I bet you would never think that drinking too much water can be bad for you? It just doesn’t sound right, does it? Our bodies are made up of 55-65 percent water. It runs through our blood, inhibits the cells and is in every space in between. We lose water through sweat, urination, defecation or exhaled breath to mention a few. When these stores of water are lost, we need to be re-hydrated. It’s important to know that re-hydration can be overdone – it’s called a fatal water overdose. There was a woman in California that competed in a radio contest where she downed six liters of water in three hours. She then vomited and went home with a terrible headache where she died from so-called water intoxication. Another death resulted during a fraternity hazing and left a student dead after drinking excessive amounts of water in between rounds of push-ups in a cold basement and endurance athletes have had problems when trying to re-hydrate also. Close to one sixth of marathon runners can develop problems with hyponatremia also known as dilution of the blood caused by drinking too much water.
What is Hyponatremia?
Hyponatremia means “insufficient salt in the blood”. It means that the blood sodium concentration is below 135 millimoles per liter or about 0.4 ounces per gallon. Normally the concentration should be between 135 and 145 millimoles per liter. Cases of hyponatremia that are severe can make a person sick. They may experience headache, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, more frequent urination and mental disorientation. The kidneys are responsible in controlling the amount of water, salts and other solutes that leave the body. If too much water is consumed in a short amount of time, the kidneys can’t flush out fast enough and the blood gets waterlogged. Water will be drawn to areas where the salt concentration is higher and the excess water will leave the blood and will enter the cells causing them to swell up to make room for it. Fat and muscle cells can stretch to accommodate the extra water but neurons can’t. Brain cells are tightly packaged in a rigid bony cage so there’s almost no room in the skull for expansion and swelling and the reason that swelling of the brain can be disastrous. In severe cases of hyponatremia, the brain will swell with the rapid water entry and can lead to seizures, coma, respiratory arrest, brain stem herniation and death.
How Much Water Should You Drink a Day?
While drinking way too much can be dangerous there is an amount that you should drink daily and most people don’t drink enough. The old saying goes, “Drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day”. While the old saying is a great guideline, it may need to be adjusted. There are factors that will determine how much more you’ll need. Your health, where you live and how active you are will determine what your water intake should be. If you exercise regularly then you’ll need to consume more water to replace the liquid you’ll lose through sweating. If you live in a drier climate, you’ll need more water and talk with your doctor to address any health issues and your water intake.
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