The new secret to losing weight? Water

Suddenly starving? Try drinking some water.

That recommendation isn’t new — but it suddenly got some serious evidence to back it up. A study of nearly 10,000 adults ages 18 to 64 shows that staying hydrated by drinking water and eating more water-loaded fruits and vegetables could help with weight management, especially if you’re overweight or obese.

“Staying hydrated is good for you no matter what, and our study suggests it may also be linked to maintaining a healthy weight,” said lead author Dr. Tammy Chang, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Our findings suggest that hydration may deserve more attention when thinking about addressing obesity on a population level.”

Being dehydrated can mess with your mental, physical and emotional health. Numerous studies show attention, memory and mood can be damaged, and physical distress such as headaches, constipation and kidney problems can result.

But when it came to weight loss and gain, the science on the role of water has been murky. Some studies found drinking water helped control weight gain, yet other studies showed the opposite. Part of the problem, said Chang, was the way hydration has been measured.

“Water consumption is not an ideal measure of hydration,” explained Chang. “The amount of water it takes to stay hydrated depends on your body size and many other factors like your activity level and the climate you live in. Imagine if you were a landscaper in Arizona versus a receptionist in Michigan. The amount of water it takes to stay hydrated will be drastically different.”

Some need more water to stay hydrated

Chang and her fellow researchers at the University of Michigan looked at the topic in a new way — not how much water you drink, but how well hydrated you are when you do so. To do that, they measured the concentration of water in urine.

They found that staying hydrated — which helps your heart pump blood more efficiently to your muscles, which then makes them work more efficiently — was especially important for anyone with a body mass index (BMI) over 25, which is technically overweight and unfortunately applies to all too many of us. In fact, two out of every three Americans are overweight or obese.

“We found hydration and BMI/obesity are associated,” said Chang. “A bigger person needs more water than a smaller person to stay hydrated.”

“It could be that those people with higher BMI are more likely to be inadequately hydrated or that those that stay well hydrated are less likely to be obese.”

Signs you need more fluids

More research is needed, said Chang. But in the meantime, here are ways you can find out if your body has enough fluids.

“Feeling thirsty is the most straight forward way to know if your body needs more water,” said Chang. “Your mouth may feel dry. You may feel run down or less alert. However, I have found that my patients often confuse these symptoms with other urges like hunger or general fatigue.”

The color of your urine is another good way to tell. If your urine is light yellow, almost the color of water, you’re in good shape. If your urine is dark yellow, it’s time to drink up.

And yes, water is best. “Other beverages come with other substances like sugar in soda, or caffeine in coffee that are not recommended in large amounts,” said Chang. “Soft drinks typically contain sugar or chemical sugar substitutes that I do not recommend to my patients. Water is the best for hydration for most people.”

Here’s another easy way: Increase your intake of water-laden foods, such as cucumbers, celery, watermelon, raw broccoli and carrots, plums, apples and peaches.

“Eating fruits and vegetables with high water content is good for you not just because of the nutrients they deliver to your body, but also because they can improve your hydration.”

And they don’t come with a ton of calories. It’s a win all around.

How to test for lead in your home water supply

— The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, may have you asking, “Does my home’s water contain lead?”

It’s possible. The Environmental Protection Agency says between 10% and 20% of our exposure to lead comes from contaminated water. It’s even worse for the youngest and most vulnerable: Babies can get between 40% and 60% of their exposure to lead by drinking formula mixed with contaminated water.

Lead “bio-accumulates” in the body, which means it stays and builds up over time, so ongoing exposure, even at extremely low levels, can become toxic. While the EPA says you can’t absorb lead through the skin while showering or bathing with lead-contaminated water, you certainly don’t want to drink it, cook with it, make baby formula with it or use it to brush your teeth.

How lead enters your home’s water supply

Just like in Flint, lead can enter your home when lead plumbing materials, which can include faucets, pipes, fittings and the solder that holds them all together, become corroded and begin to release lead into the water. Corrosion is most likely to happen when water has a high acid or low mineral content and sits inside pipes for several hours, says the EPA.

While homes built before 1986 are the most likely to have lead plumbing, it can be found in newer homes as well. Until two years ago, the legal limit for “lead-free” pipes was up to 8% lead.

As of January 1, 2014, all newly installed water faucets, fixtures, pipes and fittings must meet new lead-free requirements, which reduces the amount of lead allowed to 0.25%. But that doesn’t apply to existing fixtures, such as what is found in many older homes and public water suppliers.

Are you at risk?

Here’s a guide to assessing whether you’re at risk.

Start by calling your municipal water supplier. (If your water comes from a private well, look for information from Ask for a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report, which lists levels of contaminants found during tests, which federal law requires be run on a regular basis. Many public suppliers put yearly reports online, so you can also find it yourself by typing your ZIP code into the EPA’s web site at

You’ll want to see lead levels below the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion.

If you discover a lead reading at or above that level on the report, take action. According to the Centers for Disease Control, you should call your water supplier and ask this question: Does the service pipe at my street (header pipe) have lead in it?

If the answer is yes …

If the answer is yes, the CDC says to take these steps immediately: Before using any water in your home, run your shower or other high-volume tap on cold — never warm or hot — for at least five minutes. Heating water as it comes out of the pipes increases lead levels.

Then run your kitchen tap on cold — again, never warm or hot — for an additional two minutes. You can fill clean containers with this water and use it for drinking, cooking, making baby formula and the like. While boiling water might remove other contaminants, it won’t remove lead.

Bottled and filtered water

Why not just use bottled water? You can do that, but be sure to check out the quality of the water before you buy. Some bottled waters are nothing more than tap water or have not been tested, says the CDC. It advises researching your brand at NSF International, a nonprofit water certification organization.

You can also filter your water. Again, caution is in order, as not all filtering systems on the market block lead. The NSF lists ratings on three types: reverse osmosis, filter systems and distillation. It warns that many popular pitcher-type filters don’t meet today’s standards for lead reduction, although they may filter other contaminants.

If the answer is no …

If the answer is no, you could still have lead exposure from the plumbing inside your home. Because lead is odorless and has no taste, the only way you will know if you have lead in your home’s tap water is to have it tested.

Testing your home’s water

Start with your local water supplier — some will come to your home and test for free. If that’s not an option, you can buy a lead testing kit from home improvement stores to collect the testing samples.

If you do it yourself, be sure to follow directions carefully and only use “first-draw water,” the very first water coming out of your pipes after sitting overnight. If your pipes are contaminated, that water will have the most accumulation of toxins.

You’ll send the samples off to a laboratory for analysis. The EPA says the most reliable testing is via a state-certified lab, such as those listed on the EPA’s web site.

Of course while you wait for test results on your home plumbing, you’ll want to protect yourself and your family from any potential lead in your drinking water. The CDC lists instructions at When the test comes back, you can find information on how to read the results on NSF.

Lead is everywhere

Finding out about lead in your water is only one part of the solution. Lead enters our bodies from many common contaminated sources other than drinking water, such as dust, soil and air. In fact, the EPA says the main source of lead exposure in the United States comes from inhaling dust or eating particles contaminated by paint chips. That’s because lead was a common additive in house paint, gasoline and many other materials for years before its toxicity was known.

Children, especially fetuses and infants are the most vulnerable, says the Environmental Protection Agency, because it takes very little lead exposure to damage a child compared with an adult. Low levels of lead exposure are linked to damage to a child’s blood cells and nervous system, as well as learning disabilities, poor hearing, impaired growth and more. In fact, the EPA calls lead poisoning the “number one environmental health threat in the U.S. for children ages 6 and younger.”

Many experts suggest that parents get their child’s lead level tested at ages 1 and 2, and possibly more often, depending on the area of the country. The test is easily done by a pediatrician, or at a local state, county or city department of health.

With breast milk online, it’s buyer beware

— Your great-great-grandmother might have called for a wet nurse. In today’s e-commerce world, if you’re having trouble breast-feeding, you can easily buy breast milk online and feed your baby yourself.

Ideal, right?

“No, it’s quite clear that the risks to your infant’s health and safety are significant and appear to outweigh any benefits they might get from breast milk,” said Sarah Keim, Ph.D., of the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

While breast milk is not regulated by the FDA, a 2010 warning clearly states the government’s stance: “FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet.”

“There are multiple dangers,” explains Keim. “One is the risk of infectious disease.” She said HIV, hepatitis and syphilis can be transmitted through breast milk.

In fact, a 2009 Stanford University study that screened 1,091 women who wanted to donate their breast milk to a milk bank found 36 tested positive for syphilis, hepatitis B and C and HIV.

“There’s also the possibility of the exposure to drugs, prescription drugs or illicit drugs, and those can be very harmful to infants, too,” adds Keim.

There’s more. In a 2013 study, Keim and her colleagues found 74% of the breast milk they purchased contained staph, strep or other bacterial species.

A follow-up analysis recently published in the journal Pediatrics found one of every 10 of those samples wasn’t 100% pure mother’s milk. Instead, the donor milk contained added cow’s milk or milk-based formula powder.

“If a baby with cow’s milk allergy were to drink this milk,” said Keim, “it could be very harmful.”

If that isn’t bad enough, the researchers found the levels of bovine contamination, at 10%, to be too high to be accidental. Simply put, said Keim, the sellers deliberately “topped off” their breast milk, presumably so they could sell more.

Breast milk is ‘liquid gold’

The demand for breast milk has exploded in recent years.

The market includes people who believe it boosts their immune systems or builds muscle mass and stamina. Some add it as a “special” ingredient in their cooking. But most of the demand is from parents.

The woman who survived breast cancer, the mom who suddenly loses her milk because of sickness or stress or the couple who adopts a tiny newborn all want to give their babies the best start in life and with good reason.

“Breast milk, because of its immunological properties, can help fight against infections that a baby may be exposed to,” said WebMD pediatrician Hansa Bhargava. “It also may protect against allergies, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.”

Moms are being told that selling their excess breast milk could be a lucrative addition to a family’s income. On his site, the Penny Hoarder, Kyle Taylor recommends starting a home-based business selling breast milk as one of his “creative ways to fix your budget.” The article said that if a mom “sold 25 ounces of breast milk per day at $2.50 an ounce for a year, you’d make almost $23,000. Like this idea? Click to tweet it!”

While both Ebay and Craigslist ban the sale of “bodily fluids” in their terms of use, that hasn’t stopped the occasional effort to tap into the market. But most of the transactions occur on individual sites, such as Only the Breast, the website Keim and her colleagues used to buy all of their tainted and “topped off” breast milk.

Only the Breast co-founder Glenn Snow told CNN he felt the study “did not follow any of our safety guidelines. They didn’t interview the donor, they didn’t communicate with the donors verbally and we think that potentially skewed the results of the study.”

The site put up this statement:

“In light of cow’s milk contamination of some breast milk samples purchased via the internet, Only the Breast reiterates our long-term guidance that all sellers should follow best practices using aseptic technique for expressing, handling, and storing human milk which also addresses shipping, freezing, and all buyers must follow safety guidelines for peer to peer donor screening. Additionally it is expressly forbidden in our terms of use to add any form of contaminants such as bovine i.e., cow’s milk.”

When asked how they policed their policies, Snow said: “We do not interfere with nor become involved with transactions. We only recommend safety guidelines and practices to be followed.”

Milk sharing communities

The demand for breast milk has also launched a number of milk-sharing volunteer communities, both on the web and on Facebook. Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies are the largest; both sites are strongly against the sale of breast milk.

“It is our firm belief that the selling and buying of breast milk carries undue medical and ethical risks,” state Eats on Feets administrators Shell Walker and Maria Armstrong in a letter posted on their site.

A spokesperson for Human Milk 4 Human Babies told CNN: “If someone attempts to buy or sell milk on our network pages, they are reminded that our pages are noncommercial, the post is removed, and user banned if the action continues.”

Instead, both sites encourage the free sharing of breast milk among mothers after careful screening. Safety guidance is similar to that on Only the Breast. Eats on Feets, for example, points users to “The Four Pillars of Safe Breast Milk Sharing,” full of advice on milk handling, home pasteurization, donor screening and blood testing.

But are women following that advice?

A recent post on the Eats on Feets Facebook page asked mothers to explain why they thought breast milk sharing was safe. Among the first 50 replies, only six said they asked donors to be tested. “If a mom is taking the time and effort to pump then most likely the milk doesn’t have issues,” reads one typical comment.

“How do you trust someone you just met, whether you’ve had a lot of friendly Facebook conversations or you’ve talked on the phone?” said Keim. “This is your baby you’re talking about, this is something your baby is going to drink, and it’s clear the risks are outweighing the benefits.”

“But I’m not surprised,” adds Keim. “The intentions are good, but it is putting a lot of the onus on the women involved and they don’t have the tools to effectively reduce the risk. The average mom does not have a laboratory in their kitchen to test the milk to know if anything has been added or what the bacterial levels are.”

Formula vs. breast milk

Many moms turn to breast milk when their babies have medical conditions, fail to thrive or can’t tolerate formula, believing they have no medical alternatives.

“There are virtually no medical conditions in which the baby can only drink breast milk,” said WebMD’s Bhargava. “There are many types of formula available including those for infants with milk protein allergies and those with metabolic conditions. Formula provides an alternative to breast milk for those who cannot breast-feed.”

“There is a lot of unwarranted guilt surrounding not breast-feeding babies,” adds Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu. “Even though breast milk is best, in some situations, formula is the better and safer choice.”

Milk banks

The safest choice for donor breast milk is a milk bank. Nonprofit versions have been around for decades, collecting breast milk after a thorough screening and blood testing of the donors, and then pasteurizing it to meet standards reviewed by the CDC and the FDA.

Unfortunately, the costs for all that safety can be quite high, currently averaging $4 an ounce. Considering a baby can drink up to 30 ounces of breast milk each day, that’s not likely to be in a family’s budget.

Nor is the milk readily available. The vast majority of any milk bank’s supply goes to the most fragile infants, such as the 500,000 preterm babies born each year that fight for their lives in neonatal intensive care units across America.

According to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, only about 27% is provided to outpatient infants with medical issues.

“What will happen is that if the donor human milk doesn’t have the necessary level of protein, calories and fat, then many times that can be sold outside the NICU because then it is able to be still helpful to kids with gut issues and the like,” said John Honaman, HMBANA’s executive director.

So where does this leave the mom who’s milk has dried up?

“I do think we have a ‘milk gap’ in this country,” said Keim. “I hear moms say often ‘I’m in a corner, I can’t produce enough milk for my baby, but I can’t get safe milk for my baby’.”

“Talk to your pediatrician for advice on your specific situation,” advised Shu. “Make sure you are aware what you are giving your baby — beware of contaminants, infections, spoiled milk, tampered with milk, ingredients unsafe for infants (such as cow’s milk) and determine if that is worth the potential risk.”


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