Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

The fountain of youth is probably not your kitchen faucet

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Anything that is anti-aging is good for pain in a roundabout way. Aging is the ultimate in risk factors for many kinds of pain, thanks to the phenomenon of “inflammaging” — real word! — in which aging and systemic inflammation tend to increase in sync, thanks to a witch’s brew of declining fitness and pathological insults and other stressors piling up. So anything that fights aging also fights pain, indirectly, which is why lifestyle medicine matters for pain.

So can drinking water fight aging? Some headlines earlier this year really gave that impression.

“Hydration” is a staple of quackery and dubious alt-med wellness wisdom for many reasons, but mostly thanks to a long tradition of fear-mongering about dehydration. In early 2023, a new study by Dmitrieva et al. threw gasoline on that perpetually smouldering fire, with big claims that chronic dehydration is linked to premature aging. That hydration-aging combo is clickbait crack, and so the study’s implications were hyped by many major publications.

Major chronic dehydration surely isn’t any better for people than any other kind of low-grade, long-term stressor. But this study probably isn’t actually confirming that, and does not give us any new cause for fear about dehydration. It remains unlikely and unknown whether modern homo sapiens struggles to drink enough. Even if the study is cromulent, it does not mean that clinically significant chronic dehydration is actually common, and it certainly doesn’t mean that making a special effort is an important health habit.

As with vitamin and mineral supplementation, even if “water supplementation” is helpful for people who are legitimately deficient, it’s probably not for anyone else.

Animals are watery & we definitely need to hydrate. But we probably don’t need to worry about hydrating.

The kernel of truth here might be that chronically dehydrated animals really do have shortened lives, but … that's not very surprising, and what person is going to be as chronically dehydrated as a tortured lab rat?

This reminds me the way we know that rodents weirdly live longer if you half starve them. But you have to force them to diet intensely for a long time to get that “benefit.” Even if perpetual hard dieting could extend our lives, it would also make us hate them. “Live long… and suffer!”

If lives are shortened by chronic dehydration at all, we’re probably talking about being seriously thirsty for many years. Far more thirst than most of us would ever put up with.

If the study could be trusted, it would be “interesting” at best, but far from conclusive. But it probably should not be trusted! It was a study of blood saltiness — an extremely loosey-goosey proxy for hydration status — and yet it was promoted by talking up the highly speculative hydration angle. This study is way less important than it was made to seem.

But, wow, that PR spin really worked. As it often does.

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher