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Drink Water for Thirst Only

How many times have you heard the message “drink plenty of fluids,” or “drink 3 liters of fluids per day,” or some such message?  Notice that we have used the term “fluids” and not necessarily water.  Despite that, it’s interesting to me that many folks have just assumed that we mean water.  So now you are reading drink “water” for thirst only.

Why not “plenty” of water? We have known for a long time that drinking too much water can actually cause issues with the salt balance in the body, especially if you aren’t eating much. It’s summer time and so the natural reaction for those of us who like to exercise is to increase our water consumption.  If you have a well balanced diet and you are exercising for an hour or less, and you are only consuming 20 ounces of water, you will probably be fine.

If you are exercising for more than an hour or are on medications that make you lose fluids, and then hydrating with excessive amounts of water or “sport drinks,” therein lies the problem. Hydration does not necessarily mean “drink more water.” Despite the advertisements, all sports drinks are hypotonic to plasma (with the exception of one that I know of called MeStrength). What does that mean? Well, the amount of electrolytes in the sports drinks is less than that found in your bloodstream. So if you drink copious amounts of water or sports drinks, the amount of electrolytes in the blood will get diluted out. That means that the drinks or water are actually not hydrating you at all. It may be just the opposite and causing a diuretic effect.

True hydration is found in a delicate balance of electrolytes in the body. If the level of sodium is just mildly low, then an individual may just feel a little tired or dizzy, but as the level drops further, the brain can swell, causing coma and even death. The condition is called exercised induced hyponatremia, and it is very difficult to treat once it develops. Mild forms are treated with fluid restriction, rest and food; the more severe forms require hospitalization, and sometimes intensive care unit care.

While specifically not addressed, an individual may also have low potassium levels as well as low sodium. The effects are damaging to the heart; and low levels of potassium can also cause fatigue, muscle aches and cramps, and palpitations with changes seen on an EKG.

The best hydration treatment (besides IV fluids) is to consume an isotonic electrolyte beverage like MeStrength 30 minutes before and after exercise, eat a healthy well balanced diet, and to drink water only when you are thirsty. More extreme forms of exercise may require more MeStrength to prevent both dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Dr. Josie L. Tenore, M.D., M.Sc.,
is a board-certified family physician who became interested in aesthetics during medical school. As a result, most of her electives focused on dermatology and plastic surgery. Dr. Josie began her practice with family medicine because she enjoyed the challenge of delivering comprehensive health and well-being to people of all ages. This unique combination of family medicine and aesthetics led her to advocate a program of eating well, exercising and aesthetics for patients who want to have the best quality of life. Read full bio.

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595 Elm Place, Suite 208
Highland Park, IL 60035