1. Soaking up the benefits of water

    It almost sounds like the benefits of some promising new blockbuster drug: Just a little bit can help lift mood, concentration and energy levels -- with virtually no side effects.

    Well, there is one side effect: You might need to pee a little more.

    Of course, this isn't some experimental new drug -- just plain old water, and new research shows how letting yourself run dry can throw your whole day out of whack.

    In a set of three experiments, 25 healthy young women were given either enough H20 to keep hydrated or brought just below their optimal levels with exercise and diuretics.

    By "just below" I mean really just below -- they were missing only between 1 and 2 percent of their needed water. But those small changes led to big differences as these women suffered from measurable dips in mood and focus and were more likely to feel fatigue and suffer headaches.

    Although the study didn't look at men, there's no reason to think mild dehydration would affect them any differently.

    In other words, you need your water -- but don't get carried away.

    You know the old saying about drinking eight 8-ounce glasses a day? Forget it. It's never been proven by science (although the bottled water companies would like you to think otherwise).

    In fact, too much water can be even worse for you than too little.

    The only time you need to wet your whistle is when you feel thirsty -- and despite what you've heard, it doesn't have to be plain old water.

    Coffee and tea, for example, are just fine. Both of them are mildly diuretic, but they'll still leave you with a net gain of water and keep you hydrated.

    Just one warning here: Water may not be a drug on its own... but there's a good chance there are drugs in your water.

    U.S. water standards are plunging like a barrel over Niagara Falls. Hormones, sex meds, antibiotics and more are regularly turning up in our drinking water -- and in some places, you can add illegal drugs, rocket fuel and toxic waste to the list.

    Even in trace amounts, do you really want to drink that?

    Drink only filtered water. You don't have to shell out big money on bottled year after year if you invest in a quality reverse osmosis system for your home.

  2. Bursting the water balloon

    Water is plentiful, inexpensive and (relatively) safe.

    So what's my beef with it?

    Nothing... if you're drinking it because you're thirsty.

    But if you've developed a serious bottled water habit because you've heard it can make you faster, thinner, younger, or healthier... well, on some level you probably know it's not that easy, right?

    The truth is, anyone who wants you to believe in these and other supposed health benefits of water is probably just trying to sell you some -- spring water, mountain water, water from Fiji, or plain old tap water in a bottle with a fancy label.

    And they're pulling every trick in the book in the name of marketing.

    A recent editorial in BMJ looked at the growing number of health claims being splashed into water, and found... well, they're all wet -- starting with the claim that you need eight glasses a day to stay healthy.

    You don't.

    In the editorial, Dr. Margaret McCartney looked at the research and found no evidence to prove you need to drink like a guppy to stay healthy or even just hydrated. A 2002 study, for example, found "no scientific evidence" for eight glasses a day.

    So excess water won't make you healthier... but you're probably thinking that at least it's harmless, right?

    Not so fast: Too much water can actually pull essential sodium out of your body, leaving you with a potentially deadly condition called hyponatremia.

    It's not as rare as you might think, especially in the sports world. In fact, hundreds of runners in the New York City Marathon end up sick and even hospitalized with hyponatremia every year because they guzzle water from start to finish in the mistaken belief that they're dehydrating with every step.

    "There are no reported cases of dehydration causing death in the history of world running," Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York City Marathon told the New York Times back in 2005. "But there are plenty of cases of people dying of hyponatremia."

    And if marathoners don't need all that water, what are the odds you do?

    Answer: You don't.

    In reality, the only time you need water is when you're thirsty -- and even then, almost any liquid will do: coffee, tea, beer, even the water in food.

    And if you want a plain glass of cold water, don't feel obliged to shell out cash for bottled -- most of that stuff is no better than what comes out of your own tap, and some of it might be worse.

    Instead, install a reverse-osmosis filter in your home to keep your faucet free of contaminants such as chemical waste and pharmaceuticals.

    Then, feel free to drink that water -- but only when you're thirsty.

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