water holding 16–24 ounces is always on my desk, to the left of my computer. I sip it throughout the morning, sometimes refilling at lunch but often refilling it before then.
I have a can of seltzer or fizzy water before dinner in lieu of evening wine or cocktails to save calories.
I drink a cup of herbal tea before bedtime.
My poor kidneys were floating in all this liquid…and the only time they could catch up to my body to maintain homeostatis was at night.
All I did was cut back my water habit to one glass per day while at work.
For the first time in years, I slept soundly through the night. No 1 a.m. wake up call. No 3 a.m. stumble to the bathroom. No need for sleeping pills or sleep apnea testing or all the other recommendations from my doctor.
Just stop the nonsense of over-hydration.
We fall prey to so many of these health-related myths because most of us are time pressed. We want to feel better, lose weight, regain or maintain our health. We tune into little soundbites relayed by the evening news or the news caster on the radio.
“New super berries have more antixodants than an apple…”
“Milk is bad for you and filled with bovine growth hormone…”
“Studies state that sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea accounts for many more heart attacks than previously thought…”
This is what is said, but what’s underneath it? A little exploration reveals that the fruit story is run by the fruit consortium funded by berry growers; the milk is bad for you story was funded by animal rights activisits, and so on.
The news “stories” you hear pertaining to medicine, health, diet and wellness are, for the most part, funded by special interest groups who do not have your interests at heart but the interests of their members who pay good money to have their products promoted.
Most of us slept through basic human biology in high school and only a select few understood chemistry. I happened to enjoy biology and tried to like chemistry, although I found it difficult.
Companies, trade organizations, the media, and the sickness industry prey upon our ignorance to sell us on illnesses or problems we do not have and then offer the cures for them. Not always, of course. But enough so that we believe the myths and end up right back where we started.
Or, in my case, end up in the bathroom because I drank way too much water.
We’re floating on a sea of bad health information. How do we swim to shore?
- Learn about your body. It’s never too late to learn. Look for free materials online, read, watch YouTube videos and more, but learn how your body works.
- Recognize that not everything you hear or read on the news is the full story. Most of the time you need to track down the source of the story to fully understand the scope and reach of the conclusions.
- Sample size counts. A study with only 6 participants doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. There’s such a thing as statistical significance, which means a sample size large enough so that results can be used to form a conclusion. Too small a study and it’s meaningless.
- Any study can be spun to represent any conclusion, if the PR person is good enough. I’ve seen this happen in my professional career in marketing and I know it happens in all industries. Watch for PR buzzwords like ‘superfood’ and ‘must’ and ‘astonishing’ breakthrough. Real scientific breakthroughs may be astonishing but they are rarely so sudden that they blaze across your newsfeed and then into your grocery stores within months.
- Listen to your body and respect its signals. Like my 12- year old nephew turning down the bottle of water, the average healthy person does not need to drink excess water to hydrate. Nor do you need to eat every two hours if you are healthy and do not have a medical condition requiring you to eat to maintain blood sugar. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, learn to listen to your body’s signals of hunger, thirsty, sleep, movement. Your body is wiser than you think.