Chapter 2. Water Damage
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)
The infatuation with fiber brought with it another menace—the proverbial eight glasses of water. Everyone and their dog insists that you MUST drink eight glass of water a day for health and beauty. Well, if you follow this advice, you’re assured of disease and premature aging, which is just the opposite of the original intent.
They Play With Words, You Pay With Health
Drinking more water does nothing to lower cholesterol, nothing to prevent colon cancer, nothing to make stools “wetter” or softer, and nothing to alleviate constipation. If anything, the more you drink, the worse all of those things are going to get, including fiber dependence and constipation.
Why, then, does the advice to drink more water invariably accompany the advice to eat more fiber? Apparently, because of associative word play: if a hard stool is dry, then water supposedly makes it moist. As it turns out, this is pure fiction, based on observational conjectures derived from several unrelated facts:
- Conjecture #1: Because fiber absorbs water (true), it will increase stool moisture. Wrong! Dietary fiber in stools doesn’t retain water any better than other cellular components, except psyllium seeds in laxatives  (a mere 5% more). Word play: dry/moist.
- Conjecture #2: Because fiber is so highly water-absorbent (true), it requires additional water. Wrong for two reasons! First, up to 75% of fiber , including insoluble fiber, gets fermented by intestinal bacteria and doesn’t require any water. Second, the remaining fiber gets all the water it needs from up to seven liters of digestive juices, which are secreted daily inside the alimentary canal. Word play: dry/wet, absorb/water.
- Conjecture #3: Water is needed to prevent intestinal obstructions from dietary fiber: Wrong! Water, actually, expands the fiber four to five times its original volume and weight , and if anything makes obstruction even more likely. Word play: plug/solvent.
- Conjecture #4: Water is needed to prevent esophageal obstructions with fiber laxatives. True, water is needed to dissolve fiber powder before taking it, but this has nothing to do with regular food, bodily needs, or constipation, only with drug safety. Word play: dumb/and dumber.
If you still have your doubts (can’t really blame you), here is a quote from a Journal of American Dietetic Association’s article, entitled “Health Implications of Dietary Fiber”:
It is a common but erroneous belief that the increased weight [of stool] is due primarily to water. 
But that’s not all. Too much water (with or without the fiber) causes more problems than you may realize. Besides, you may consume too much water even if you ignore the ubiquitous “eight glasses” advice altogether. This happens because our bodies replenish water from four principal sources:
- From drinking water. Tap, well, spring, and mineral are the primary sources of unadulterated water. Its volume is apparent and easily measurable, because that’s what you drink—100% water.
- From fluids and drinks of all kinds: colas, seltzer, coffee, tea, juices, dairy, wine, beer, milk, soups, sauces, and so forth. The water content ranges from 85%–99.9%, and most of it is all apparent and measurable as well.
- Water hidden in solid food. Water is the largest single component of most food, ranging from 50%–70% in meats to 75%–96% in fruits and vegetables. This water isn’t apparent until you squeeze it out under the press or in the juicer.
- Water from metabolic oxidation. Water is formed as the by-product of many biochemical reactions that take place inside the body, and is actively reused. This water is hidden, completely out of view.
Hidden water happens to be as real as water from any other source. But because almost no one counts hidden water, the total daily intake may easily go through the roof. Keep reading!
Though we look rather solid, and feel dry to the touch, anywhere from 41% to 84% of our body weight is represented by water alone. The spread is so wide because of age, fat (adipose tissue), and protein (muscles) content. In general, a frail old person will have the lowest ratio of water content to total body weight, while newborns and infants will have the highest. For adults (19 to 50 years of age) the water content ratio ranges from 43% to 73% for men, and 41% to 60% for women. The water content decreases in overweight people, because adipose tissue contains less water (10%–40%) than does lean tissue (75%). For the same reason—more fat—women’s bodies contain less water than men’s. (Source: all figures. )
Certainly this leading component of body chemistry is extremely important for our health, and indeed, water’s profound deficit may cause death, and death happens rather fast in its absence. But what about an excess of water? Can it cause a “slow death”?
Yes, it can, and it does. But before analyzing the meaning and implication of “slow death,” let’s establish a norm. In other words, what’s the average daily water requirement for the average adult?
Since this question is so controversial, let’s quote directly from a well-regarded academic textbook. (The abbreviation ca. means circa, academic speak for “approximately.”) Hold on to your toilet seat:
A person weighing 70 kg [155 lbs] requires at least ca. 1,750 ml [59 oz] water per day. Of this amount ca. 650 ml is obtained by drinking, ca. 750 ml is the water contained in solid food, and ca. 350 ml is oxidation water. If more than this amount is consumed by a healthy person it is excreted by the kidneys, but in people with heart and kidney disease it may be retained (edema; pp 505, 771f).
—Human Physiology; Robert F. Schmidt, Gerhard Thews, 2nd edition
As you can see, only 1,400 ml (47 oz), or about six glasses of water, are required every day from food and drink in almost equal proportion. The rest—the hidden oxidation water—is derived from the body’s internal chemistry.
Also, please note one crucial point: 1,750 ml is equal to about seven-and-a-half glasses of water. This is where the initial round figure of “eight glasses” (1,890 ml) originally came from. What Human Physiology makes plain is that only 650 ml, or about two-and-a-half glasses of water, “is obtained by drinking.” Not eight, as we have all been told to drink.
Here’s another excerpt, this time from The Merck Manual of Diagnostic and Therapy, which is considered the gold-standard medical reference source and “must have” manual for any physician and researcher worth his or her salt. The Merck is even more miserly and specific:
...a daily intake of 700 to 800 ml is needed to match total water losses and remain in water balance... 
Just 700 to 800 ml, or about three full glasses of water, derived from all food and drink for the entire day. One average-sized Valencia orange contains 104 grams of water; one medium-sized tomato 200 grams; one eight-inch cucumber 286 grams. Essentially, two oranges, one tomato, and one cucumber will provide all of the water you need for the entire day.
Hard to believe, right? Then read The Merck Manual on the Internet (it’s free), and verify for yourself that the quote above is accurate and taken within the proper context. Print that article, highlight the relevant passage, and show it to your doctors, dieticians, nutritionists, parents, partners, colleagues, spouses, or anyone who insists that you must drink eight glasses of water along with all other food and drink. Out of stubbornness some may dismiss my book, but not The Merck.
Now let’s do the “eight glasses” math: eight glasses of water times 8 oz per glass equals 64 oz, or 1.89 liters. This amount of water alone is more than the total daily replacement needs for the average adult, by either Human Physiology or The Merck’s criteria. And this is just drinking water we’re talking about. After adding up all of the water from beverages, water concealed in solid food, and water derived from invisible metabolic oxidation, you end up getting much, much more than your daily requirement.
And this is exactly what most Americans have been doing for several decades: consuming two to three times more water than they need. At the present time, the average daily water consumption by men in the United States stands at 3.7 liters (125 oz, or almost a gallon), and 2.7 liters (91 oz, or 11.5 glasses) by women.  And that’s before adding the water from solid food and oxidation.
So why, despite the obvious facts and common knowledge, do most medical authorities think so very differently and urge people to drink more, and not less?
The reason lies in the approach. While this book relies on academic and medical references, medical authorities in the United States rely on Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), a set of guidelines published by the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC is funded by the United States government, and it is chartered to determine and set the nation’s paternalistic nutritional standards through the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), its policy-setting arm.
The RDAs are best known from the serving tables that appear on all food and supplements labels. The goals behind RDAs were certainly honorable, but some of the results are typical by-products of a government bureaucracy that’s answerable to no one: wrong policy, bad results, even more wrong policy to justify the results.
The very first suggestion to drink eight glasses of water came from the academic figures already cited. Unfortunately, the government’s proxies failed to forcefully remind the scientists and public alike that the “eight glasses” was meant to include all water consumed daily—water from beverages, from oxidation, and hidden in solid food.
A few decades later, after most Americans started to heed that suggestion in earnest, the Food and Nutrition Board surveyed the average water consumption of people in the United States (the already mentioned 3.7 and 2.7 liters for men and women respectively), and presumed that this was the amount all the rest of us must drink. (Source: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III ; 2004 Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. )
What’s wrong with relying on population surveys? Well, for starters, surveys don’t take into account a simple fact, that most Americans have been hooked on the likes of Folgers, Lipton, Tropicana, Coke, and Budweiser. The more you drink these beverages, the more water is required to replace the losses caused by caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, which are all potent diuretics. That’s why water consumption in the United States is so high to begin with, even among those who ignore the “eight glasses” advice.
Next, for the sake of experiment, you can easily increase water loss by simply having a healthy person drink more water. Even a three-year-old knows that the more you drink, the more you pee, and the more you pee, the more you need to drink. In a nutshell, that’s how the “finest” government-funded scientists arrived at their findings and recommendations—by measuring the end result of their initial bad advice to drink eight glasses of water in addition to all food and drinks.
Now comes the “slow death” part. Can you wash away your health with too much water? According to Human Physiology, yes, you can:
Overdosage symptoms. If larger amounts of hypotonic solutions [water with low concentration of mineral salts] are taken within a short time into the body, or large amounts of salt are lost, there can be a transient influx of water into the intracellular space (pp. 771f). The resulting syndrome, called water intoxication, consists of impaired performance, headache, nausea or convulsions (symptoms of cerebral edema).
Translation into everyday English: long before the body starts twitching uncontrollably, too much water from food and drinks causes edema, fatigue, migraine, and symptoms of digestive distress (nausea).
But that’s not all. Other side effects happen along the way, principally because of ongoing mineral loss from excessive urination. Here’s a partial list:
- Constipation. Potassium is a principal electrolyte, responsible for water retention inside human, bacterial, and plant cells. Overhydration causes the gradual loss of potassium through urine. Potassium deficiency, not shortage of water, is the principal reason behind stool dryness. The dry stool causes constipation, because it is hard, abrasive, and difficult to eliminate.
- Kidney disease. It doesn’t take a medical degree to understand that kidneys pumping two, three, four or five times more water than normal will wear out faster. (The resources of our internal organs was determined by evolution long before Coke, Pepsi, and Bud came on the scene.) Kidney stones in particular are associated with calcium deficiencies that may result from either a deficiency in one’s diet or from loss related to overhydration.
- Urinary disorders. Urinary infections are a common side effect of overhydration. With too many carbs and too much water in the system, urine alkalinity drops, acidity goes up, and the bladder and urethra become hospitable to pathogenic bacteria, which have an affinity for an acidic environment. Elevated glucose in the urine from too many dietary carbohydrates greatly stimulates these infections by providing plentiful feed for pathogens—a warm, dark bladder becomes just as hospitable to bacteria as a sweet-and-sour Petri dish.
- Digestive disorders. The more you drink right before, during, or within the first few hours after a meal, the more difficult and time-consuming digestion becomes, because it requires correspondingly more hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes to bring their concentration up to the optimal level.  The high volume of liquid in the stomach is prone to causing heartburn, which results from the spillage of acidified content into the unprotected esophagus. Indigestion, or delayed digestion (gastroparesis) causes gastritis—an inflammation of the stomach’s mucosa, which may eventually lead to ulcers. Chronic indigestion may also result from a chloride deficiency (hypochloremia), especially when excess water consumption is accompanied by reduced or salt-free diets.
- Degenerative bone disease. A loss of minerals in general, calcium in particular, leads to bone softening—osteomalacia in adults, scoliosis in young adults, and rickets in children. (Osteoporosis is a bone tissue disease, and not a mineral deficiency condition, as mistakenly thought by most people, including most medical professionals.  A loss of bone tissue—collagen that makes up the bone matrix—leads to bone brittleness, not softness, as from the loss of minerals.)
- Premature aging.Facial bones determine our overall appearance and create a perception of age that no makeup or plastic surgery can hide. Because of a comparatively low physical load, facial bones experience the fastest loss of bone tissue and minerals. I call this Mick Jagger syndrome, after the characteristic facial appearance of this famous performer. This isn’t surprising—hyperactive stage performers perspire profusely, and drink gallons of water on and off the stage. It’s just more apparent on Mr. Jagger’s face because he’s underweight, and has no fat to cover up a profound bone loss.
- Muscular disorders. Calcium and magnesium are key regulators of muscle contractions. A deficiency of these two minerals is broadly associated with fibromyalgia, fatigue, cramps, tremors, involuntary flinching, and many other conditions that affect not just body muscles, but also the eyes, blood vessels, intestines, heart, womb, and all other organs that are controlled by the muscles.
- Unstable blood pressure. Hypertension and hypotension naturally follow water binges. First, as the volume of blood plasma increases from absorbed water, blood pressure rises. As long as the kidneys remain healthy, the excess is quickly removed, along with the minerals. As the minerals become depleted, the volume of plasma goes down in order to maintain its chemical stability, and low blood pressure sets in. Even though low blood pressure isn’t likely to cause heart attack or stroke, it is as dangerous, because it causes dizziness, drowsiness, and disorientation—not the most desirable state for driving a car, managing heavy machinery, or caring for a child.
- Heart disease. The heart is a muscular organ. Its health and efficiency mirrors the rest of the body, and anything that affects the muscles on the outside, impacts the heart on the inside. Over 400,000 Americans die annually from sudden cardiac arrest. Their hearts simply stop beating. Eighty percent of all cardiac arrests result from “electrical dysfunction”  of the heart muscles. Lo and behold, minerals—calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride—happen to be the major carriers and/or regulators of those electrical signals, and overhydration is the primary cause of their disbalance, be it an excess of potassium and magnesium, or a depletion of calcium and chloride.
Not surprisingly, cardiac arrest preceded the demise of Dr. Atkins, who was also an avid advocate for “eight glasses.” He was fitted with a pacemaker to correct “electrical dysfunction,” but died anyway a year later under mysterious circumstances. According to numerous press accounts,  his autopsy and medical records revealed a history of heart attacks, congestive heart failure, hypertension, and cardiomyopathy—a heart enlargement typical for overweight men who suffer from high blood pressure.
If you care to learn what kind of harm mineral deficiencies can cause, please review The Merck’s “Mineral Deficiency And Toxicity”chapter  on the Internet. Once you learn how important these minerals are, and how profound their loss can be on your health, you’ll understand why a blood test—which provides a relative  mirror of your mineral status—is such an important diagnostic tool. And nothing dilutes blood faster and leaches those important minerals out of your body more than too much water does, especially filtered, processed, devitalized, soft water that you’re most likely to consume from the tap, bottle, or with factory-made refreshments.
Now we’re primed for the key question: what should your total water intake be? (I didn’t write “how much do you need to drink” on purpose, because water comes from other sources.)
- First, thirst should be the first indicator that your body needs more water. But be careful here—the more you drink, the thirstier you become. So you need to bring down your water consumption gradually.
- Second, the guideline to obtain 1.4–1.6 liters of water daily from all sources—water, drink, and food—is a reasonable one (the equivalent of 5 to 7 glasses). The other 400–500 ml will come from oxidation.
- Finally, we’ve already established that additional water isn’t required to “dilute” fiber or prevent constipation. You already have plenty of water inside the GI tract to keep your stools moist.
The kidneys don’t lie. Under normal circumstances, a healthy person should urinate no more than three to five times daily, and zero times during the night, while asleep. If you urinate more often, if the urine is colorless or transparent, or there’s a large volume of it, your cumulative water intake is probably too high.
As always, there are exceptions. Keep these important points in mind:
- Physical activities. If you are physically active, exercise strenuously, visit a sauna, drench in hot baths, or perspire heavily for other reasons, your water needs increase in order to compensate for the losses with sweat, urine, and vapors in exhaled air.
- Medical conditions. If you have kidney disease or diabetes, or experience diarrhea or vomiting, your water needs increase to compensate for losses related to frequent urination, vomit or stool.
- Age. The thirst reflex may be blunted in the aged and infirm, and their water intake must be closely monitored. Too much water in this situation is as dangerous as too little, because older hearts and kidneys can’t expel excess water as fast, and may cause life-threatening edema, hypertension, arrhythmia, blood clots, diarrhea, kidney failure, and many other medical emergencies.
- Environment. High temperatures, high altitudes, and low humidity (dry air) lead to rapid water loss through the lungs and skin (the technical term is insensible losses). The rate of water loss in these circumstances may be up to ten times greater than normal.
- Infants and toddlers require 1.5 times more water than adults for the following reasons: a higher physiological turnover of water, larger skin area relative to body weight, larger percentage of body water, greater need by the kidneys to remove metabolites, and the inability to express thirst. Don’t confuse “inabilityto express” with “ability to sense.” Unlike socially conditioned adults, children’s instincts are finely tuned to their bodily needs. The role of a parent or guardian is to provide fluids, but never to force children to drink. Obviously, the fluid provided shouldn’t be juices or soft drinks. Fresh non-carbonated mineral water, preferably from a glass bottle, like Evian, Panna, or Vichi, are the best sources of drinking water for a growing child. Adequately breastfed babies don’t require additional water.
- Pregnancy. Despite what you may have heard from medical professionals, pregnancy doesn’t impose additional water requirements beyond an additional 30 ml (about 1 oz) per day.  Overhydration, along with the chronic deficit of electrolytes and minerals often induced by drinking too much water, is one of the reasons so many pregnant women suffer from edema, nausea, anemia, constipation, and inevitable bone disorders: osteomalacia (soft bones), osteoporosis, degenerative arthritis, periodontal disease, cavities, and many others.
- Lactation. Since up to 86% of breast milk is water, lactating mothers must drink an amount of water equal to the amount of milk they produce, or about 750 to 1000 ml (3 to 4 glasses) extra. Interestingly, most women add water, but fail to replace all of the essential fats, proteins, minerals, and microelements that they excrete with milk. This omission impacts their own health, and compromises the health of their babies too, because the quality of milk goes down, and the milk volume may run short or disappear altogether.
The impact of rapid overhydration is comparable to poisoning. Consuming too much water than is necessary over a long period of time is as bad, except the problems aren’t as immediately obvious as they are after five to ten liters of water are ingested in one sitting. Finally, here are the additional reasons why too much water makes fiber dependence more pervasive and constipation worse:
- Human anatomy. The digestive organs aren’t a straight tube, so none of the water that you drink streams down into your large intestine to moisten or flush out feces.
- Physiology of digestion. All water from food, drinks, saliva, and digestive juices—about seven liters daily—gets absorbed back into the bloodstream in the stomach and small intestine (75% to 90%), and the rest gets assimilated in the large intestine.
- Minimal requirement. Only 1% of all water involved in digestion —the sum of all intake and the secretion of saliva and digestive juices—is excreted with stool. I repeat, only 1% (about 70 ml, or 2 oz).
As you can see, drinking too little water isn’t going to make much immediate difference in the stool’s shape, weight, moisture content, and consistency, while drinking too much will eventually make the stool dry and hard because of potassium depletion. As stools get drier, people begin adding more and more fiber and drinking more and more water, instead of less.
What’s the difference between dehydration and underhydration? Underhydration is on the opposite side of overhydration, but not yet as self-evident as dehydration. And that’s why it’s as treacherous as overhydration.
The subject of water’s role in health and well-being is inseparable from certain essential minerals that help maintain the tight water balance inside the body. You can drink plenty, and still be underdehydrated, or even dehydrated, when those minerals are missing because of an inadequate diet, heavy perspiration, diarrhea, vomiting, kidney disease, and certain medical conditions.
Even then, neither underhydration nor dehydration are likely to cause constipation, because so little water is needed to maintain stool moisture. However, the shortage of those minerals and related ailments may and will cause constipation and fiber dependence.
- The dependence on fiber to maintain regular stools is partially a result of chronic overconsumption of water.
- The volume of water consumed daily doesn’t play any direct role in forming the stool or causing constipation.
- The recommendation to drink eight glasses of water in addition to food intake is wrong, because it doesn’t take into account the substantial water content of food and water produced by the body’s own metabolism.
- Actual daily water needs depend on age, weight, health, gender, occupation, climate, diet, and some other factors. It’s individual for each person, and can’t be generalized.
- Stool dryness and hardness isn’t caused by water deficiency, and can’t be overcome by drinking more water. To overcome dryness, one must restore intestinal flora and mineral balance, primarily potassium.
- Stool weight, mass, and form doesn’t depend on the amount of consumed water. At most, normal stool contains under 75 ml of water (per 100 g), about five tablespoons.
- Excessive fluid consumption from all sources leads to a depletion of potassium, and is one of the major causes of constipation and ensuing dependence on fiber.
- Overconsumption of water causes a broad range of other conditions and diseases related to depletion and deficiencies of essential minerals and microelements, and adds additional stress on cardiovascular, genitourinary, and digestive organs.
5 Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate (2004), Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine; pp 4–2:5.
10 The stomach doesn’t secrete properly diluted digestive juices directly, as is commonly and incorrectly thought. Specialized glands secret hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes into the stomach’s cavity until their concentration in the already existing volume of liquid is brought up to the proper level. The liquids come from saliva, water, drinks, and solid food. When liquids aren’t available, the stomach will secrete necessary water.
11 Definition of osteoporosis: “A generalized, progressive diminution of bone density (bone mass per unit volume), causing skeletal weakness, although the ratio of mineral to organic elements is unchanged.”— 5:57; The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy; [link]
13 Dr. Atkins was overweight, had heart problems: report; U.S. National-AFP News; Feb 10, 2004.
15 Blood chemistry, especially mineral balances, is maintained within a fairly narrow range at the expense of all other organs. If a blood test indicates certain mineral deficiencies, the situation may be quite dire. Not all deficiencies related to mineral stores—certain endocrine (hormonal) disorders, for instance—may be perceptible through a blood test.
16 Water and Electrolytes. Recommended Dietary Allowances. National Academy Press. 10th Edition, p. 250.
17 R.F. Schmidt, G. Thews; Water and Electrolyte Balance; Human Physiology, 2nd edition; p. 764.