Drinking liquid to stay hydrated is a part of life, but many find tasteless water boring. This has opened plenty of space for the $2 billion beverage industry to develop tasty drinks to quench your ever-present thirst. But what are those drinks doing to your health? Often filled with sugar and purportedly healthy ingredients like vitamins and electrolytes, store-bought beverages are sold on the promise of satiating your taste buds without weight gain or helping you live a more athletically rigorous life. But research shows the marketing copy doesn’t always live up to its promises. Here’s how to make healthier decisions with drinking.
What’s the problem?
If you’re suffering from a chronic pain condition, you’re always looking for ways to reduce pain. Turns out, it could be in your cup.
Studies have shown that certain types of drinks contribute to everything from heart problems to obesity and diabetes. The prevalence of soft drinks, sports beverages, and energy drinks makes the immense health risks easy to ignore, but the thirst-quenchers have hugely contributed to the obesity epidemic, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Let’s take a look and examine the effects a little more closely.
1. Soft drinks
Known as soda or pop, depending where in the country you live, soft drinks are nearly as American as apple pie. As people have overall become more health and weight conscious, the industry responded by creating diet versions. However, research by the Weizmann Institute of Science has shown that zero calories does not mean zero weight gain, and the aspartame used instead of high-fructose corn syrup may still lead to excess pounds.
Meanwhile, portion sizes have increased dramatically over the past few decades, intensifying the health risks. In the 1950s, the average soft drink came in a 6.5-ounce bottle. Today 12 ounces are common. You can get even larger sizes, up to 40 ounces.
The expanded sizes have corresponded to the drinks accounting for an increased percentage of a person’s daily calorie intake. It increased from 4% in 1970 to 9% in 2001.
But new research shows that drinking soda may age you as much as smoking, reports Time. A daily diet of soda directly attacks the immune cells. These are so important for people suffering from chronic pain whose bodies are already working extra hard to maintain homeostasis.
The changes wrought in the body by drinking soda lessen the body’s ability to manage stress and increase the risk for diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, according to Time.
People who drink soda daily are at 26% greater risk for developing diabetes, reports Harvard, and are also more likely to gain weigh to or become obese. Sodas have also been linked to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis among women, according to WebMD.
Meanwhile, diet drinks are often touted as a safer, no-calorie alternative but research has showed the beverages are equally as dangerous to health.
The American College of Cardiology found that postmenopausal women who drink at least two diet sodas each day are more at risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular health issues. Diet soda drinkers were 50% more likely to die from a cardiovascular health problem.
2. Energy drinks
Many people look to energy drinks to give them that extra boost to make it through the day and propel through myriad life responsibilities for which there never seems to be enough time to complete.
Energy drinks contain extra-high doses of caffeine—about double the quantity as in the average soda—and herbal stimulants like ginseng and guarana. Those without caffeine typically use only guarana, a plant-based caffeine made from a South American tree’s seeds, some of which contain more than double the amount of caffeine found in coffee, according to WebMD.
Occasionally drinking energy drinks is not likely harmful for you, according to Brown University, but frequently imbibing is. And many people come to rely on the beverages to sustain above-normal energy levels or compensate for sleep deficiencies. The drinks are very potent and, because people have varying sensitivities to caffeine, should be drunk with great caution.
Frequently consuming energy drinks may lead to heart problems, according to the European Society of Cardiology. People with pre-existing heart problems should be especially cautious about consuming the beverages, researchers added.
People with gout may also want to reconsider drinking the beverages since caffeine has been connected to flare-ups, according to MedicineNet. Dr. Tuhina Neogi with Boston University School of Medicine says:
“We found that overall, as the number of servings of caffeinated beverages increased, so too did the chance of having recurrent gout attacks.”
While many people with chronic pain also combat related fatigue, overriding the body’s natural sleepiness with chemical-induced energy could cause more harm than good. Resting can become tiresome, but consider allowing the body to relax if that’s what it needs.
Energy drinks have been found particularly troublesome for children, for whom the drinks may significantly increase hyperactivity, according to research from Yale University.
The findings led researchers to recommend that parents limit children’s intake of sweetened drinks and prevent them from drinking energy beverages at all.
3. Flavored water
Water is not just water once the beverage industry applies its creativity. With added vitamins, it becomes a tool to enhance intelligence, feel calm, or enjoy greater levels of energy.
However, flavored water also frequently contains sugar, which may contribute to inflammation and weight gain.
And research has showed that the vitamins added offer little to no health benefit, according to a study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
The claims made by the drinks’ packaging are often unsubstantiated by science and when pushed, even the manufacturers admit the claims are hyperbole. When Coca-Cola was sued over claims made by vitaminwater labels, the company responded that, “no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitaminwater was a healthy beverage,” reports Huffington Post.
In the case of flavor-enhanced water, it may be better to drink plain water with added raw fruit or cucumber slices for healthy, delicious flavor.
4. Sports drinks
Popular sports drinks have gained a reputation for being the go-to beverage to refuel after a hard workout or long hike. But research hasn’t shown the drinks offer much benefit and scientists recommend drinking water instead, according to Harvard Health Publications.
Sports drinks contain an abundance of sugar, but also sodium and potassium mixes known as electrolytes.
However, experts say the drinks don’t offer health benefits not provided by regular water. Meanwhile, the chemicals and sugar they contain could be detrimental to a person’s health.
What’s your best option?
As always, water is your best options. Always.
Keeping the body well hydrated is critical for optimal functioning. Few people drink enough water, opting instead for soda and juice. And while juice may taste good and offer some hydration benefit, the healthiest liquid for the body to run at its full potential is water. Staying hydrated is essential for good health, particularly for people with conditions like chronic pain. Dehydration can exacerbate fatigue and even be a pain trigger.
Why is water so important?
The body consists of about 60% water; the liquid helps to lubricate joints as they move. When a person doesn’t drink enough water, the body must work extra hard to keep those joints supple and moving freely, writes holistic practitioner Dr. David Brownstein on Newsmax. He adds:
“Arthritis and headaches are two of the most common illnesses associated with dehydration.”
A study published in Neurology found that increasing water intake by four cups each day resulted in 21 fewer hours spent in pain for headache sufferers. Drinking the extra water also resulted in less painful headaches for those that did develop. Driving home the connection between heat, hydration, and headaches, another study published in Neurology found that every nine-degree increase in temperature resulted in an 8% jump in the risk of migraines.
Researchers hypothesize that adequate water intake increases overall blood volume and encourages blood flow to the brain, which quiets pain signals sent by nerves and results in fewer headaches.
In addition to lubricating the joints and keeping nerves in the brain happy, water helps to flush toxins out of the body, deliver important nutrients to cells, and maintain moisture levels in cavities like the throat and nose. It also works to regulate the body’s temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Water’s critical role in maintaining body function is one reason why drinking it—and not fruit juice, soda, or energy drinks—is so important. Sugar is an additive the body must process while water is part of the body. So while juice and other processed beverages make the body work harder, increasing your water intake helps the body work more efficiently.
“If you are dehydrated it is impossible to overcome illness or achieve optimal health until you increase your water intake.”
How much water should I drink?
Although the oft-stated recommendation is eight cups of water each day, the reality is more nuanced with guidelines varying depending on a person’s size, gender, and level of physical activity. People who run or work outside will need more water than people who stay indoors most of the time.
Living in arid climates, like Arizona, automatically increases the amount of needed water, so stay cognizant of that in the summer, even if most of your time is spent inside. Living in dry air and spending even just five minutes outside in 110 degree heat with low humidity will increase the amount of water you need to stay hydrated.
The Institute of Medicine (IM) says the ideal amount of daily water is 13 cups for men and nine cups for women, provided they live in a temperate climate, reports Mayo Clinic. In a place like Arizona, that number could be more.
The eight glasses a day rule is pretty close to IM’s, adds Mayo Clinic, making the easy-to-remember recommendation a good guideline. The best way to proceed is to monitor your body for signs of dehydration and alter water intake as necessary.
What are the signs of dehydration?
Perhaps the most obvious indication of dehydration is urine output. Well-hydrated people visit the bathroom often, and urine will be clear or light yellow. When dehydrated, output will be darker and there will be less of it.
Sports dietician Nancy Clark tells WebMD:
“(There’s) a very simple, easy way to monitor hydration…If you go from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon without peeing, then you’re dehydrated.”
A more vague symptom of dehydration is fatigue. Even being mildly dehydrated can lead to feelings of tiredness, according to Mayo Clinic. Feeling tired? Before reaching for a cup of coffee, try water. It may be all you need.
Other signs of dehydration include:
- A thick, white coating on the tongue
- A dry mouth
- Joints that stiffen after lying or sitting down for a long time
How to make water more tasty
Unfortunately, many people find drinking water boring. It lacks taste and it can seem like a chore to guzzle glasses all day. And while it’s not the healthiest move to add flavoring like sugar-sweetened fruit powder to water, it is perfectly healthy—and fun—to lively up your beverage by adding fruit or vegetables. Add cucumber slices for a fresh twist, frozen strawberries or raspberries to keep your drink both cold and delicious, or lemon for an extra zing.
Herbs like mint turn ordinary drinks into festive thirst-quenchers fit for a special occasion.
Another tip is to set tiny goals for water intake throughout the day. Make it a goal to drink two, eight-ounce glasses of water at each meal. Then, you’ve nearly fulfilled your daily water intake requirements.
Also, although water itself should constitute the majority of your water intake, food also contains water. Some fruits and vegetables in particular—like cucumber and watermelon—contain an abundance of water. These make it easy to stay both hydrated and healthy. So while around eight glasses of water each day are necessary for optimal hydration levels, those water-heavy fruits and vegetables are another way to meet the recommendations.
Are your drinking habits causing you more pain? Contact us today for a specialized discussion about how improving your health habits could improve your pain!