The logical thing to do when you're thirsty is to have something to drink, but some drinks are more thirst-quenching than others, according to new research from the Monell Center.
Biologists at the center, which studies the senses of taste and smell, are trying to discover which sensations in the mouth are responsible for turning thirst "on" and "off." They say it is commonly believed that thirst goes away after the body is rehydrated, but it seems as though sensory cues in the mouth have more to do with slaking our thirst than actual hydration.
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"We have a decent understanding of what turns thirst on, but need to better understand what turns it off so we can motivate the elderly and other at-risk populations to keep drinking their fluids," said Paul A.S. Breslin, PhD, a sensory biologist at Monell.
To get a better idea of which types of beverages are best at vanquishing thirst, the center recruited 98 healthy people between the ages of 20 and 50 to participate in a series of experiments.
The subjects fasted from eating and drinking overnight and then had some toast to make them good and thirsty. They then were served drinks in different states of temperature and carbonation to see which satisfied their thirst best. It may come as no surprise that a chilled beverage was more effective than one at room temperature. And interestingly, adding bubbles further enhanced a drink's ability to relieve a parched palate.
You might think this could explain the popularity of soda as a drink of choice, but the experiment also found that other properties like sweetness, astringency and mild acidification had no effect on how much a drink quenches our thirst. That would seem to mean that a plain glass of cold soda water would do just as much to take away your thirst as a Coke or Pepsi.
A beverage didn't need to be physically cool to provide the same satisfaction either. When the researchers added menthol to drinks to chemically create a cooling sensation, it had the same effect.
"This shows that it's the perception of coolness that's influencing thirst, not the actual coolness itself," said Breslin.
A more complete understanding of how thirst works could lead to the development of better strategies to make sure we all stay properly hydrated, especially groups who often have hydration issues, like athletes and the elderly. We're already seeing some water bottles and wearables that seek to solve this problem.
The research is published in the journal Plos One.