- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

I think myself benefited from the water and am not without hope of their making a cure for me — a little time will show now,” so said George Washington to the Rev. Charles Green on Aug. 30, 1761 of the mineral-laded waters of Berkeley Springs, W. Va., some 90 miles west of the District.

People in Washington’s day thought regular bathing and downing certain waters could restore good health.

Times change. Medical knowledge advances.

Today, we understand water isn’t a panacea, but that by drinking plenty of it — eight glasses a day goes the conventional wisdom — we can keep the body functioning properly.

Some are starting to cast doubt on the eight glasses a day mantra, insisting it’s too vague or there’s precious little science behind it.

Jeanne Mozier, a volunteer with the Travel Berkeley Springs convention and visitors bureau, says visitors have been coming to the natural springs since the 1740s to help them with indigestion, rheumatism and arthritis.

They still do.

“On any given day, you’ll see cars full of people with their jugs, filling up,” Ms. Mozier says.

The mineral content of the water includes plenty of magnesium. That mineral is often cited by homeopathic practitioners in treating conditions like those listed above.

It’s hardly surprising some turn to water when their health is at stake.

The better hydrated someone is, the quicker their metabolism runs, which helps keep weight down, according to the weight-loss Web site www.sparkpeople.com.

Dr. Manpreet Arshi, with Arlington’s Northern Virginia Community Hospital, says the eight glasses a day mandate is just a broad suggestion. Health complications or other factors could render the figure irrelevant, she says.

Some people need a bit less, Dr. Arshi says.

Someone suffering from kidney failure “could end up in fluid overload” by following the eight-glasses recommendation, she says.

Dr. Heinz Valtin begs to differ with conventional wisdom regarding water consumption.

The Dartmouth Medical School professor, now retired, says no scientific evidence backs up the eight glasses a day rule.

“You can just drink your customary amount, plus when you’re thirsty, and you’ll be all right,” says Dr. Valtin, who has studied how the body maintains its water balance for 40 years and released his iconoclastic views on water consumption in 2002.

“The system that keeps our water balance is so quick and accurate. … We cannot store water. It does no good to drink more,” he says.

Dr. Valtin, a kidney specialist, says he thinks the eight-glasses ruling began with the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council, part of a private, nonprofit group that provides science and health policy advice under a congressional charter. It recommended we drink about one milliliter of water for each food calorie we take in, which translates to about eight glasses. The board’s next sentence added that most of this water was supplied by prepared foods, but that may have been dropped from the context.

For example, Dr. Valtin says if a slice of Wonder Bread was weighed, then left out on the counter for a couple of days, the water would evaporate out of it and it would weigh less than before.

Michael Sawka, chief of Thermal and Mountain Medicine at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine just outside of Boston, says he served on a panel that exhaustively reviewed the topic.

“There’s no evidence that people are underhydrated,” Mr. Sawka says. “The thirst mechanisms for the average person is pretty good.”

He adds some situations, particularly for athletes, demand more water, but the amount need by a healthy adult doesn’t rise to the eight-glasses level.

Katherine Manuel, a registered dietitian with Howard University Hospital, says people may be ingesting more water than they realize.

“We’re hooked on drinking eight glasses of water, but there are several other sources of water,” says Ms. Manuel, including fruits, vegetable and various juices.

That’s important since water is essential for digestion among other basic biological functions.

Should dehydration set it, Ms. Manuel says, a host of symptoms could appear, ranging from fatigue, dry skin and extreme thirst.

Joe Downie, Cincinnati-based lifestyle coach for www.sparkpeople.com, says some people may not realize they need more water in their diet.

“There’s a large population of people who don’t realize they’re dehydrated,” Mr. Downie says, a condition which can in its early stages include headaches and asthmatic breathing.

For some people, like those who drink caffeine or alcohol, eight glasses a day may be too little, Mr. Downie says.

“I like to recommend upwards of 12 cups, not based on scientific research but it’s from what I’ve noticed personally,” he says.

People often complain about water’s taste, or lack thereof, as a key reason they don’t drink enough, Mr. Downie says.

Water not only keeps the body’s metabolism humming but protects tissue and organs from shock and damage while serving as a cushioning agent between joints.

Noralyn Wilson, a Baltimore-based dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, supports the eight-glasses rule.

“I think six to eight [glasses] is really the minimum people should take in. The body is such a high percentage of water,” Ms. Wilson says.

Water helps flush out our bodies, which are constantly undergoing chemical processes that produce waste products.

“You need water to wash out those toxins,” she says.

Dr. Valtin says the argument may be moot. The message regarding eight glasses a day already has reached critical mass.

“It’s so ingrained with people. You look around the airport and everybody’s carrying a bottle and sipping from it.”

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