Water is an essential nutrient for all persons; thus, maintaining a chronic state of optimal hydration is recognized to provide health benefits. Fluid balance is maintained via thirst, a feedback-controlled variable, regulated acutely by central and peripheral mechanisms. However, voluntary drinking is also a behavior influenced by numerous social and psychological cues. Therefore, whether "thirst-guided" drinking maintains optimal hydration status is a multifactorial issue. Thirst perception is typically assessed by subjective ratings using either categorical or visual analog scales; however, which instrument yields greater sensitivity to change in hydration status has not been examined. Ratings of thirst perception do not always yield predictable patterns of voluntary drinking following dehydration; therefore, perceived thirst and ad libitum drinking are not equivalent measures of human thirst. The recommendation "drink to thirst" is frequently given to healthy individuals during daily life. However, factors and conditions (e.g., age, disease) that influence thirst should be recognized and probed further.
© 2012 International Life Sciences Institute.