What Drove Us to Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day?

By GabbyPA Latest Reply 2012-08-14 00:03:04 -0500
Started 2012-06-28 18:51:33 -0500

By: Mercola

You’ve seen it on the old Food Pyramid. You might have heard it from your doctor. And you’ve certainly heard it countless times in conjunction with just about any diet ever created: if you want to be healthy you need to drink 8 glasses of water daily.

But what would you say if you knew the 8 glasses-a-day recommendation was a myth that actually evolved from a long-forgotten obituary of a doctor who advocated drinking lots of water?

And, what would you say if you I told you that the scientific evidence for needing 8 glasses of water a day just isn’t there?

8 Glasses a Day Not Backed by Science

Water is, of course, essential for your survival. Every day, your body loses water through urine and sweat. This fluid needs to be replenished, for while you can survive for months without food, without water you wouldn't last more than a few days. If you get the fluid/water replacement issue right, then you have made one of the most important and powerful steps you can in taking control of your health.

But just how much water do you need to drink to replenish what you've lost? Writing in the American Journal of Physiology, Heinz Valtin of Dartmouth Medical School notes:i

“Despite the seemingly ubiquitous admonition to “drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water a day” (with an accompanying reminder that beverages containing caffeine and alcohol do not count), rigorous proof for this counsel appears to be lacking.

This review sought to find the origin of this advice (called “8 X 8” for short) and to examine the scientific evidence, if any, that might support it. The search included not only electronic modes but also a cursory examination of the older literature that is not covered in electronic databases and, most importantly and fruitfully, extensive consultation with several nutritionists who specialize in the field of thirst and drinking fluids. No scientific studies were found in support of 8 X 8.

Rather, surveys of food and fluid intake on thousands of adults of both genders, analyses of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals, strongly suggest that such large amounts are not needed because the surveyed persons were presumably healthy and certainly not overtly ill.”

As for the origins of this now widely accepted dietary dogma, the closest reference Valtin uncovered was a brief mention in the obituary of a well-known nutritionist by the name of Fredrick J. Stare, which said he was an “early champion of drinking at least six glasses of water a day.”

Interestingly, Dr. Stare, who was a professor of nutrition and the head of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, was a notable friend to industry, notorious for his outspoken support for food additives and water fluoridation. He also had ties to the tobacco industry and was a strong supporter of the sugar industry; he even reportedly earned the moniker “The Sugar King” at Harvard.ii

At one point, sometime during the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, Dr. Stare went so far as to publish an article stating that claims made by the Boston Nutrition Society that white bread was devoid of nutrients and a contributor to disease were “a cruel and reckless fraud.”iii In other words, Dr. Stare believed white bread to be perfectly healthy, and openly criticized those who questioned food additives or excessive sugars in the diet, which isn’t surprising considering his financial ties to Nabisco, Kellogg and the Cereal Institute.

The point is … Dr. Stare is also being credited with perhaps being among the first to promote drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day as healthy, which, given the source, deserves to be questioned.

Also mentioned by Valtin was a 1945 recommendation by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council, which recommended 2.5 liters of water as a “suitable allowance” of water for most adults. They, however, pointed out that “most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods,” but it could be that people interpreted this to mean that 2.5 liters of water is the right amount to drink each day. The advice was repeated again in 1948, without a scientific backing.

Of course, consuming large quantities of water has been used as a medical therapy since the 19th century, when “hydropathists” advised patients to drink copious amounts of water to cure their ills. People have long been exploring the body’s need for water, as well as what the optimal “dose” appears to be … but to date there’s not much compelling evidence that the “8 8-ounce glasses a day” is the be all and end all in water consumption.

Are Bottled Water Companies Behind the Push to Drink More Water? (read more)

12 replies

CJ55 2012-08-14 00:03:04 -0500 Report

I drink a ton of water daily. So much in fact that I take a fluid pill because of swelling and bloating. I don't know if drinking too much water and bloating are connected but my cardiologist told me to cut back on water. I drink a case of bottle water (usually 24-30 bottles) in 2 days. I crave water non stop. The colder the better. I usually cannot tolerate tap water or restaurant water. I perfer Aquafina overall.

mystikfairy61 2012-08-13 23:24:16 -0500 Report

I have always been terrible about not drinking enough water. I found an app for phones, mine is android but I am sure there is one for iphone, called "water your body". You put in your weight and it lets you know how much water you need to drink for your weight, either in ML or OZ. It also has settings that will send a reminder through your phone with a audible signal to let you know its time for water, which is great for me since I don't care for water. I have been using it for just a few days and my water intake has doubled. And the best thing is the app is free!!!

Young1s 2012-07-03 09:20:18 -0500 Report

Very interesting read Gabby. Thank you for the history lesson for the day. I grew up on hearing drinking 8 glasses a day was the healthy thing to do. Wouldn't have even considered thinking otherwise. But regardless of this, for years I drank carbonated beverages over water. And I'll be honest, it was more important for my children to have their milk back in the day. Very rarely did I make them drink water. But they were very into drinking Koolaid, so I guess in a way they did have it.

Once I was diagnosed though, my drinking habits took a drastic turn for the better. I strictly stick to drinking water now, with the exception of my morning tea and the occasional diet Pepsi. I have at least 4 liters of water a day. Sometimes more depending on the weather or the days activities. But never less. Happy to say that my hubby is following my lead and drinking more water on a daily basis as well. My children are a different story though. When I see them choosing soft drinks over water and suggest otherwise, they moan and groan but will give in more often than not. Of course, when they're not around me, I'm sure it all soda, all the time. But they're young and still learning. But they'll see the benefit eventually, I hope. Besides, it took me 40+ years to get here.

Controlled 2012-06-29 00:41:56 -0500 Report

I actually read this some time ago. It's interesting reading the history here. Hydration is important. It is amazing that we all believed that regardless of our height, weight, age, gender and physical health; the recommendation was the same.

GabbyPA 2012-06-30 14:32:33 -0500 Report

Just like so many things in life, we want to make it simple and just group things together. I have asked in the past if weight or mass of a body affects the way drugs work in our bodies or the way our blood glucose levels tend to range in? I was told no, but more and more, I am thinking I don't really buy that.

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2012-06-30 19:28:49 -0500 Report

Weight does make a difference. Children's meds are often adjusted for size. Same with adult dosage, doctors prescribe different dosages. Age also has an impact. How the body reacts varies as we age.
I don't know how or if BG varies as we age. BP is different for different age groups. Some diabetes drugs work better or worse in different age groups. There are some that are preferred by doctors for their elderly patients. The same as some medications are preferred for children.

Take2Daily` 2012-07-03 13:42:58 -0500 Report

I totally agree. I have lost a few pounds but my doctor never commented about it. He's just used to seeing me in loose fitting clothes. Anyway I was taking Metformin 500mg twice a day and Glipizide once a day. My BG started dropping several times a day, down as low as 32. Last week he took me off the Glipizide and what a difference! He increased the Metformin to 1000 but I feel a lot better. I do believe the weight loss and eating better played a big part. Strangely though, as much water as I drink, I am still too dry. He says drink more water. If I drink anymore, I'm going to need an ark!!

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2012-07-03 15:15:30 -0500 Report

I have heard float a boat, but this is the first time for an ark. Love it!!!
Congrats on the weight loss and better results with fewer lows. Have had the sudden lows issue, hated it.
Oh , and as a night time caregiver for elderly people I have heard alot of over active bladder comments.

Next Discussion: Behind the Wheel »