Just How Hydrated are we, Really?

The late great comedian George Carlin was famously fascinated by Americans' habit of toting a bottle of water along with them wherever they went. “When did we get so thirsty?” he wanted to know.

The answer is, “Not as recently as you think.”

Most pop culture watchers will trace the start of our H2O fixation to a 5 million dollar marketing campaign by the Perrier corporation in 1977. The French bottling company created a product that was lifestyle-defining for the new “Yuppie” class, combining as it did worthwhile, albeit trendy, concerns for health and the environment with a place to put some of that disposable income. Perrier opened the floodgates, so to speak, for other international and domestic bottlers to sell what everyone had formerly enjoyed for free.

But this was actually the second-coming of bottled water. The wet stuff first took off as an over-the-counter item in the early 18th century, around the time when the cost of glass bottling became affordable for mass production. It wasn't the French taking the proto-Yuppies' cash back then, but bottlers from Sarasota Springs and other so-called “medicinal” fonts of nature. Ironically, the market for these “pure” waters went south with the introduction of chlorinated municipal water supplies in the early 20th century.

But, our cultural soft spot for medicinal elixirs aside, was Carlin correct? Are Americans over-hydrated?

The short answer is “no.”

A 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that forty-three percent of Americans drank less than four cups of water per day. This is too dry even by the out-dated “8x8 Rule” i.e., eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

Our bodies being 70 percent water, it is not surprising that we need a lot of water, daily, to stay healthy. Our attempts to hydrate ourselves properly are only exacerbated by our predilection for caffeinated and alcoholic beverages which cause us to urinate more frequently.

Factors such as our weight, the climate in which we live, our lifestyle and gender all have an impact on our ideal fluid consumption. The current general rule of thumb, as articulated by The Mayo Clinic, is that if we rarely feel thirsty and our urine is very light yellow or colorless and measures about 1.5 liters a day, we're not at risk.

Although an unlikely situation for most of us, it is technically possible to drink too much water. And by too much I mean so much that your kidneys cannot excrete the excess fluids and the mineral content of your blood becomes diluted. A low sodium concentration results in the condition known as hyponatremia, which in turn can lead to the failure of the liver and kidneys, and even pneumonia.

Although we write here of “fluid consumption,” water is still your best bet, as it is free and readily available – if you stay away from Perrier, that is.