Water: How Much Is Too Much?

We all know that drinking water is necessary and vital to our health, but did you know that drinking too much can lead to harm and even death? Since I started getting healthier I joined and/or read various online discussion boards, Facebook walls, and forums and it was a little disturbing to me that the answer to everything was “drink more water”. It seems like good advice, but I started wondering how much water people were drinking, which led me down the research path of “how much is too much”? Read on to find out everything you ought to know about water.

water drinking aug09 Water: How Much Is Too Much?“Drink more water” is fantastic advice for someone who is used to guzzling down soda all day and normally wouldn’t touch water with a ten foot pole because they find the lack of taste boring or unappealing. When those people start eating healthy and trying to lose weight and find out that they must suddenly intake a bare minimum of roughly 80+ ounces of water daily to stay properly hydrated they can naturally tend to fall behind; therefore, it is usually not ‘bad’ advice to say “drink more water and you will see better results”. The idea behind the extra water drinking is that it will flush out excess retained water along with other waste in the body and aid in seeing the scale’s numbers go down. I have seen this advice given for pretty much everything from a cheat to a plateau to a normal gain from a woman’s time of the month (TOM).Even I myself give this advice to others as I cheer them on and tell them they will make it through the hard times. As I kept giving this advice and reading page after page of water drinking encouragement it began to strike a chord of minor alarm within me as I wondered, what if people are taking this advice when they already consume plenty of water? What side effects would this have upon a person, and how would they know when enough was enough? It was this little alarm bell that spurred this article into action.

Water, like any other substance CAN be over consumed. They call it water intoxication or more technically: hyponatremia. When a person has consumed too much water they will begin suffering symptoms such as nausea and vomiting,  disorientation, lack of coordination, headaches, and dizziness just to name a few (I will list the full symptoms in a moment). Coincidentally, these symptoms mimic those of dehydration which can sometimes make it hard to tell the difference.

How water intoxication affects the body:

The first thing you should understand as I explain how water can actually become a poison to the body is that your body needs electrolytes. Electrolytes are charged particles called ions that are dissolved in water. The most important electrolytes in your body are potassium, sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, hydrogen phosphate and hydrogen carbonate. Your body, and your neurons and muscles in particular, depend on the right balance of electrolytes in your body. (Usually your diet will provide you with sufficient nutrients to keep the electrolytes in your body at the right levels). Unbalanced electrolytes will keep your body from functioning optimally and the greater the unbalance, the greater the consequences.

When you drink too much water you flush out your electrolytes and create an imbalance within your body. When the body’s electrolyte content is depleted at the same time water level is increased, cells absorb more water and swell. Excessive water in the brain cells can cause seizures and in rare cases death. When swelling in the brain occurs it causes intracranial pressure. It is this increase in pressure which leads to the first observable symptoms of water intoxication:

  • headache
  • personality changes
  • changes in behavior
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • drowsiness

These are sometimes followed by:

  • difficulty breathing during exertion
  • muscle weakness
  • twitching or cramping
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • thirst
  • a dulled ability to perceive and interpret sensory information

As the condition persists there could also be other symptoms such as a slowed heart beat and widened pulse pressure. The cells in the brain may swell to the point where blood flow is interrupted resulting in excess water in the brain. Swollen brain cells may also apply pressure to the brain stem causing central nervous system dysfunction. Both excess water in the brain and interference with the central nervous system are dangerous and could result in seizures, brain damage, coma or death. Nearly all deaths related to water intoxication in normal individuals have resulted either from water drinking contests,( in which individuals attempt to consume large amounts of water over a very short amount of time), or long bouts of intensive exercise or physical exertion during which electrolytes are not properly replenished, yet excessive amounts of fluid are still consumed. Under normal circumstances, most people need not worry too much about dying from drinking water. Water intoxication can be prevented if a person’s intake of water does not grossly exceed their loss.

So how much water is too much?

Fotolia 962309 S 783521 199x300 Water: How Much Is Too Much?Healthy kidneys are able to process approximately 1 liter of fluid/water (0.26 gallons) per hour. This means you either have to drink more than 24 liters a day, or ingest more than 1 liter an hour to become at risk for water intoxication. If you’re like me, you think in ounces when it comes to your water intake so here is the ounce measurement: 1 liter is approximately 34 ounces.

One way to help avoid water intoxication while exercising or doing forms of physical exertion is to eat salty snacks such as pretzels and drink sports drinks such as Gatorade that will help to replenish your electrolytes as you lose them. The salt in the pretzels /salty snacks (sodium) will help to keep your electrolytes balanced even in the event you need to guzzle down a 40oz. big gulp of water every half hour because you are sweating like mad and it may be hot outside.

In the end I know my alarm bells are likely unfounded and I doubt anyone out there who is trying to be healthy and lose weight is at risk for water intoxication because that is A LOT of water to drink, but I still feel much better having made this information available as a guideline to follow.

Keep drinking your water!

OK so now that I have scared you silly… I want to impress the NEED to keep drinking plentiful amounts of water. Water is basically the nectar of life, everything on this planet requires it to live and function well. The human body is roughly 2/3 water, and therefore you need to make sure your intake of water can support all of your bodily functions that depend on it (no I don’t just mean urinating!). This article is simply meant to make you stop and think about how MUCH water you have been drinking, if it is enough, or perhaps if it is too much. Stay tuned because I will be writing about water’s health benefits soon![fb-like]

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