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Are You Getting Enough Water?

Where Carol Hoban goes, so goes her big glass. Or sometimes it's a big bottle. But either way Hoban always knows where her next drink of water is coming from.

Unlike most people, Hoban drinks more than the recommended minimum of eight glasses of water each day.

"It's something I've been doing for 10 years," said Hoban, 33, an epidemiologist who lives in Atlanta. "If I don't get enough water, I can tell. I feel thirsty and sluggish."

Nearly three-quarters of Atlantans questioned in a recent survey said they know they are supposed to drink at least eight 8-ounce servings of water each day. But only 35 percent reported they actually do, according to the survey, conducted by Yankelovich Partners for the Rockefeller University in New York and the International Bottled Water Association.

The survey encompassed 2,818 Americans, 201 from Atlanta. And Atlanta's numbers track the national numbers almost exactly.

Of course, the bottled water industry has an interest in encouraging people to drink more water. But the truth is, people need to.

In fact, most of us need more than eight glasses a day. Kathleen Zelman, a Marietta, Ga., nutritionist and local spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said eight is the minimum in a range up to 12.

A good guideline is to divide your weight in half and then consume that many ounces of water each day. So a 128-pound person needs 64 ounces, but a 160-pound person needs 80 ounces.

The reasons we need water are many. After oxygen, water is the human body's most important need. Our bodies consist largely of water (estimates range from 50 percent to 70 percent), and water plays a role in nearly every major bodily function.

For starters, water is essential to regulating our body temperature, which is especially important in hot, humid weather.

"Any time you are exposed to high temperatures, you need to keep replenishing with water to keep the body temperature normal," Zelman said. "That's your body's way to cool down."

Water also plays a key role in carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells, removing waste, cushioning joints and protecting organs and tissues.

"Without proper hydration, the body is exposed to a variety of health risks," said Barbara Levine, director of the nutrition department at Rockefeller University. "Long-term, more severe dehydration poses serious problems that dangerously affect blood pressure, circulation, digestion, kidney function and nearly all body functions."

Mild dehydration can cause sluggishness, dry and itchy skin, headaches, indigestion, constipation and the trigger to drink - thirst.

"You shouldn't wait until you are thirsty," Zelman said. "That's a sign that dehydration has already set in." Water isn't the only liquid that can hydrate our bodies. But while caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda and alcoholic drinks may wet the mouth, they actually cause the body to lose water. The Yankelovich survey showed Atlantans drink more of these beverages (6.8 servings a day) than they do water (6.2 servings.)

Folks would be better off trading caffeine and alcohol for water, juice, milk and carbonated sodas without caffeine. And some foods with high water content, such as lettuce and tomatoes, can aid in hydration.

Sports drinks also can help. "They have minerals in them and some flavor, which for some people simply helps them ingest as much fluid as they need. Of course some also have sugar," Zelman said.

And contrary to popular belief, only those who've participated in strenuous marathon-type activity really need to replace sodium and minerals with a sports drink. "If you've just been batting the tennis ball around, water will do it. But if a sports drink will help you drink a lot, then go for it," Zelman said.

Mindy Perilla, 29, a coordinator of international health programs, said she likes to add lemon juice, lime juice or cranberry juice to her water for a little flavor. "I'm not an athlete, I just like to drink water," said Perilla, who consumes 2 to 3 liters a day. "People notice it. My parents say they don't know how I can drink so much. But I have fewer headaches and muscle aches and it just makes me feel good."

August 8, 2000
Cox News Service

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