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Health 

9 Proven Health Benefits of Drinking Water

October 21, 2020 8 min read

Woman holding a bottle of water pouring it into a glass

Dr. Sandra El Hajj MSc, N-MD, DHSc

The human body consists of 30 trillion cells working in harmony to create the ideal environment for health. These cells are made up of 60 percent water, which is used to regulate the body’s temperature while maintaining good bodily function. 

The body loses a considerable amount of water through routine processes like breathing, sweating and digestion. To keep up with this high demand for hydration, it’s essential to make sure you’re drinking enough fluids. Ultimately, the amount of water you need to drink is linked to how much water is being used or eliminated metabolically. This article will explore the countless health benefits of water and why it’s so critical for our well-being. 

How much water do you need to drink?

Planning how much water to drink within a given day can be tricky. While most sources mention the human body needs eight glasses of water, the reality is a bit more complicated. For men, a total of three liters of water are necessary. For women, on the other hand, two liters are enough to support the body’s needs. Pregnant women are recommended to drink about 10 cups of water per day, and breastfeeding women are recommended to drink 12 cups. 

For any individual, it’s important to keep in mind that the recommended water guidelines are just that: guidelines. They can easily change with the given conditions of your daily life. For example, on a hot and sunny day, you may sweat a lot, which will require you to drink more water just to stay hydrated. The same goes for having diarrhea, a fever or vomiting. If you’re vigorously exercising, you’ll need anywhere from 0.5 to 2 cups of water every 15 minutes.

On the other hand, people with certain health conditions like heart failure or kidney disease will need to reduce their water intake. If you’ve been diagnosed with either of these conditions, it’s important to check in with your doctor for personalized hydration guidelines. 

Infographic explaining how much water people should drink every day

What is considered water?

While drinking pure water is essential for everyone, other fluids can contribute to hydration in a similar way. For example, herbal infusions are considered healthy sources of water. Coffee and teas are also fluids; however, it’s important to keep in mind that they contain caffeine which acts as a diuretic to promote water loss through urine. Alcohol is a more potent diuretic that cannot be considered water due to the accelerated water loss it promotes. 

Sports drinks have high water content mixed with carbohydrates and electrolytes. These drinks help to keep your energy levels elevated while helping the body retain water. When you’re working out, you’re probably familiar with the sweat that often follows. This leads to salt loss and a subsequent depletion of electrolytes from your body. Energy drinks can help replace those electrolytes lost, but you’ll want to watch out for the extra calories they pack in the process.

Health Benefits of Water

Water is an essential element of human life. It’s the building block of our cells, organs and bodily systems. It carries numerous health benefits, along with some you may not even know about yet. Read on for the highlights.

Aids in digestion

Water plays a major role in moving the food throughout your stomach and intestines while helping the body eliminate its waste. When you eat, you begin digesting food with your saliva that’s made of water. With the help of water, fiber and micronutrients from your food are made more accessible to beabsorbed by the body.

Constipation is a common issue faced by those who don’t drink enough water. If you’re suffering from occasional constipation, try drinking more water as your first line of defense. Warm water can help the intestinal muscles contract, which helps food waste pass out of the intestines. When done regularly, this measure can help to improve the regularity of your bowel movements (1)

Boosts the functions of the central nervous system

When your body is not getting enough water, your brain and mood can take a hit as your nervous system is affected. A study published by the Journal of Nature in 2019 explained that mild dehydration can lead to a decline in both mental and physical performance, raised blood pressure and an increased heart rate. Dehydration itself was shown to contribute to significant consequences for memory and attention as well as a decline in subjective energy and an increase in anxiety, depression and drowsiness(2)

Hydrates the skin

While water is essential for all bodily functions, your cells are one of the primary beneficiaries of its consumption. When you increase your water intake, you’re increasing the amount of water in your cells. This contributes to a healthier, plumped complexion that minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

Water is also essential for boosting your skin’s ability to heal itself. This simple fluid can help provide oxygen to the skin, facilitating its healing process. Water can also help to combat the cracking, flaking and itchiness you may experience in dry climates. 

It also helps to reduce puffiness and swelling caused by dehydration. When your skin is not getting enough water, it retains the water it does have in an attempt to hold onto its water reserves. To remedy the issue and avoid it in the future, staying adequately hydrated is key. 

Woman sitting on a bed holding a glass of water

Helps you lose weight

Water, the simplest drink imaginable, should be a fundamental piece of your weight loss plan. When you drink water, you’re boosting your metabolic rate while increasing the feeling of fullness in your stomach. While the first factor helps you burn more calories, the second prevents you from overeating. As a result, your caloric intake decreases and your body gets a boost to burn off the calories you have ingested.

A study published by theJournal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research observed 50 girls that were overweight for a period of eight weeks. These girls were instructed to drink 500 milliliters of water every day three times a day, half an hour before every main meal. Prior to the study, these girls were used to drinking much less water. After eight weeks, their body weight was measured, BMI was calculated, and body composition was assessed based on skin-fold thickness. Results showed a significant decrease in all three indicators. This was attributed to the thermogenesis induced by increased water intake (3). 

The study highlighted the importance of drinking water before meals to reduce overall caloric intake. These findings were supported by other studies(4). According to a paper published at theJournal of Obesity (Silver Spring), subjects who drank 500 milliliters of water daily before meals showed a weight loss of more than 44 percent when compared to subjects who did not drink water before meals(5).

Boosts blood circulation

Blood circulation is an essential part of well-being. It’s a regulator of blood pressure and core temperature. When your blood circulation is where it should be, your pH levels are normalized and your cells can function optimally.

Among the many solutions for improving blood circulation, drinking water is one of the most accessible methods. One study revealed that when you’re not drinking enough water, you’re hindering your blood flow. This is especially true during exercise. If you’re dehydrated when working out, your muscles will experience decreased blood flow which can lead to headaches, muscle aches and fatigue(6).

Prevents headaches and migraines

When your body is not getting enough water, it becomes dehydrated, which in turn can trigger headaches and migraines. A study observed 393 individuals experiencing headaches and migraine flares. Results showed that 44 percent of participants were dehydrated, which led to their headaches (7). Another study followed 102 men who were asked to drink an additional 1.5 liters of water per day. This simple habit led to a significant improvement in their migraine symptoms. Results showed a 47 percent improvement in headaches while only 25 percent in the control group saw the same effect(8).  

Reduces stress levels

We all face stressful events during our lives, but prolonged stress has a negative impact on your bodily functions. When you’re dehydrated, your organs are missing a major ingredient and as a result, you exhibit physiological stress symptoms. By drinking enough water, you can help to break the cycle of dehydration and stress. 

Studies show that when you’re lacking as little as half a liter of water prior to a workout, your cortisol levels tend to increase. Cortisol is closely linked to stress, so much so that it’s referred to as the stress hormone. Although water can’t resolve your life’s problems, it can ease the symptoms associated with stress. 

Protects you from kidney stones

Among the list of organs benefiting from sufficient water intake are the kidneys, which can encounter several malfunctions including the formation of urinary stones. Kidney clumps are mineral crystals that form in the urinary tract and are the most common type of kidney stones. When you offer your body enough water, you’re increasing the urine flow that goes through the kidneys, leading to the dilution of these minerals. As a result, mineral clumps will not be able to crystalize. Studies show that water can help to prevent the preliminary formation of kidney and urinary stones(9).

Prevents hangovers

When you drink too much alcohol, your body experiences unpleasant symptoms. You might be familiar with referring to this as a hangover. The science behind hangovers is quite simple: Alcohol is a diuretic that dissipates water, leading to dehydration. When you drink an excess amount of alcohol, a large amount of water is lost from your body. This often results in fatigue, headaches and dry mouth. 

The best way to prevent a hangover is to drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks. Drinking a cup of water before going to bed can also help you wake up with milder symptoms.

Infographic explaining the health benefits of water

Is it possible to drink too much water? 

As you’ve learned by now, water is a vital fluid for overall health and well-being. Despite its benefits, however, drinking too much of it can be harmful. What people don’t realize is that drinking excess water may lead to water toxicity, also known as water intoxication. This health issue rarely happens but when it does, it’s accompanied by symptoms like confusion, disorientation, nausea and vomiting.

When you consume too much water, you’re disrupting your brain functions by diluting electrolytes in the blood, particularly sodium. This mineral balances fluids in cells, externally and internally. So, when its levels diminish, it leads to an imbalance of water that accumulates in cells, causing them to swell. This is a dangerous situation that can quickly turn life-threatening. 

How much is too much, then? A study published in 2013 provided some context to this question. Researchers at the Chosun University School of Medicine explained that kidneys are capable of eliminating up to one liter of water per hour. Therefore, consumption above one liter per hour may put you at risk of intoxication(10)

In summary

Water is a foundational element of any healthy diet. If you don’t drink enough of it, you risk dehydration and bodily malfunction. Though water is the key to wellness, you do have to watch out for drinking too much of it, which can lead to toxicity and mineral depletion in the body. 

In addition to hydration, water offers a bountiful array of health benefits. From preventing headaches to replenishing skin to promoting weight loss, there’s not a single system in your body that doesn’t benefit from its consumption. To support whole-body health, it’s recommended that men aim for three liters of water per day and women aim for two. If you’re exercising or spending a day out in the sun, be sure to increase your water intake accordingly to replenish lost amounts. 

By following these simple guidelines, you can reap the benefits of proper hydration and promote your body’s overall well-being in the process.