Water is pretty boring, as far as beverages go. It doesn’t have a catchy jingle, a secret family recipe or even a taste, really. Yet people can’t seem to get enough of it.
“I get people in my office every day, every week, saying something like, ‘I’m concerned I’m not hydrated,’ ” said Lauren Antonucci, a nutritionist in New York City.
Their concerns often are based on conventional wisdom. One well-known recommendation suggests drinking eight glasses of water a day; another warns that if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
But anxiety about water consumption could also stem from a different source: Hydration is now marketed as a cure for nearly all of life’s woes. Feeling sluggish? You probably need more water. Uninspired and utterly hopeless about your career and romantic prospects? Well, have you had any water today?
People hydrate as if their reputations depend on it. They dutifully carry water bottles with them wherever they go, draining and refilling them with gusto.
Some go so far as to track their consumption in a journal or with a mobile app. On New Year’s day, Twitter was flooded with resolutions to drink more water, including from Twitter’s brand account.
No proof of benefits
But will more conscious hydration really make for a more productive 2020?
“There’s no evidence that a little bit of dehydration really impacts anybody’s performance,” said Dr. Mitchell Rosner, a kidney specialist at the University of Virginia who studies overhydration in athletes.
He said that most recommendations for hydration come from studies of athletes, who lose fluid rapidly during workouts or competitions, and are at a much higher risk for dehydration than the average person.
For those of us who spend all day at a desk, Rosner said, it’s best to drink only when we feel thirsty.
Overhydrating, he said, isn’t helping anyone. At best, “You pee it out.” At worst, it can cause the sodium and electrolyte levels in your body to drop to dangerously low levels. The condition, hyponatremia, can result in hospitalization and death. (This doesn’t happen often, but it’s still good to know.)
If hydration is the goal, it’s also worth considering that water may not be the most hydrating beverage out there. A study published in 2015 found that full-fat milk, skim milk and orange juice kept people more hydrated than still water did.
Still No. 1
But water still rules. Bottled water is the top beverage in the United States by volume, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp., a consulting firm,
“It’s no accident that it’s No. 1,” said Michael Bellas, chairman of the company. “If you had to put together a perfect scenario and plan how to build a category this would have been it.”
In the 1970s, ad campaigns by Evian and Perrier introduced the concept of bottled water as a high-end refreshment beverage.
“It changed the way beverages were consumed,” Bellas said. If people were drinking water everywhere, it could be sold anywhere. And it was.
It became cool to carry a bottle of water with you all the time. As environmental concerns arose around plastic bottles, it became even cooler to carry a refillable water bottle.
“It was healthy, and it made a statement,” Bellas said.
Water is widely considered a go-to remedy for a variety of ailments: exhaustion, headaches, digestive problems, inflammation, dry skin, acne.
“It’s a popular idea among patients and a popular idea in consumer media that hydration equals healthy skin,” said Dr. Joshua Zeigler, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
But that’s not exactly how it works. “It’s a complete myth that eight glasses of water are necessary to maintain hydrated skin,” he said.
Nonetheless, water appears immune to claims that its benefits are overblown — we need it to survive, after all. Its benefits have even become a meme. There are social media accounts dedicated to berating their followers for not drinking enough water.
But if you haven’t hit your quota today, don’t worry: Your 2020 isn’t already ruined. Many of the tasty beverages you thought of as dehydrating, like coffee, tea and beer, actually also are hydrating.
“Coffee is a hydrating beverage,” said Antonucci. “If you’re drinking it, let go of the guilt. Enjoy it.”