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Health Benefits of Drinking Water Oversold?

The health benefits of drinking water, at least for already
healthy people, may have been oversold, according to a new report. The findings
will likely disappoint water-bottle-toting Americans and relieve those who can
never seem to down those eight glasses of water a day, widely recommended for
our health.

But there is nothing magical about those eight glasses, at least when it
comes to proven health benefits, according to a new report. "There is no
clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water," writes
Stanley Goldfarb, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania,
Philadelphia, and the senior author of an editorial on the topic in the
Journal of the AmericanSociety of Nephrology.

On the other hand, he adds, "There is also no clear evidence of
lack of benefit."  There's a general lack of evidence either
way.

Those doctors and others who have been recommending drinking eight glasses
of water aren't basing it on anything scientific, according to Goldfarb. He
concludes that most healthy people don't have to worry about drinking eight
glasses every day.

He emphasizes he is talking about healthy people with kidneys that function
well. And he points out that people who live in hot, dry climates do need to
drink more water to avoid dehydration, as do those who engage in vigorous
exercise.


(How much water do
you drink each day? What other liquids? Talk with others on WebMD's
Health Cafe message board.)

Health Benefits of Drinking Water: Search for Evidence

Goldfarb was curious about where the longstanding recommendation about eight
daily glasses of water originated. "In my mind it wasn't that drinking this
extra water would hurt you, but that you might not have to."

So he combed through medical literature dating back to the early 1970s,
trying to find the science to back up the advice.

Turns out, there is no single study and no single outcome that led to the
recommendation becoming popular, he says. Somehow, it took on a life of its
own.

Goldfarb and his University of Pennsylvania colleague, Dan Negoianu, MD,
next examined some popular claims about the health benefits of drinking water,
trying in each case to find scientific evidence.

"We looked at the evidence of some of the so-called urban myths that
have grown up about drinking water," Goldfarb says.

Claim No. 1: Drinking Water Helps Excrete Toxins

Drinking lots of water is widely thought to help improve kidney function and
boost the clearance of toxins. One way it could do this, Goldfarb says, is by a
mechanism called glomerular filtration, a measure of the kidney's ability to
filter and remove waste products.

But in one study the researchers looked at, increased water intake by 12
young and healthy people actually decreased their glomerular filtration
rate.  And in another study, the rate did not change over time during a
six-month period in which older men drank more water to try to improve bladder
function.

In other research, increased water intake was found to affect the clearance
of many substances by the kidneys, including sodium. But the studies don't
prove any sort of clinical benefit, Goldfarb says.

"What almost certainly happens is, any toxins the kidney is responsible
for excreting simply get diluted when the person is drinking a lot of
water," Goldfarb says.

Claim No. 2: Drinking Water Helps Your Organs Work Better

Water is retained in various organs, so the thinking goes, and they work
better with more water in them.

But Goldfarb and Negoianu say how much water is retained varies with the
speed with which the water is taken in. If it's sipped, it's more likely to
stay in the body than when gulped.

Even so, they could find no studies documenting that increased water intake
helped the organs.

Claim No. 3: Drinking Water Reduces Food Intake and Helps You Lose Weight

Drinking more water is widely encouraged to help weight loss, the theory
being that the more water you drink, the fuller you will feel and the less you
will eat. "The [medical] literature on this is quite conflicted,"
Goldfarb says.

"Drinking before a meal might decrease intake [according to one study],
but another study found [it did] not."

Even so, Goldfarb calls this claim one of the most promising for further
study.

Claim No. 4: Drinking Water Improves Skin Tone

"From a quantitative sense, this doesn't make sense," Goldfarb says.
The water you drink will be distributed throughout the body. "Such a tiny
part of it would end up in the skin," he says.

"It turns out one small study showed there might be an increase in blood
flow in those who drink [a lot of] water, but no one has ever looked
scientifically [to see if it improves skin tone]."

Claim No. 5: Drinking Water Wards Off Headaches

Headache sufferers often blame water deprivation. But Goldfarb could only
find one study that looked at this. The study participants who boosted their
water intake had fewer headaches than those who did not, but the results were
not statistically significant, meaning they could have been chance
findings.

Second Opinion: Health Benefits of Drinking Water

The report provides interesting -- and sometimes surprising -- information,
says David Baron, MD, a family physician and chief of staff at Santa
Monica-UCLA Medical Center & Orthopaedic Hospital, Calif., who reviewed it
for WebMD.

The most surprising finding, he says, was the lack of a scientific link
found between drinking a lot of water in order to eat less. "I thought [the
suggestion that] filling up your stomach with water might help lose weight
makes sense," he says.

The report isn't dismissing the need to drink a healthy amount of fluids, he
says. It simply showed no scientific basis to the recommendation to drink eight
glasses of water daily.

"There is a lot of individual variation" in exactly how much water
or fluid people need," he says.

Most of us, he says, are OK "by trusting our instincts" about how
much to drink. "If you have a normal heart, normal kidneys, and normal
thirst mechanism, it's not likely you will get dehydrated if there is a
sufficient supply of fluids available," he says, and drink when
thirsty.

Drinking Water: A Placebo Effect?

Might drinking a lot of water make us think we feel better, look better, and
function better? Could there be a placebo effect to those eight daily
glasses?

"I'm certain there is," Goldfarb says. "The placebo effect is
very strong."

And if you're still convinced lots of water does your body good? No problem.
"People say they feel stronger and healthier if they drink more water,"
he says.  "That's fine. If they enjoy that benefit, so be it. [But]
those who don't feel that way shouldn't feel obligated to drink the eight
glasses."

By Kathleen Doheny
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

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