Charles A. Bertrand, M.D., FACP, DIM-CD (Ret.)
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College
and at the Medical University of South Carolina


Probably a zillion books have been written about diets -- high fat, low-fat, no fat etc. etc.. But, little has been written about the fluids we consume --mainly water-- but this also includes soft drinks, fruit juices, and various forms of alcohol.

Of course we need water -- and especially to replace water loss -- but how much should we drink? The usual recommendation has been 6 to 8 glasses (8 oz.) per day. This adds up to half a gallon and that's a lot of water! By weight, our bodies are 50% to 60% water. The brain, for example, is about 75 percent water.

In certain specific situations generous water intake is particularly helpful. Drinking plenty of water helps to prevent recurrent kidney stones. In some individuals it is helpful for constipation. A recent Harvard study of 48,000 health care professionals found that there was a 51 percent decrease in bladder cancer in those who drank at least six glasses per day.

There are other general factors of importance -- the environment, health status and physical activity-- to mention but three.

An individual who lives in the hot south needs to consume more water than another who lives in a cool northern clime. A former Yankee pitcher, Whitey Ford, would lose over 10 pounds on a hot August day --fluid replacement would quickly bring his weight back to normal.

Physical status and age come into play, especially in the old person who is less active and may have a heart condition -- in this situation excess water intake may lead, in part, to heart failure. It is important for such a patient to discuss fluid intake with his doctor.

Excess water intake can awaken a person at night causing the individual to go to the bathroom several times -- sometimes causing loss of sleep with subsequent fatigue (not always diagnosed). This can be recognized easily because the volume of urine passed is copious. It may be corrected by either drinking less and/or taking relatively more water during the early part of the day and less at night.

What to do? In younger persons over-hydration does not pose a serious problem -- they just go to the bathroom more often and may lose some sleep. But, in older individuals, excess fluid intake may cause serious problems particularly in a person who is physically inactive or has a heart condition.

Perhaps a better intake would be 5 to 7 glasses per day and with more during hot weather or during increased activity. These individuals should certainly check with their physicians. Alcohol intake should be restricted to no more than 1 drink per day, see other articles about alcohol on this web site.

Alcohol Intake and Stroke | Alcohol-Does It Prevent Strokes? | Alcohol and the Heart

The advice provided on this website is intended to be general in nature and should not be relied upon for specific treatment. If you need personal medical attention please contact your physician.

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