Thus far this summer the weather has brought more soaking rains than bright sunshine. We have been far more concerned about external water than that from within us. Yet the hot summer days will bring those times when we think about types of hydration though various forms of liquids.
Our commercial industries have been quick to supply all forms of water in many forms. The challenge is to select the ones most healthful and satisfying to our palate and our bodies.
We live in an ever-changing world! Just think of the modifications in our lives catalyzed by the Internet and advertizing industry. Yet many of our habits remain remarkably similar! One common habit of interest is what we drink when we are thirsty. The beverage companies are ready and waiting!
Water is essential for life. The news media constantly remind us of the importance of the relationships and consequences of water in all our environments, physical and geopolitical. Even those of us in the healthcare and nutrition specialties have made drinking appropriate amounts of water each day a parameter of health. Yet at times such advice and execution may have been overly enthusiastic, but, undoubtedly, it is better to be critically aware of potential water-related problems.
The pros and cons of drinks other than water make for an interesting discussion. Optimally, water is still No. 1 by a long shot, followed by milk and fruit juices. In my opinion, so-called "energy drinks" are significantly hyped expensive water; "nutritional" drinks such as Gatorade are occasionally valuable but overused; alcohol-related drinks are potentially pleasing but can be dangerous; sweetened carbonated beverages are extremely popular but also present significant health concerns.
The impact of soft drinks is amazing! Between 1977 and 1997, the annual per capita consumption of soft drinks in the United States increased 61 percent! In 1997, the average American consumed 53 gallons of carbonated drinks; sodas are the most widely consumed beverage in the U.S. The companies producing "Coke" and "Pepsi" have widely expansive advertising venues.
Readers of this column certainly realize that an interesting history, usually with a medical background, exists regarding many contemporary topics. Carbonated beverages have such a history, one remarkably more interesting than anticipated. In ancient times and even in contemporary society, many curative properties were ascribed to effervescent (carbon dioxide-containing) waters. Bethesda (Jerusalem), Bath (England), and Hot Springs (US) are examples of "meccas" for therapeutic waters and healing. The term "seltzer" (carbonated water) originates from the water of natural springs from the German city of Niederseltsers. The discoverer of oxygen, Joseph Priestly, began the use of artificial carbonation in 1767, and it was commercialized in 1807 by Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemistry professor. By the 1830s, flavored carbonated drinks were sold from "soda fountains;" in 1891, soda fountains outnumbered bars in New York City!
Druggists began using carbonation to promote therapeutic remedies in the late 19th century. J.S. Pemberton, an Atlanta, Georgia, druggist, combined extracts of kola nut and coca to make a headache remedy he called "Coca-Cola;" another druggist named Hires invented root beer in 1893. The German pharmaceutical company Bayer used this "fizzy" idea to promote a combination of four medications named "Alka-Seltzer" which continues in use today. Do you remember "Speedy"? A related product, "Bromo-Seltzer," was a very popular gastric sedative until the 1950s. "TheraFlu" is one of the few remaining "fizzy" medications now promoted.
Carbonated beverages are enjoyable drinks, but they present significant health concerns. Because they contain acids that give them the "fizz," potential problems with "gas," kidney stones, dental cavities, and calcium loss are possible, and daily consumption of soda may contribute to increased bone fragility. The average soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar (160 calories) or a substitute and contributes to obesity and may be associated with a risk of heart disease. Nearly all carbonated beverages also contain significant amounts of caffeine which can cause overstimulation of the nervous system.
As in many aspects of our lives, moderation of the intake of carbonated drinks and water should be a health goal. With this concept in mind, be sure and enjoy a healthful summer!