The myths about hydration

I grew up in Sri Lanka, a tropical country where the days were hot and one perspired a lot. And yet, there was little fear of dehydration. We drank water with meals and the occasional cup of tea but no one carried around bottles of water. Even when my friends and I played cricket all day, we drank when we were thirsty but that was about it. The idea that dehydration was a danger lurking that had to be staved off constantly was foreign to us.

Hence I was surprised when I came to the US, a very temperate climate, and encountered this idea that one should always be drinking fluids. At one time I thought I should drink more water too and started doing so but having to go to the bathroom frequently was annoying and I quickly gave it up. The only fluid I routinely take each day is two cups of coffee and two glasses of water, and drink more only if I feel thirsty.

Adam informs us that this hydration craze is not only unnecessary and could be harmful.


  1. eddie says

    Of course, back in the day, we didn’t have mass obesity and type 2 diabetes. Dehydration is a problem for many now because they have too much sugar. Also too much fat and salt. US advertising industry notwithstanding.

  2. ledasmom says

    Th only time I drink before I’m thirsty is when in very dry areas -- Arizona or inland Washington state. It truly is kind of hard to keep up with what the atmosphere sucks out of you on a hot summer day there; I used to get a headache for the first few days of visiting when my mother lived in Washington. I do not take water with me if the temperature is below about seventy/sixty Fahrenheit (depending on whether it is the end of summer when I have adapted to the heat, or the beginning of summer when I have not). Above that I do take water, because my most usual walk is downhill two miles followed by up two miles with a backpack of groceries. The backpack gets disgustingly soaked with sweat. I should note that I tend to feel warm when other people don’t; fifty and above is short sleeve weather, and sometimes high thirties is if I’m going uphill with groceries.
    I just checked the hydration calculator, which thinks I should drink over a gallon of water today. I cannot imagine what I would feel like if I did that, but I wouldn’t be able to go more than ten minutes from a bathroom. Actual intake: around three small cups of coffee, few sips of hot water with ginger, one teeny Dr. Pepper. Not drying up that I can see.

  3. starskeptic says

    It can be quite the challenge for newcomers to stay hydrated in Arizona. But even 12 years as an AZ resident didn’t prepare me for the dryness at higher elevations in Colorado, where I found it almost impossible to stay adequately hydrated for very long. While visiting my sister in Golden one winter, my car got stuck in the snow -- 10 hours later, there was no snow…as in no evidence that it had ever snowed.

  4. hoary puccoon says

    What was the usual humidity where you lived in Sri Lanka? When I googled Sri Lanka weather, the current humidity was 70%.
    High altitude and low humidity make it much harder to stay hydrated. (I was once on an archaeological expedition in a mile-high location in New Mexico, where we, the grunt labor, were swinging pick axes at the beginning of the dig. And hydration was a constant problem.)
    Older people also have a tendency to ignore thirst signals and can suffer from problems like kidney stones as a result.
    The “just drink when you’re thirsty” advice may be better than “eight glasses and more if you get any exercise” but it has some problems with being over-simplified as well.

  5. Mano Singham says

    hoary puccoon,

    It is true that it is always pretty humid in Sri Lanka, around 70% or so. But that did prevent us from sweating profusely. What it meant was that the sweat did not evaporate away easily.

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