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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.

Water Abuse:
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:

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!

Eight glasses: Fountain of youth or fountain of death?

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. [5])

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... [6]

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.

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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. [7] 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?

Water requirements: In Big Brother’s loving care

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 [8]; 2004 Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potas­sium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. [9])

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.

Overhydration: Too much of a good thing?

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:

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, [13] 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 [14] 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 [15] 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.

Moderation: Easy said, easy done

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.)

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:

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:

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.

Underhydration: The opposite side of the coin

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.

Chapter summary


1 Health implications of dietary fiber, J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102:993–1000; [link]

2 Health implications of dietary fiber—Position of ADA; J Am Diet Assoc. 1997;97:1157–1159; [link]

3 Water. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate, The National Academies Press. 4–56:2003; [link]

4 Health implications of dietary fiber; J Am Diet Assoc 2002;102:993–1000; [link]

5 Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate (2004), Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine; pp 4–2:5.

6 Water and Sodium Metabolism, 2:12; The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy;[link]

7 Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate (2004), Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine; p 4–1; [link]

8 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Home; [link]

9 Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate (2004); Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine; [link]

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]

12 Cardiac Arrest; 16:206; 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.

14 Mineral Deficiency And Toxicity; 1:4; The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy; [link]

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.