A significant number of Americans may be
"drinking themselves to dehydration" by consuming too little water and
too many beverages that rob the body of water, according to the results of a
national consumer survey.
The survey of 3,003 Americans, conducted by
Yankelovich Partners for the Nutrition Information Center at The New York
Hospital - Cornell Medical Center and the International Bottled Water
Association, reveals that America's glass is half empty.
The good news is that the average American
drinks nearly eight daily servings of hydrating beverages, such as water, milk,
juice and decaffeinated soft drinks. But that is undermined by the nearly five
servings of caffeine- or alcohol-containing beverages that respondents report
drinking each day. Scientific research shows that caffeine and alcohol act as
diuretics, causing the body to lose water through increased urination.
"The net result is that most Americans are
probably only getting about a third of the valuable hydration benefits they
need," says Barbara Levine, R.D., Ph.D., Director of the Nutrition
Information Center. "The vast majority aren't drinking enough water to
begin with, and, to make matters worse, many don't realize that beverages
containing alcohol and caffeine actually rob the body of water."
Awareness of Water Needs is High, but
Compliance is Low
While two out of three survey respondents say
they know that health and nutrition experts recommend drinking eight,
eight-ounce servings of water a day, one in two admits to not getting enough. In
fact, the survey shows that the average American only consumes 4.6 servings of
water a day.
Indeed, only one in five meets the "eight
a day" recommendation. More than double that amount (44 percent) drink
three or fewer servings of water daily. And nearly one in 10 (9 percent) report
drinking no water at all.
"It's troubling that so few Americans
drink the recommended amount of water daily," notes Levine. "The
consumption of water and other hydrating beverages is crucial for proper
retention and use of the body's water in complex and intricate biochemical
Water comprises more than 70 percent of solid
tissue, such as muscle, in the human body. Besides oxygen, it is the most
important nutrient in the body, functioning as a physiological "jack of all
trades." Water has an important role in nearly every major function in the
body, regulating body temperature, carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells,
removing waste, cushioning joints and protecting organs and tissues.
It is not surprising, then, that those survey
respondents who say they drink eight or more servings of water a day are less
likely to report experiencing the symptoms of dehydration than those who drink
three or fewer glasses of water daily. Low-volume water drinkers, for example,
are more likely to report having dry, itchy skin or feeling tired and groggy
when they wake up or at mid-day, two classic signs of dehydration.
Levine notes that longer-term, more severe
dehydration presents more serious problems, dangerously affecting blood
pressure, circulation, digestion, kidney function and nearly all body processes.
Survey Reveals Hydration 'Knowledge Gaps'
While survey respondents are widely aware of
minor dehydration symptoms such as dry skin and headaches, they are less
knowledgeable about the causes of dehydration. For example, one in five does not
know that caffeine dehydrates -- a key finding, considering that Americans down
4.1 daily servings of coffee, caffeinated soda and tea.
Additionally, nearly half (47 percent) are
unaware that the human body loses as much water when asleep as when awake, while
more than a third (37 percent) do not know that the body needs as much water in
cold weather as it does in warm weather.
One in 10 respondents say they wait until they
are thirsty before drinking a beverage. They do not realize that thirst lags far
behind the body's need for water and does not adequately signal the body's
The Nutrition Information Center is a component
of the Clinical Nutrition Research Unit, The New York Hospital - Cornell Medical
Center, Memorial Sloan - Kettering Cancer Center.
About the survey methodology: The findings are
from a survey of 3,003 American adults, conducted by Yankelovich Partners for
the Nutrition Information Center of The New York Hospital -- Cornell Medical
Center and the International Bottled Water Association. Total sampling error:
75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. It
is probable that similar percentages apply to 90% of the world population.
In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken
Even mild dehydration will slow down one's metabolism as much as 3%.
One glass of water shuts down midnight hunger pangs for almost 100% of the
dieters studied in a University of Washington study.
Lack of water is the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue.
Research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease
back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.
A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with
basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a printed page.
Drinking 5 glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%. It
can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%, and reduce the risk of developing
bladder cancer by 50%.
IN COLD & HEAT
According to nutritionists, the best way to
fight the heat and the cold is to drink plenty of water. However, a survey by
The Brita Products Company found that, even in the best of weather conditions,
two out of three Americans drink fewer than the recommended 8 glasses of water a
day. Read on for some interesting and important tips on keeping hydrated in the
cold and heat.
Cold Weather Hydration
In the winter, skiers don't always realize that drinking copious amounts of
water will help them perform and feel better. A 1998 study conducted by the
American College of Sports Medicine monitored skiers and compared a
well-hydrated group (using back-mounted hydration packs) with a
"no-water" group. The results showed how dehydration can dramatically
affect a skier's day. The combination of drier air, high altitude and exercise
can bring on effects of dehydration ranging from fatigue to frost bite. Although
skiers are often tempted to drink hot beverages or alcohol, these only add to
the effects of dehydration. Don't rely on thirst to be your guide. Drink water
steadily over the course of the day, at least twelve 8-ounce glasses or more if
you are and aggressive skier or snowboarder. A helpful method for hydration
outdoors is a back-mounted hydration system, like the CamelBak.
Keeping Cool in the Heat
When the weather heats up, remember to increase your water consumption.
"High temperatures and humidity can cause serious health problems if people
over exert themselves," says Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D. "Dehydration
is more common under these conditions. To help combat dehydration, I recommend
drinking more than eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day during the summer."
-- Add two glasses a day to your 8-glass
minimum. While 8 glasses daily is a good start, you should routinely drink more
fluids during the summer. Increasing your minimum intake by a couple of glasses
is good insurance. Keep in mind that heavy perspiration can cause you to lose
12, 14 or even 16 glasses a day.
-- Drink before you get thirsty. If you wait
until you're thirsty, you're already slightly dehydrated. Thirst is an
unreliable indicator of your hydration needs.
-- Have a "water plan." It is
important to drink water at regular intervals throughout the day in order to
keep your body's internal temperature down. Keep a full pitcher, glass or water
bottle handy to remind yourself.
-- Don't over exert yourself during the heat
wave. Even daily rituals may be too much during very hot weather. This may mean
not going for a walk during the day or postponing outdoor chores such as
gardening until after the heat wave.
-- Parents should monitor the fluid intake of
infants and toddlers since they are unable to express thirst. Even older
children will often not stop to take a drink until they are thirsty and need to
be reminded to take "water breaks" on a regular basis, especially
during hot weather.
-- Pregnant women need to drink more water.
They need to accommodate the needs of the fetus and the fluid losses due to
increased heat production and perspiration. Lactating women need to increase
water intake to replace fluid lost through nursing.
-- Don't count beverages containing caffeine or
alcohol toward your 8 glasses. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate your body, so you
need to compensate for them. Drink an extra glass of water for each cup of
regular coffee or tea, and for each glass of an alcoholic beverage that you