The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center

Water, Water... Everywhere!

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Drinking eight glasses or two quarts of water a day has become an obsession for many people.  Our cars have empty bottles rolling on the floor, and we bring our water with us wherever we go…to meetings, to work, to school or to the gym. In fact, people around the globe spend about $50 billion per year on bottled water. Water is very important for health, but have we gone overboard?

 Health benefits of water

Water accounts for about 60% of our weight. It flushes toxins from vital organs, carries nutrients to cells and provides moisture to tissues in our ears, nose and throat. Most of our bodily fluids are made up of water, and without enough of it, we can become dehydrated, resulting in our body's inability to carry out normal functions.

Water requirements

Most people who are 30 to 75 years old need approximately two or more quarts of fluid daily. These requirements can be increased or decreased based on many factors. Many oncologists recommend that patients undergoing chemotherapy increase their intake of fluids on the days before and the day of treatment.

What if you are one of those people who doesn't like to drink water?

Water Bottle

It is important to remember that just about all foods contain water, and all of this gets counted towards our total water requirements. For example, a bowl of oatmeal is prepared with almost a cup of water, but people rarely think of their morning cereal as fulfilling their fluid needs. Other foods that contain large amounts of water are fruits, vegetables, cooked grains, soups, some meats, and of course, all beverages, including juices, sports beverages coffee, tea, soda and milk. When you calculate all the water in foods plus beverages, it can really go far towards that two quart/day requirement!

Caffeine and hydration

Many people will tell you that if you drink caffeinated beverages like coffee, it results in dehydration. This is not true. Although caffeine is a diuretic (a substance that increases the flow of urine), it does not cause excess fluid loss any more than drinking a glass of water does. Therefore, moderate caffeine intake is acceptable unless you have problems with a rapid heartbeat, are jittery or have insomnia.

Signs of dehydration

“Are you a member of the clear pee club?” How many times do we use this phrase as a test for identifying dehydration? Deep yellow-colored urine is one sign of dehydration, but there are others as well. These are mild to excessive thirst, fatigue, headache, dry mouth, minimal urination, muscle weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness. Your doctor can do blood tests or a physical exam to determine the degree of dehydration. Mild dehydration can often be cured by increasing your fluids, but if it is severe, you may require intravenous (IV) fluids that contain electrolytes.

Selecting the right beverage

There are hundreds of choices for those of us looking to increase fluids, and they come in every color and flavor imaginable. However, if you have lost significant amounts of fluid from diarrhea, vomiting or excessive sweating, it is best to consume beverages with electrolyte (sodium, potassium) replacement, such as Gatorade, Powerade or Pedialyte. You can make your own sports beverage by combining 1 cup orange juice, 8 teaspoons of sugar, ¾ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 quart of water.

Are “designer fluids” for you?

If electrolyte replacement is not your primary concern and you are looking to replenish or maintain your hydration, you also have hundreds of choices. In fact, bottled water accounts for 30% of all fluids that we buy. Recent studies have shown that the water used in many of these bottled products is from the tap, not from mountain springs, as the beautifully illustrated labels would lead you to believe. And now the industry has “enriched” these products with vitamins, antioxidants, herbs and more, jacking up the price and pushing sales even further. Many of these products have no scientific data to back up their claims, and they contain large amounts of sugar and empty calories, not to mention costing a small fortune. Water from your tap may be a great way to cut costs while providing the same healthy benefits.

What about “BPA”?

There has been a lot of publicity recently about the use of “BPA” or bisphenol A in the plastic used for many types of food packaging requiring hard plastic, including water bottles, baby bottles, the linings of cans, and many other plastic products, like cell phones, cosmetics and CDs. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, prolonged exposure to BPA may raise the risk of heart disease, diabetes and liver abnormalities. It is also felt to mimic estrogen, and is being researched for its potential role in promoting breast and prostate cancer. Although it is impossible to avoid all exposure to BPA, you can minimize it by using stainless steel water bottles, looking for plastic that says “BPA-free” or avoiding plastic containers with the recycling numbers 3, 6 and 7. Microwave or store your food in glass or ceramic-glass containers. Until the research becomes clear, it is probably a good idea to take these simple precautions.

Bottom line

Staying well hydrated is important for your health and well-being. Water is truly everywhere, from our taps to our foods and the legions of fancy and expensive beverages that line the shelves of the supermarkets. Making the best choices need not break the bank and will keep your body healthy and hydrated!