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17 September 2014
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Should I Worry About... Water?

It's a market worth £600million a year. Adverts, magazine articles and health reports tell us we should be consuming more. But is the water industry just tapping into our desire to look young and healthy?

How much do we really need to drink? And what sort of water should it be? Can we trust the stuff from our taps? Or should we be worrying about water?

What happens if we don't drink enough?

Dehydration isn't to be recommended, as our presenter found out.

When he went without water for a weekend, Richard Hammond found his:

  • Concentration suffered


  • Reaction rates slowed


  • Physical stamina significantly reduced


Even mild dehydration will affect the body and mind - headaches, lethargy and tiredness are all common symptoms.

You obviously need to drink water in some form. Pure water is ideal because it's sugar free, caffeine free and alcohol free. However, you shouldn't feel guilty if it's not your favourite tipple.

Your body can absorb water from many sources. Most foods have a substantial amount of water in them. Fruits and vegetables, milk and low-sugar juices are also good sources. Once absorbed, your body will treat water from a steak the same as water from the tap.

There are a number of ways you can tell if you are dehydrated:

  • Check how you feel - a headache and lethargy can be signs you need more water.


  • Look at the colour of your urine - a pale straw colour is generally good. If it gets darker and starts to smell more, it's a sign you need to drink more.


  • Pay attention if you feel thirsty.


Remember that strongly caffeinated drinks, very sugary drinks and alcohol don't help.

Two litres a day - beauty secret?

It's the elixir of life, but do we need to glug two litres of the stuff a day to keep our skin glowing? It's an often quoted 'fact' that we should all be drinking two litres of water a day. However, according to a 2002 review in the American Journal of Physiology, there seems to be little or no scientific basis for this.

The possible source of the two litres claim is a 1945 US study, which concluded that under normal circumstances most people need around two litres of fluid a day. But this can come from other suitable drinks and from food. For example, a baked potato is 70 percent water.

We test the two litres claim

Our guinea pigs were two identical twins with similar lifestyles. They live close to one another, have teenage families and do the same job. Following a skin and hair analysis and the toss of a coin, one twin started drinking two litres of water a day, whilst the other carried on with her usual quarter litre.

After four weeks our doctor revealed that the twins' hair and skin showed no significant differences, suggesting there are no discernable beauty benefits in drinking two litres a day.

Our experts explained that the body is very good at balancing its fluid levels. If you drink more than you need, you will just end up visiting the toilet more often!

Water safety - Should you avoid the tap?

There are 28 water providers in the UK which in England and Wales are regulated by OFWAT and the Drinking Water Inspectorate. Each company continually monitors the supplies it has and sends samples to the lab for analysis. Depending on the water source, climate and other factors, they will treat the water accordingly. For example, by killing microbes with chlorine or removing pesticides with ozone.

The resulting water is free from, or incredibly low in, compounds. Some tap-waters have lower amounts of regulated compounds than bottled waters.

Richard investigates

Recent headlines have raised public fears about water quality.

Like many of us, Richard relies on his water company to provide him with safe drinking water. He decided to investigate what we are drinking.

Richard asked his local supplier, Severn Trent, to test his home water. He also sent it for an independent analysis and an oestrogen test.

All the results came back well below any regulatory amount, and there were no oestrogen chemicals detected.

We also sent a team to test chlorine and fluoride levels in tap-water all around the country. No results came back above, or even particularly close to, regulation limits.

Back to the Should I Worry About homepage

 TV Programmes - BBC One

Should I Worry About...

Programmes in the second series shown July 2005:

Ageing

Drinking

Jabs

Exercise

Additives

Takeaways

Find out more about the first series

Back to the homepage

 Elsewhere on bbc.co.uk

Two litres?
Advice on how much water you need each day from bbc.co.uk/health.

The water debate
An in-depth bbc.co.uk/news site that looks at water issues.

Funny water quiz
A just-for-fun water quiz from bbc.co.uk/comedy.

 Elsewhere on the web

The Drinking Water Inspectorate
This government agency has information about drinking water quality in your area.

Be water wise
The Scottish Executive provides drinking water safety advice.

Where does my natural mineral water come from?
The Food Standards Agency has a list of natural mineral water sources.

OFWAT
The economic regulator of the water and sewerage industry in England and Wales.

Drinking water quality
The World Health Organization's guidelines for drinking water quality.

Can water go bad?
An easy-to-understand explanation from howstuffworks.com.

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