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E.U. Ruling: Water Does Not Prevent...Dehydration?


"I had to read this four or five times to believe it."

How many times have you heard that you should be drinking lots of water to make sure you don't get dehydrated. It's a pretty common fact that water is a hydrating mechanism. Last week though, the European Union refuted this claim, ruling that bottled water companies stating that water does hydrate could face jail time.

This rule has caused many to balk at it as outrageous but when you look closer at the words of the actual ruling, you can see that much of it is on technicality of wording.

The Telegraph has the story:

EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict [...].

Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large.

“The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are: highly-paid, highly-pensioned officials worrying about the obvious qualities of water and trying to deny us the right to say what is patently true.

“If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project then this is it.”


The Department for Health disputed the wisdom of the new law. A spokesman said: “Of course water hydrates. While we support the EU in preventing false claims about products, we need to exercise common sense as far as possible."

The Institute of Medicine recommends the average woman receive approximately 2.7 liters (91 ounces) of total water -- from all beverages and foods -- each day, and average man of approximately 3.7 liters (125 ounces daily). Briton's National Health Service and its Food Standards Agency recommend six to eight glasses of fluid per day.

According to The Telegraph, the statement called into question was this: "regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance." This statement was issued by two German professors who help companies market their food products; the two were seeing if this claim could be made on labels.

In February, a group of 21 EU scientists met over the statement and concluded "water content in the body was a symptom of dehydration and not something that drinking water could subsequently control." From there, the European Food Standards Authority did not approve the statement and last week, the EU issued this ruling on the topic.

The Daily Mail has more opinions on the decision:

UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall said: "I had to read this four or five times before I  believed it.

"It is a perfect example of what Brussels does best. Spend three years, with 20 separate pieces of correspondence before summoning 21 professors to Parma, where they decide with great solemnity that drinking water cannot be sold as a  way to combat dehydration."

He added: "Then they make this judgment law and make it clear that if  anybody dares sell water claiming that it is effective against dehydration they  could get into serious legal bother.

"This makes the bendy banana law look positively sane."

The rule will go into effect next month, according to The Telegraph. But The Guardian blogger Martin Robbins, a self-proclaimed lay scientist, points out that it's up to member states to decide upon. Robbins also goes on to say that some of the hysteria over the ruling is "daft." He himself finds two major problems with the claim the German professors put forward:

[...] drinking water doesn't prevent dehydration, and drinking-water doesn't prevent dehydration.

Firstly, "regular consumption" of water doesn't reduce the risk of dehydration any more than eating a pork pie a day reduces the risk of starvation. If I drink half a pint of bottled water while running through a desert in the blistering sun, I'll still end up dehydrated, and if I drink several bottles today, that won't prevent me from dehydrating tomorrow. The key is to drink enough water when you need it, and you're not going to get that from any bottled water product unless it's mounted on a drip.

Secondly, dehydration doesn't just mean a lack of water, or 'being thirsty'; electrolytes like sodium are important too. If salt levels fall too far, the body struggles to regulate fluid levels in the first place. That's why hospitals use saline drips to prevent dehydration in patients who can't take fluids orally, and why people with diarhhoea are treated with salt-containing oral rehydration fluids.

With that perspective, Robbins feels the rule is "pretty sensible." He reports that the British Soft Drink Association also supports the ruling with the following statement:

The European Food Safety Authority has been asked to rule on several ways of wording the statement that drinking water is good for hydration and therefore good for health. It rejected some wordings on technicalities, but it has supported claims that drinking water is good for normal physical and cognitive functions and normal thermoregulation.

You can read the full scientific opinion from the European Food and Safety Authority here.

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