The Health Benefits of Water: Fact or Myth?

Ransom Riggs

I was at a friend's 30th birthday party recently when someone struck up a conversation about cholesterol, and how to go about lowering it. (A not-inappropriate venue for such a conversation; my peers seem to get more health- and age-obsessed as we approach the realm of birthdays starting with the number three.) I've got some family history of cholesterol myself, so my ears perked up as this person went on to claim that a friend of hers (this is called "hearsay") lowered her cholesterol 100 points in a year by drinking a whole gallon of water every day.
And indeed, a quick internet search seemed to verify the connection between drinking water and lowering one's cholesterol -- at least, according to random blogs and websites for companies that want to sell you powerful water filters. Then I ran across this on the Cleveland Clinic website: "The [director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic] says there is no correlation between water consumption and cutting cholesterol," though she goes on to recommend drinking eight glasses of it a day. But now that the cholesterol claim has been called into question, I'm skeptical ... what other water-based urban legends are floating around out there?

According to WebMD, the health benefits of drinking water have been taken on a kind of mythic status, and for years so-called experts have been claiming -- with few studies or hard evidence to back them up -- that drinking copious amounts of water can dramatically improve kidney function to flush toxins from your body, help your organ work better generally, helps you lose weight, improves skin tone and cures or wards off headaches, among other benefits. But researchers say evidence is lacking.

Which is not to say you shouldn't drink lots of water every day (many people recommend eight glasses), as there's no proof that it's bad for you. Better advice would simply be to replace other beverages in our diet, such as sugary sodas and giant lattes, with water; it's estimated that 20% of the calories in American diets now come from beverages. Chronic, often unwitting dehydration can also be a problem, and the negative effects of that have been well-documented. So there are plenty of reasons to drink water -- but good ol' H20 seems not to be quite the panacea we had hoped it was.