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Are you drinking enough or too much?

I was recently reminded of the importance of water, when the new Chinese International students who are living with us, went on a covert night mission to buy bottled water, not liking the taste of Peterborough's tap water. They were driven by an inner need (thirst) to stay hydrated, but cultural and language barriers prevented them from asking for what they needed.

Many of my patients can easily list how many litres of water they drink daily, carrying around an ample supply of water with them at all times. Other patients only drink coffee or tea, pop, milk and alcohol. So, how much water should we drink? Are we drinking too much water?

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, water is considered "yin" in nature (cold, moistening, fluid building) and is needed to balance "yang" (heat, dryness, function/hyper-function) in the body. So what does that mean? Water cools and balances the heat or fire in the body. For example, if you have a fast metabolism, you always feel warm, and can eat anything without gaining weight (TCM translation-lots of heat), your body requires more water to balance the heat and prevent dehydration. Likewise, If you have a high fever, your body will require more water, signalled by increased thirst, to maintain optimal fluid levels.

Drinking more water than your body needs (and is signalling for) can cause a fluid surplus. Your body has to do something with the excess water so, the kidneys are set to working overtime to restore the internal balance. Habitual over hydration can cause a deficiency in the organs responsible for fluid metabolism from a TCM perspective.

The best way to know how much water to drink is to listen to your body. If you're generally healthy, then there is no reason to doubt your body's ability to maintain proper fluid metabolism.

Thirst is a clear signal that your body needs more fluid, so don't ignore it, drink some water. If you're still thirsty, drink some more! If you're not thirsty, then don't worry about drinking a prescribed amount of water. You don't need it, otherwise you'd be thirsty!

According to Chinese medicine, your urine should be a pale yellow. If your urine is colourless, you're hydrated and your kidneys are working too hard. If your urine is consistently a school bus yellow colour or darker then you could use more water.

Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, black tea, colas, and many energy drinks are diuretic in nature meaning they cause the kidneys to dump more water into the urinary bladder, which in fact does not hydrate the body. If you're thirsty it's best to drink water or fluids with no caffeine. I'm not saying don't enjoy a coffee, but remember it doesn't count for hydrating.

As is always the case in Traditional Chinese Medicine, one size does not fit all. One litre of water daily for some is not enough, and for others is too much. Your thirst will let you know. Trust it!

A recent article posted on CBC News entitled "Hydration myths debunked, in 5 easy sips" mimics the TCM's approach to hydration. It's worth a read! Click here

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