Ask the Pharmacist

Q. I’m always hearing I should drink more water. Is there actually any justification for that?

A. You hear it all the time; “You should drink eight glasses of water a day” or “Drinking water can help (insert your ailment here)” or “If you drank more water …”. Many people wonder if water is as beneficial as we are led to believe or is it more of a myth. Before that question can be answered on an individual basis, perhaps ask yourself these few questions.

* Do you have dry, itchy skin? Or suffer from cracks on the hands and/or heels?

* Do you have a dry mouth or dry lips or dry eyes?

* Do you pride yourself on having a bladder like a camel (ie: you can go for hours without having to urinate)?

* Is your urine dark and/or smelly?

* Do you pee very little amounts and less than 4 times a day?

* Do you feel tired or lethargic and keep drinking caffeine to help?

* Do you feel dizzy?

* Do you complain of headaches?

* Do you feel thirsty?

* Are you constipated?

These are just some of the signs that could possibly be attributed to your body being even slightly dehydrated. Keep in mind that most people who are mildly dehydrated do not experience most of the above nor do they necessarily feel thirsty every time their body is lacking in water.

As well, there are a variety of reasons that might predispose you to feeling this way despite the consumption of lots of fluids such as having vomiting or diarrhea, having a fever, exposure to excessive heat/ sun, having too much alcohol, having diabetes or as an effect of certain medications such as diuretics (water pills). However, in many cases, the cause is simply that we are not consuming enough water.

As you can see from the above signs and symptoms, there are many benefits to ensuring you increase your water intake. You may have heard this before but it is good to be reminded of the fact that around 60 percent of our body weight is water. It should therefore come as no surprise then that every cell and organ in our body requires water to survive and function properly. By drinking water, not only are we are helping our body rid itself of toxins through urinating, bowel movements and perspiring but we are also helping our body feel more energized all while protecting our joints (the shock-absorbing cartilage in our joints is around 80% water) and tissues.

As well, high water consumption has been linked to a lower risk of a number of medical disorders including urinary tract infections, heartburn, asthma flareups, kidney stones, high or low blood pressure (it serves to normalize it as needed), preventing exacerbations in those with COPD, preventing and treating migraines along with a host of other medical benefits.

The question is how much water do we need?

That answer is very individualized as we all have different needs but the fact remains that we all do require water. It has been suggested that we all need eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day which equates to just under 2 litres a day however some may require less than this daily while others may have a need for more. Another calculation is to drink at least half an ounce to a full ounce of water for every pound of our body weight (that’s 15-30 ml for every 0.454 kg you weigh for those more inclined to the metric system).

To help decide how much water your body needs, take into consideration your activity level as exercises that make you sweat will require you to replace that fluid loss. If you are in a humid environment or at a high altitude, your body will also require more water to compensate. Certain illnesses can lead you to dehydration and as such increased fluid consumption is necessary during those times too.

Does it have to be water that we drink?

We can certainly increase our water in our diet through specific food choices such as watermelon and spinach since they provide nearly all of their weight can be attributed to their water content. However, you would have to consume an enormous amount of these foods to fulfill your body’s needs so that is not a practical option for most of us. Typically, we can satisfy about 20% of our fluid intake through food consumption and the rest through beverages. We can choose other drinks like milk, coffee and tea as they can be counted towards our daily water needs.

However, water is still encouraged over other choices since it is calorie-free, inexpensive (it is free from the tap!) and it is very accessible. As for sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade, only people that are intensely exercising for longer than 1 hour should consider using them to replenish the water and electrolytes that are lost. For the rest of us, the massive amounts of sugar they contain do far more harm than good. Even though having a coffee can contribute to your water intake, instead of opting for that shot of caffeine to help get through the rest of the day, consider filling (and refilling and refilling) a glass of water to improve your energy levels.

Increasing your water consumption has been linked to increased alertness and cognitive consumption, something we all could benefit from.