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Chronic Dehydration: Are We Thirstier Than We Think?

It’s one of those things I’ve heard since I was a wee lad – drink eight ounces of water eight times per day, a.k.a. the 8 x 8 rule. Most Americans probably don’t come anywhere near this, but does that mean that we, as a nation, are dehydrated?

“It is a reasonable assumption that most of us are operating in a dehydrated state,” says Dr. Vitaro, a naturopathic physician at Natural Flow in Denver. “There is a dangerous belief that all liquid is equal.”

First, a little background on H2O. Most estimates put the amount of water in the human body at 50 to 75 percent, depending on a host of factors. H.H. Mitchell, in the Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, says the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs 83%, and the skin 64%. And of course humans can only go roughly a week without water, though even that number changes drastically based on weather conditions, body make-up, etc.

All of those figures would suggest that water is indeed important, but just how important is it?

“Simple daily living and breathing can deplete us of our valuable water supply within,” Vitaro says. “If efforts aren’t made to replenish our systems regularly like a habit, a state of disease will set in as a result.”

Water is used in many ways in the body: As a transporter, a solvent, a metabolite, a coolant, a lubricant and more.  It’s a logical progression that if we aren’t getting enough of it, then the above functions aren’t happening in an optimal way.

But for every practitioner out there who believes we need at least 8 glasses a day, if not more — and remember we also get water through food and other beverages — there is a physician who thinks the 8 x 8 rule is dead in the water.

One of the more referenced ones is Dr. Heinz Valtin, who published a professional review in the American Journal of Physiology, and found there wasn’t any scientific evidence that supported the 8 x 8 rule.

The thing is, he didn’t really find any evidence against it. Oddly enough, seems like there isn’t much research on how much water the body actually needs, despite it being “the most abundant substance on Earth.”

And the actual origin of eight glasses a day is shrouded in mystery, but seems to be tied to a recommendation dating back to the ‘40s, when the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine wrote that a rule of thumb would be one milliliter of water per calorie eaten, meaning roughly 2,000 milliliters, or two liters, of water per day.

If all these numbers are confusing, there is at least one thing that can be agreed upon: water is important.

“A hydrated state is necessary for good health,” Vitaro explains. “Water will nourish and repair cells and flush toxic waste. Without it all of our body’s cells struggle to maintain equilibrium, producing stress on our systems.”

Whether or not we are a dehydrated nation is perhaps a more difficult question to answer however.

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