water myths

Mythbusters: Will Drinking Water Help With…?

Posted on by Doris Chung. This entry was posted in Staying Healthy. Bookmark the permalink.

We can’t survive more than a few days without water. To give you a glimpse of its importance, this nutrient plays a key role in maintaining normal body temperature, shuttling nutrients throughout the body, lubricating joints, ridding the body of waste, and much more! But can drinking more water keep skin looking young? And is ice water the secret weapon to weight loss?

Whether it’s from media personalities, magazines lining the checkout stands, or those emails that have been forwarded dozens of times, we’ve all heard some interesting news items regarding drinking water. With all this information passed around, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction! So the staff at The Whole U rounded up some of the most interesting ones for me to investigate. Without further ado, let’s dive into these claims!

1. Drinking water results in more trips to the bathroom.

Healthy adults will get rid of the same amount of fluid that they consume in order to keep a healthy balance in the body. When you drink water, a system involving the kidneys, various hormones, and the brain senses the rise in fluid in the body. Then the system works together to restore that healthy balance by getting rid of the excess fluid by making and excreting more urine. Drinking water also helps with easing constipation and facilitating bowel movements. So, drinking more water will result in more trips to the bathroom!

Verdict: Fact (under normal conditions)

2. Drinking a glass of water before taking a bath helps lower blood pressure.

Drinking a glass of water will trigger the same pathways mentioned above and your blood pressure will not be affected because it is under the tight control of various hormones. If you are severely dehydrated and your blood pressure drops below the normal level, that system of hormones will cause you to feel thirsty. In the case of dehydration, drinking water will actually help increase blood pressure to a normal level.

If you are looking for ways to lower blood pressure, cutting back on salt intake and bumping up your physical activity level are great steps to take.

Verdict: Myth

3. Drinking eight glasses of water a day is a must for everyone.

Dehydration can be a serious issue that can cause cramping, loss of mental focus, and an increased risk of heat stroke. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men drink 13 cups of fluid a day and women drink 9 cups to stay adequately hydrated.  Even though the recommendation is a good starting point, in actuality how much fluid your body needs depends on a lot of factors. For example, your need for water increases with hot weather, sickness, and vigorous exercise. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are also recommended to consume more fluids.

Keep in mind that “fluids” come not just from water, but also from soups and other beverages like milk, tea, and coffee.  Foods such as watermelon, cucumbers, and tomatoes contain fluid too!

So, how can you tell whether you’re drinking enough water? By how frequently you are thirsty along with the color and smell of your urine.  If you are drinking enough water, you should rarely feel thirsty and your urine should be colorless or a pale yellow without a strong smell. (FYI If you eat beets, that will make your urine a pinkish-red color, a phenomenon called “beeturia.” Eating asparagus may also cause your urine to smell different but don’t worry, it’s harmless.)

Verdict: Myth

4. Being well hydrated will keep my face from getting wrinkles.

Skin is made up of about 30% water and dehydration causes skin to turn dry and flaky. Wrinkles form easier on dry skin because it is less elastic and resilient than skin that is well hydrated. For those who are regularly dehydrated, drinking more water can improve skin hydration and slow down early formation of wrinkles. But for those who drink enough water, adequate skin hydration is not enough to prevent wrinkles completely because wrinkles form mainly as the result of a combination of genetic influences, sun exposure, and damage from the environment (such as pollutants).

Verdict: Mostly myth

5. Drinking icy cold water will help me lose weight.

Drinking a glass of water before you eat fills you up a bit, and that sensation of fullness may cause you to eat less. Dehydration also revs up your appetite, which can lead to consumption of excess calories. So drinking enough water is essential to weight loss efforts. But does the temperature of water matter?

When you drink a cup of ice water, you burn about eight more calories than downing a cup of room temperature water because your body will work to raise the temperature of the ice water to normal body temperature. Let’s say you drink 10 cups of ice water today, which means that you would have burned about 80 extra calories.  Those 80 calories can be easily gained back by eating one stick of string cheese, one hard-boiled egg, or one medium chocolate-chip cookie! Drinking cold water makes such a small dent in the calorie balance that it will not help you lose weight if your eating and exercise pattern stay the same.

Instead of focusing on the temperature of the water, tried-and-true ways of weight loss involve changes in physical activity and eating. Incorporating more exercise into your life to build lean muscle will help you to burn more calories, even at rest. In terms of diet, a good place to start is modeling your meals after USDA’s MyPlate, which involves making half your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter of the plate a starch (preferably whole grain), and the other quarter a lean protein along with a serving of low-fat dairy on the side. Other dietary strategies such as having regular meal times, avoiding distractions when eating, identifying emotional triggers to unhealthy eating patterns, and being aware of appropriate portion sizes will help prevent overeating and keep calories in check. If you would like help and accountability with weight loss, a registered dietitian will be able to personalize a plan that is just right for you!

Verdict: Myth

6. Drinking a glass of water 30 minutes before a meal aids in digestion.

When I dug through the research databases, I found no research backing up this claim. So, I consulted with my professor, Dr. Michael Rosenfeld, who has been teaching graduate-level metabolism courses for many years. He has never heard of this claim but mentioned that if the water that’s consumed has a high level of calcium or magnesium in it, such as “hard water” (uncommon in the Pacific Northwest), those minerals may activate certain enzymes that help with fat digestion. However, he noted that his theory is purely speculative. So, more research is needed before we can declare this claim valid!

Verdict: Needs more research, but likely a myth

7. Drinking a glass of water before bed prevents heart attacks and strokes.

The American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other national health organizations, recommend several ways of decreasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. These recommendations include keeping a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating healthy, managing stress, and refraining from smoking. Drinking a glass of water before bed is not on the list. If you have to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom, Dr. Rosenfeld noted that this actually heightens your risk of heart attack and stroke because your sleep cycle is interrupted. Not getting enough sleep is linked to higher stress levels, increase in appetite, and cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods none of which are good for heart health and stroke prevention!

Verdict: Myth

So here you are, folks! All these myths (except one) have now been busted. Water is clearly beneficial for you, and is essential for everyday life. But as you can see, not all claims about water are true. So next time you get those emails forwarded to you or see those too-good-to-be-true claims on the magazine covers, be sure to keep your guard on!


Doris ChungDoris Chung is a Master of Public Health Nutrition student at the University of Washington studying to become a Registered Dietitian. In her spare time she enjoys reading, hiking, and watching the Food Network.

One Thought on “Mythbusters: Will Drinking Water Help With…?”

On September 18, 2014 at 9:34 AM, Marti Young said:

EXCELLENT!!! Finally logic and “water talk” meet. Thank you, Doris!!!

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