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The doctor and the comic


PAIT: Let your thirst be your guide.
  • PAIT: Let your thirst be your guide.

George Carlin, among others, regarded the bottled-water phenomenon with misgiving.  “When did this country get so thirsty?” he asked. He also said, “Ever wonder about people who spend $2 apiece on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backward.”

Like Carlin, and everybody else over 35, Dr. T. Glenn Pait grew up in a time when nobody would have considered going into a store and buying a bottle of water. If you were thirsty back then, you got a glass and turned on the faucet. If you wanted to make your water colder, you got some frozen-water cubes from the refrigerator and put them in the glass too. Water was just there, a given. One didn't go shopping for it any more than one went shopping for air.

Dr. Pait isn't sure what caused the great attitude adjustment concerning water, but he suspects the medical profession  had something to do with it. Doctors began warning patients about other beverages, such as soft drinks. Most of those drinks have a lot of sugar in them, and thus a lot of calories, making them a poor choice for anyone needing to lose weight, as most Americans do. Even orange juice is loaded with calories. Water doesn't rot the teeth either.

At any rate, large numbers of Americans began ostentatiously carrying a bottle of water with them everywhere they went, although they didn't refer to it as a weight-control device. Instead they spoke earnestly of the need to “hydrate” and “rehydrate.” No one wanted to be caught underhydrated. Very uncool. (A current TV commercial shows a ball girl making an amazing catch after drinking a sports beverage. “Never underestimate the power of superior hydration,” the announcer says.)

But how much hydration does a person need? Dr. Pait remembers when doctors told their patients to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day. He told some of his that, before he learned there was no scientific evidence to support the prescription, no studies showing that a person required that much water for good health. (Most patients probably weren't following the doctor's orders, anyway. Eight glasses is a lot of water, especially considering that people get considerable water from their food too.)

Dr. Pait, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who knows his water, now says “Let your thirst guide your intake, unless there's a reason to do otherwise. Your body will tell you how much you need to drink.” A condition that is helped by drinking water, such as kidney stones, would be a reason for drinking more water than your body tells you. But for most people, the advice is to rely on thirst, and urine. “You need to keep your urine looking like water, not yellow or dark brown.”

It's possible to drink too much water, incidentally. That leads to a condition called water intoxication. It's found in infants whose formula has been excessively diluted, and in athletes who sweat heavily and over-compensate. There was a California woman who participated in a radio-show contest to see who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom. She died of water intoxication.

Drinking bottled water — or any other beverage — through a straw can cause premature wrinkles, Dr. Pait says, and some would consider that worse than death. “It's from the sucking. That's how you can tell a smoker, too.”

But our professed subject is bottled water v. tap water, and Dr. Pait drinks bottled water sometimes, “Because of the convenience. You can set it on your desk and sip on it. You can carry it around with you.”

“But I have no problem drinking tap water. Bottled water is no healthier, and it's certainly more expensive.” 

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