- Rafael Abuchaibe (@RafaelAbuchaibe)
- BBC News World
There are few tips as beneficial to your health as “staying hydrated”.
Beyond the fact that between 55% and 60% of the composition of the human body is made up of water, the precious liquid is vital for the functioning of our organism.
It is essential, for example, for the lubrication of the joints, the nutrition of the cells and the regulation of body temperature. It is essential for most body functions.
But what does “staying hydrated” really mean?
BBC World decided to investigate the subject and ask an expert to answer some of the most common myths about hydration.
Don’t rely on thirst alone to tell if you’re well hydrated
Although thirst is the most obvious way for our body to let us know that we are short of water, it may not be enough because it is an indicator that deteriorates with age and which, depending on the circumstances, can not be entirely reliable.
Thirst is a mechanism that scientists believe occurs in an area of the brain known as the lamina terminalis. A study published in Nature in 2015 – by a group of scientists from Columbia University in New York – showed that when the lamina terminalis was manipulated in animals, it was possible to make them avoid water, although they are dehydrated.
The lamina terminalis is in an area of the brain where many cells are not protected by the blood-brain barrier, which prevents the invasion of, for example, certain types of bacteria, viruses and toxins.
The lamina terminalis therefore undergoes increased wear and tear over the years.
“The feeling of thirst varies from person to person and deteriorates with age,” Dr Natalia Dmitrieva, who has just published a study for the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH), told BBC Mundo. studies on the relationship between proper hydration and healthy aging.
And because the function of the lamina terminalis can deteriorate, experts recommend getting into the habit of hydrating.
“The best way to stay well hydrated is to be actively aware of how much fluid you’re consuming each day,” says Dr. Dmitrieva.
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends simple things like carrying a water bottle all day and refilling it, or ordering water at a restaurant instead of another type of drink, to take the habit of drinking more water.
To stay well hydrated, it is generally recommended to drink 8 glasses of water a day, although this amount can vary.
“The US National Academy of Medicine, for example, suggests that most women consume 6-9 glasses (1.5-2.2 liters) of fluid per day, and men 8-12 glasses (2 to 3 liters),” Dr. Dmitrieva said.
“These recommendations were developed by scientists and health professionals based on current knowledge about the amount of water needed to maintain a healthy water balance.
But in reality, hydration does not only depend on water consumption. Certain foods, especially fruits and vegetables, whose composition is mainly composed of water, also contribute to our hydration.
Food is our main source of electrolytes, nutrients – such as potassium and magnesium – that are essential for maintaining hydration in the body, as they help regulate the chemical reactions that occur inside cells, as well as maintaining the fluid balance between the inner and outer parts of the cells.
Foods such as bananas, avocados and yogurts contain potassium, while spinach and nuts are good sources of magnesium.
Pay attention to your alcohol and coffee consumption?
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, this news might give you some comfort.
Caffeine, the compound in coffee that gives you an energy boost, is well known to have diuretic properties. In other words, it stimulates the production of urine and the elimination of liquids.
But the levels of caffeine we normally consume are too low to cause dehydration, and in some cases could have the opposite effect.
A study from the School of Sports Science at the University of Birmingham, UK, concluded that the hydration levels of 50 men who drank between three and six cups of coffee a day did not change, because the body gets used to caffeine levels.
“The data suggests that coffee, when consumed in moderation by caffeine-habituated men, has similar hydrating qualities to water,” the study states.
According to the University of Birmingham, for coffee to have a diuretic effect that can be recorded, a person must drink the equivalent of five 8oz cups per day, or more than 500mg of caffeine. If this figure is lower, the amounts of water consumed with coffee are greater than the diuretic properties of caffeine.
The same principle applies to alcoholic beverages and alcohol percentages.
In the case of alcoholic beverages, their potential for dehydration depends on the degree of alcohol they contain.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that drinking high-alcohol spirits led to greater dehydration than drinking beer, even though the amount of alcohol consumed was the same.
The secret lies in the alcohol to water ratio, which averages 5% versus 95% for beer, 20% versus 80% for wine, and 40% versus 60% for some spirits such as gin and whiskey. .
This is why experts recommend drinking in moderation and drinking plenty of water if drinking alcohol with high alcohol content.
And for those who think “a beer hydrates”, Dr. Dmitrieva says, “Beer should not be used as a hydration drink due to the negative effect alcohol has on overall health.”
Do not substitute water with other beverages to hydrate yourself
While it’s true that electrolyte drinks can help boost hydration in certain circumstances – after a rapid loss of electrolytes through sports or illness, for example – experts agree. to say that when it comes to hydration, “there is nothing like water”.
This is due to the components of many drinks that claim to be hydrating, such as sports drinks.
“Ordinary people should drink water – not sports drinks – to stay hydrated,” the CDC says, adding that the sugars and additives these drinks sometimes contain can increase the risk of obesity and obesity. other conditions such as diabetes.
This point is particularly important for children and adolescents.
A 2011 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that although “pediatric athletes may benefit from the use of sports drinks containing carbohydrates, proteins or electrolytes (…) the use of sports drinks containing the place of water on the sports field or in the school canteen is generally not necessary for the average child engaged in routine physical activity”.
If someone doesn’t like the taste of water, the CDC recommends natural solutions such as adding a few drops of lemon or lime, or promoting the consumption of beverages that don’t contain any sweeteners.
Dr. Dmitrieva recalls that “more and more epidemiological studies establish a link between chronic hypohydration and adverse health effects”.
“People who are hypohydrated age faster, are 64% more likely to develop chronic diseases later in life, and 21% more likely to die prematurely,” she adds.