How Much Fluid Do We Really Need?

WATER, water, everywhere – and it really is. As an island, we’re surrounded by it. As a place with lousy weather, we’re deluged with it. And as suckers for the latest health trend, we’re falling over the stuff.

Because, these days, it seems we can’t work, shop or have a meal out without regular top-ups of water.

In fact, some people wouldn’t be seen dead without their favourite bottled brand poking fashionably from pocket or handbag. Quite right too, you might think. After all, we don’t drink enough, do we? And that’s a message that’s reinforced — drip, drip style — by health agencies and, of course, by the producers of bottled water.

But you can have too much of a good thing, as poor warehouseman Andrew Thornton tragically discovered recently. He died after drinking massive amounts of cold water to help his painful gums.

So how much water do we really need? And are we drinking too much, or not enough? Here are the stats. We each need about 2.5litres of fluid each day. More if we’re hot, exercising or ill. About 1.5litres comes from drinks, the rest from food. And how much do we lose? No prizes for guessing: 2.5litres a day. That’s 1.5litres of wee — yes, really — and a litre through sweat and other bodily losses. It’s no coincidence that these figures balance, because your body’s pretty clever at sorting out these things.


Too much fluid and we’re waterlogged. Too little and we dry out. But these extremes are unusual, because your internal plumbing — and its control mechanisms — is usually in good shape. True, the elderly and babies can be at risk of dehydration — especially in hot weather and when they’re not well. And you can flood the body if you really binge on fluid. Clubbers beware: Ecstasy can stop you making enough wee, so you could be topping up a tank that can’t empty.

Worst case scenario: Fluid overload, a swollen brain and fits or even death. But these cases are rare, which is why they hit the headlines. The facts are that your body is great at telling you when there’s a fluid-balance blip. Need a drink? It’ll tell you by concentrating your pee and making you thirsty. Overflowing? It’ll restore order by making you wee a bit more.

So maybe it should be no surprise that, despite the flood of advice about us needing to drink more, there’s hardly any scientific evidence to say we should hit the water bottle. It doesn’t “flush out toxins”. It doesn’t make you look more beautiful. And it doesn’t get you fitter — although all that running to the loo is good exercise.

Let’s face it, we’ve survived an awfully long time without having to carry water bottles around like mini life support machines. Emergency rations are fair enough in battle, running marathons, in the desert, and so on. But in the indoor shopping centre? Forget it — it’s just another health fad fuelled by clever marketing and the worried well.

Personally, I’d pour cold water on it.

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