Before we dissect this meme and its medical revelations, I have a few announcements.
First, Happy 200th Post to Stupid Bad Memes! Why is the number 200 significant? I don’t know! But hooray anyway!
Second, I would like to send a shout-out and a warm thank you to Deviant Art user BlameThe1st for writing a very kind review of Stupid Bad Memes last weekend. While BlameThe1st and I may not agree on every political issue, we share a disdain for the face-smackingly stupid memes that are this blog’s bread and butter. So thank you, BlameThe1st. I really appreciate that.
Now then: water. What is it? Is it good for you, as so many people insist? Or is it just a passing fad, like Atkins? Will we still be talking about water in five years?
Yes. Water is absolutely essential – to varying degrees – for every living thing on Earth. Without water, your days are numbered…and that number is about three, on average.
Well then, you may be thinking, I guess that’s Case Closed. The meme is correct!
Not so fast, hypothetical gun-jumper. Yes, water is a necessary ingredient to life as we know it, but I am skeptical (Contain your shock.) about some – nay, all of the claims in this meme. I decided to do a little research, which I would advise for anybody that’s considering passing on a meme. And what did I discover? I discovered that this meme, like so many other memes bearing medical advice, contains a certain percentage (approximately 100) of incorrect information.
Before I proceed, I would like to issue this caveat: in debunking this meme’s claims, I do not mean to imply that you shouldn’t drink water. Of course you should! Nor will I claim that the timing of your hydration breaks is unimportant; to wit, you should always drink extra water after a heavy workout, or if you’re in the grip of a stomach bug and have been puking prolifically. However, you should not expect that following this meme’s advice will lower your lifetime chances of high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attacks.
Let’s start at the very beginning (which, according to my sources, is a very good place to start).
Drinking 2 glasses of water in the morning helps activate internal organs.
This is meaningless drivel. Your internal organs do not require activation in the morning because they never deactivate at night. If they did, you wouldn’t wake up. Each of your organs continues to work, albeit in some reduced capacity, while you sleep. And lest you think that the word activate can be taken to mean bring up to full capacity; no. Upon your awakening, your body will naturally restore the full functioning of your internal organs, with or without additional hydration.
Now I would like to re-emphasize that you must consume water at some point during the day in order to continue functioning normally, but if you’re in decent health it does not make much difference whether you drink it immediately after waking up or later during the day. Your organs will “activate” just fine.
Drinking 1 glass of water before a meal will help in digestion.
This point comes the closest to being “correct”, according to my research, but it still misses the mark by a tiny amount. You won’t get a doctor to tell you that you shouldn’t drink water before a meal, but at least one doctor (Michael F. Picco, writing for MayoClinic.org) suggests drinking during or after a meal to aid digestion. I know, it’s picking nits to suggest that the meme is wrong for changing the order of drinking and eating, but I was unable to find any peer-reviewed research to suggest that a pre-meal glass of H2O would aid digestion more than drinking water during or after a meal. Since the main point of the meme was to suggest that the timing of hydration was as important as the act of hydration, I give the meme no credit for this one.
Drinking 1 glass of water before a shower helps prevent high blood pressure.
This is a very peculiar claim to make. Unless I’m reading it wrong, the meme seems to suggest that taking a shower without first drinking a glass of water will lead to an increase in blood pressure. In fact, many doctors say that the opposite is true; a hot shower or bath actually causes your blood pressure to decrease. The high temperature causes your blood vessels to dilate, which in turn eases the flow of blood and brings the pressure down. But could drinking a glass of water before the shower actually accentuate this effect?
No. Drinking water does almost nothing to change your blood pressure, because of how your body handles fluids. According to Dr Judith Airey, the misconception that drinking water reduces blood pressure stems from the fact that certain hypertension drugs are also diuretics – that is, chemicals that make you pee. But that’s not all they do for you; in addition to making you pee more, they also eliminate sodium from your blood. The fallacious logic goes like this: if the pee-pills work to decrease blood pressure, then drinking lots of water (which has the same effect) should work too. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.
Simply drinking a lot of water will increase the amount of urine you produce, but not the amount of sodium that gets expelled with that urine. Your body’s fluid control system works diligently to maintain your blood volume, which means that any excess water is simply shunted to the kidneys. The non-water ingredients of urine get diluted, which is why drinking lots of water is likely to make your urine more clear.
Simply put, there’s no evidence that drinking water before, during, or after a shower has any additional effect on blood pressure (although the shower itself may lower your blood pressure if you have the temperature up high enough). Shower with caution!
Drinking a glass of water before bed helps prevent strokes or heart attacks.
Doris Chung from the University of Washington labels this as a myth, for the following reason:
The American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with other national health organizations, recommend several ways of decreasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. These recommendations include keeping a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating healthy, managing stress, and refraining from smoking. Drinking a glass of water before bed is not on the list. If you have to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom, Dr. Rosenfeld noted that this actually heightens your risk of heart attack and stroke because your sleep cycle is interrupted. Not getting enough sleep is linked to higher stress levels, increase in appetite, and cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods —none of which are good for heart health and stroke prevention!
So there you go; contrary to the meme’s assertion, drinking a glass of water right before bedtime might actually increase your risk for stroke and heart attack (although I certainly wouldn’t publish or share a meme that makes this claim either, as I doubt the threat to public health is severe enough to warrant an anti-bedtime-water-drinking campaign).
Now I know what you’re thinking: So the meme’s claims are a bit spurious. So what? If people read this meme and drink more water, isn’t that a good thing? Does it really matter if they’re mislead about the efficacy of drinking water at certain times of day?
It’s a good thing, and it’s not a good thing. Drinking more water is probably good for everybody, but being credulous about the medical advice contained in memes is not a good thing. This meme is a symptom of a peculiar critical thinking disorder I call Easyism – it afflicts people who believe that all of our woes can be solved by deceptively simple practices like, say, drinking water at the correct time. Easyism also causes people to swear that baking soda can cure cancer, or that not buying gasoline on one day will cause gas prices to drop. Easyism is embraced by people who want to see a change in the world, but who don’t want to do anything substantive to cause that change.
If you’re not living a healthy life, you’ve got to make changes – perhaps difficult changes – to get to where you want to be. If you’re not drinking enough water, you should definitely drink more. But…if you’re already drinking plenty of water, please don’t be fooled into thinking that something as simple as altering your hydration schedule will take you down the path to better health. You owe it to yourself to be better informed than that.