Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

Do You Really Need 6-8 Glasses Of Water Each Day?

“Bueno es saber que los vasos
nos sirven para beber;
lo malo es que no sabemos
para qué sirve la sed”.
Proverbios y cantares.XLI. Antonio Machado

(‘It’s good to know that glasses
are what can help us drink;
The trouble is, we don’t know
What is the purpose of thirst’)

The one thing you can’t afford to have missing when you start a scientific congress or any other professional meeting is not a notepad, a pencil or even an iPad – nowadays, it’s a bottle of water. Offices, airports, handbags and lecture halls, all of them are bursting with all kinds of bottles. It seems they are essential to work and even to stay alive.

Bordering nonsense, some people desperately search for a bottled water vending machine as soon as they arrive at the airport, even if that means gobbling it down in a minute before walking through the security checkpoints.

It is now a common belief that continously drinking water (6 to 8 glasses a day according to NHS, at least two litres -half a gallon- according to other sources) is the healthy thing to do.

There is even the Hydration for Health initiative, seeking to promote water consumption, and it has its own annual meeting. Wonder where is it held? In Evian, France, incidentally not only a town but also a famous brand of bottled water. Who sponsors the meeting? Danone, a company that has several bottled water brands among its most profitable products. It’s hard to know how big the industry is, but British Bottled Water Producers‘ own website makes it clear it is a thriving business, with more than 33 litres of per capita yearly consumption only in the UK – and growing every year.

There is nevertheless no evidence whatsoever that getting healthy people to drink more water will lead to something else than more profit for the manufacturers and their shareholders. Margaret McCartney, a GP from Glasgow, is the author of Watterlogged?, a sharp text on this subject published in the British Medical Journal. She reviews all the arguments to back this water craze and checks it with scientific evidence published in well-established peer-reviewed journals (there are of course many articles favorable to water in other, pseudo-scientific magazines backed by industry money). Her final conclusion is that there is no solid evidence to advise anybody in good health (even a child or an old person) to drink if he/she is not thirsty.

McCartney also depicts an interesting anecdote: Professor Stanley Goldfarb, MD, published a 2008 editorial in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology with the same conclusion: there is no scientific proof that drinking water will make you healthier. A short time after that, two Danone executives invited him to dinner. McCartney writes that those men “didn’t try to make him change his point of view, but did confidentially show him some charts that proved a sales fall right after the publication of his editorial”.

It’s only logical that companies try every ruse to sell their products. What is not so logical is that official institutions that meant to be neutral, that are supposed to safeguard the health of the population taking state-of-the-art scientific evidence into account (whether those institutions are NHS, a Ministry of Health or a regional authority) spend their time spreading unfounded habits just because they assume anything involving prevention must be intrinsically good.

The result is that the same departments that are commited to fight climate change and protect environment are increasing both water consumption and waste generation (as this drinking water is mostly bottled).

My personal take on this is to say ‘thank you but no, thank you’ every time I’m offered bottled water at a meeting. In this case, Machado’s words were wrong. Thirst does serve a purpose. It lets us know when to drink.

* This post was originally published in Spanish at El Gerente de Mediado *

*This blog post was originally published at Diario Medico*

You may also like these posts

    None Found

Read comments »

Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »