Does Human Body Signals When To Stop Drinking Water?
Does Human Body Signals When To Stop Drinking Water?
You may have heard of the 8×8 rule. It states that you should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. That’s half a gallon of water (about 2 liters).
This claim has become somewhat of an accepted wisdom and is very easy to remember. But is there truth to this advice or is it just a myth?
You need to be drinking enough water to stay optimally hydrated. Generally speaking, that means replacing the water you lose through breath, sweat, urine and feces.
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Drinking enough water may offer health benefits, including:
- Weight loss:Drinking enough water may help you burn more calories, reducing appetite if consumed before a meal and lowering the risk of long-term weight gain (, , ).
- Better physical performance:Modest dehydration may impair physical performance. Losing only 2% of your body’s water content during exercise may increase fatigue and reduce motivation.
- Reduced severity of headaches:For those prone to headaches, drinking additional water may reduce the intensity and duration of episodes. In dehydrated individuals, water may help relieve headache symptoms.
- Constipation relief and prevention:In people who are dehydrated, drinking enough water may help prevent and relieve constipation.
- Decreased risk of kidney stones:Although more research is needed, there is some evidence that increasing water consumption may help prevent recurrence in people with a tendency to form kidney stones.
But how does the brain know when to encourage you to stop or start drinking?
A new study conducted in mice suggests that a mysterious element in the gut may play a role by predicting how much you need to drink to satisfy the body. It then promptly notifies the brain, which, in turn, decides how thirsty to make you, a group of researchers reported today (March 26) in the journal Nature.
Why Do We Feel Thirsty
In 2016, a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that when mice drink liquids, it prompts the mouth and throat to send signals to the brain, which shuts down the brain cells that dictate thirst. These “thirst cells” are found in a region called the hypothalamus, which regulates thirst, blood pressure and other bodily processes, and also in a small neighboring spot called the subfornical organ.
“Somehow, the brain has a way to match these two different timescales so that you can very rapidly drink just the right amount of water to satisfy your body’s needs,” said study author Zachary Knight, an associate professor of physiology at UCSF and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
How the brain does so was the question the researchers’ study sought to answer.
In the new study, Knight and his team implanted optical fibers and lenses near the hypothalamus of mouse brains, which allowed them to watch and measure when those thirst neurons turn on and off.
When they gave the mice salt water, the scientists found that the thirst neurons stopped firing almost immediately, as expected. But a minute or so later, those neurons switched back on.
Researchers measured and watched the activity of thirst neurons in mouse brains as they drank salty and fresh water.
The throat and mouth fire signals to the brain to begin quenching thirstno matter the type of liquid. But because salty liquids can dehydrate the body, the “on” signal likely came from somewhere else, after the throat and mouth turned the thirst neurons “off.”
Following a hunch that these neurons might be getting the other signals from the gut, the researchers directly infused water — both salty and fresh — into the mice’s stomachs, avoiding the mouth and throat signals all together.
They found that fresh water also made the neurons stop firing, but salt water didn’t. What’s more, when salt-water infused mice were given fresh water to drink, those thirst neurons first, as expected, switched off — but then quickly switched back on.
The results suggest that there are molecules in the gut that sense the salt content in liquids and use it to predict how much a drink will hydrate the body. This system, which only seemed to work when the mice were truly dehydrated, sends this information along to the brain within a single minute, and the thirst neurons twinkle on and off.
The Control of Thirst
The findings, if confirmed in humans, could benefit a range of people. Though mice and humans obviously differ in some brain structures, their hypothalami are very similar.
The team also found that the thirst signals traveled along the main signal highway between the brain and the gut: the vagus nerve. When the researchers cut out this nerve in a later experiment, the thirst neurons didn’t turn back on when the mice started drinking.
Though they don’t know for sure, the team thinks that the signals are coming specifically from the small intestine, which is the spot that connects most strongly to the vagus nerve and is also in the “correct” timespot in the digestive process to activate those thirst nerves a minute or so after drinking water.