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drinking_water

Originally published 24 March 2017. Last updated 28 October 2020.

Listen to Dr. Neal address the topic of drinking water on Episode 180, Episode 985, and Episode 1169 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

There are a lot of health claims made about the potential benefits of drinking water first thing in the morning while your body is still in a fasted state. But many of these are myths. In fact, many of the health benefits that you hear about are all related to one thing: rehydration.

Here are some of the health benefits you may have heard about: by drinking water first thing in the morning, it helps you think more clearly, eliminate toxins, and help you burn more calories.

Here’s the deal: when you wake up first thing in the morning, you’re waking up dehydrated. If you didn’t get up in the middle of the night, you haven’t consumed any liquid over the past few hours. If you’ve been following my sleep recommendations, then you haven’t consumed any liquid for at least 7 hours.

When we’re awake, very rarely would we go that long without consuming some liquid — even in the form of food. So, again, we wake up essentially dehydrated.

When we think about how we might feel when we don’t consume enough water, the symptoms can include headache, fatigue, and nausea. No wonder consuming water first thing in the morning seems to have so many miraculous benefits. By rehydrating your body, you could be simply reducing these symptoms. So, there’s nothing magical about drinking water first thing in the morning. The research seems to reveal the same.

So, here’s the deal: drinking water first thing in the morning is a nice habit because it’s a great way to rehydrate your body. But don't rely on that alone for miraculous health benefits.

How Much Water Should You Drink?

Most health professionals do want people to drink more water in general.

First thing in the morning is a great time to think about hydrating. But there's a lot of confusion about how much water we need to drink and whether bottled water is safer than tap water, points that I will get to now.

You may have heard that we should drink 8 glasses of water per day. I’ll be honest… I don’t like this recommendation. The biggest issue here is the definition of “a glass.” Don’t glasses come in many different sizes? In fact, if you were to open the cupboards in my kitchen, you’ll see I have sets of glassware of all different shapes and sizes – there are tall skinny glasses, short squat ones, wine glasses (not for me, but for when my in-laws come over), not to mention different coffee and tea mugs! And this is probably what everyone’s cupboards look like.

Some of the more intelligent health professionals will be even more specific and may say, “You should drink 8 cups of water per day.” OK, this is better. We can make sense of 8 cups – a cup is 8 fl. oz. so 8 cups a day means we should consume 64 fl. oz. of water per day.

While this is an improvement over the 8 glasses per day recommendation, I still have issues with this. This is because depending on a person’s body weight, age, gender, level of activity, where they live, etc… the water recommendations will vary.

The best way to know whether you are drinking enough water each day is to look at your urine color. I know it sounds disgusting, but let’s be honest, you’re probably looking at it anyway (if you aren’t, you should start now). Your urine should be a light lemonade color. So this means there is a hint of yellow. If it’s dark yellow, you may be dehydrated. If your urine is clear, you’re consuming too much water.

Don’t stress too much if here and there your urine is too dark or clear. Just try and make sure that it’s a light yellow most of the time. Obviously, you don’t want your urine to be dark yellow most of the time because long-term dehydration is unhealthy. The reason you actually don’t want your urine to be clear most of the time is because over-hydrating may lead to the body getting rid of some important nutrients. You can actually dilute your blood too much and that can lead to its own set of problems.

staying_hydrated

Sources of Drinking Water

Water sources is an interesting topic because here in the United States, our water supply is considered one of the safest in the world, yet there are instances where water coming out of our faucets may not have been the cleanest.

Just this past year, there were highly publicized water quality concerns in the city of Flint, Michigan. (For those of you that are unaware, the water being supplied to the public in the city of Flint wasn’t being properly treated and was contaminated with lead, which is a known toxin.) In the U.S., the water supply must be carefully treated by local water agencies. This treatment involves a series of highly regulated processes.

This is all monitored by our Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) along with local water agencies. This system has worked very well for most of its history. Occasionally, there are these issues like we saw in Flint, Michigan where it fails; however, water coming from the tap is still considered the cleanest and safest.

Some of you may notice that your tap water smells like chlorine or doesn’t really taste all that good. This is likely because the water is treated with chemicals to make sure it is free of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. While it is safe to drink, the taste may make you want to purchase forms of bottled water that don’t share this same flavor profile. I’ll talk about bottled water in a second, but there are ways to remove some of those unpleasant chemical flavors.

Water Quality

Here's a follow-up question a listener recently sent in.

QUESTION: “Hello, my question is about purified water. I have heard about water in the United States being stripped of all its vitamins and minerals and I was wondering is this true for all bottled water and what are your recommendations concerning this? Thanks.”

When it comes to vitamins and minerals in tap water, these levels vary depending on the region in which you live and the local water agency. In general, tap water is low in vitamins but can contain some minerals like calcium, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, iron and copper.

Some of these minerals are natural, others can come directly from the pipes that deliver the water to our homes. The minerals in those pipes leech into the water supply. Some tap water also contains fluoride, which is added by the local water department.

Again, not all local water departments add fluoride.

If you want to know what specific minerals your tap water contains, you can find this information on your local water department’s website. They usually post the results of their regularly scheduled water analysis. It’s been estimated that these minerals likely don’t contribute much to our overall intakes.

Water Filtration and Reverse Osmosis

Now, you may notice that your tap water smells like chlorine or doesn’t really taste all that good. This is likely because the water is treated with chemicals to make sure it is free of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. So, while it is safe to drink, the taste may make you want to purchase forms of bottled water that don’t share this same flavor profile.

I should mention that chlorine doesn’t get rid of the minerals in the water. Other forms of filtration might. I’ll talk about bottled water in a second, but there are ways to remove some of those unpleasant chemical flavors.

I have added a reverse osmosis water filtration system in my house. I like this because it serves as an extra filtration device – so not only is the water you are consuming from the tap free of disease-causing pathogens, but the reverse osmosis water filtration system will then help remove some of those chemicals that cause that funky taste.

Depending on which system you end up going with, as a bonus, it may help remove potentially harmful minerals like lead. Not all minerals are good for us, and lead is one example. Lead is toxic to our nervous system. You can either buy or rent these reverse osmosis systems and they’re usually fairly reasonable.

The potential downside is that you will probably end up removing some healthy minerals like calcium and magnesium when using these systems. But again, since water isn’t a major source of these minerals, it’s not a big deal.

Bottled Water

Now, what about bottled water? Bottled water isn’t as tightly regulated in the U.S. So, this means, bottled water companies can use any source of water they want, put it in a plastic bottle and sell it to you.

In fact, there have been instances where bottled water companies basically take tap water (the very same water that we have access to in our homes), bottle it, and resell it to consumers for a marked-up price. In the U.S., this is perfectly legal. So, it’s much harder to know the amount of minerals found in bottled waters.

Alkaline or Ionized Water

Alkaline waters are ionized, meaning minerals are added to increase the water’s pH. When you increase pH, you are making the water less acidic. The belief is that by drinking water that is less acidic (more alkaline), you can reduce your risk for certain diseases, like osteoporosis, autoimmune disease, and even cancer. The question always is, “Does it really do any of those things?” I will paraphrase published findings from the British Medical Journal:

“Despite the promotion of the alkaline diet and alkaline water by the media and salespeople, there is almost no actual research to support these ideas.”

It’s probably best to save your money on this one.

Carbonated Water

For carbonated water (which is different than sugar-sweetened soda), this is probably fine to consume in moderation. It won’t erode your teeth or cause stomach ulcers or lead to osteoporosis.

Conclusion

Here’s the bottom line: in the U.S., tap water is still considered the cheapest, cleanest, and therefore, safest to consume. If you can’t stand the taste, consider purchasing or renting a reverse osmosis system for your home.

Listen to Dr. Neal address the topic of drinking water on Episode 180, Episode 985, and Episode 1169 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

mm

Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") is currently a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Before this, he served as Department Chair at Bastyr University California. Dr. Neal has also published peer-reviewed scientific research and presented at national conferences. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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