Drinking Too Much Water Can Kill You!

Drinking Water
Drinking Water

When you drink too much water, your kidneys can’t get rid of the excess water. The sodium content of your blood becomes diluted. This is called hyponatremia and it can be life-threatening. 

Water Intoxication? 

 Stöppler, 2017, defined water intoxication as a lowered blood concentration of sodium (hyponatremia). The term “water intoxication” is generally used to refer to hyponatremia that occurs due to the consumption of excess water without adequate replacement of sodium, as may happen during strenuous exercise.  Hence, hyponatremia implies low sodium levels in the blood (the term, which has Latin and Greek roots, literally means “insufficient salt in the blood”). 

How Much Water Is Too Much?

Many factors can affect how well someone is able to excrete (remove) excess water from their body in order to avert hyponatremia/water intoxication. For instance, massive stress and/or having existing medical conditions both take a toll on the kidneys and nervous system, which can increase the likelihood that water intoxication symptoms might occur. Too much to drink within a short period comprises the following from studies and effects: 

  1. In one case study, Farrel and Bower, 2003, water intoxication was the cause of a 64-year-old woman dying due to severe hyponatremia. She drank   30–40 glasses of water within several hours before going to sleep. Because she was experiencing delusions, she kept drinking more and more water even though she was vomiting and not feeling well. 
  2. Also in 2014, The Daily Mail reported that a 17-year-old high school football player died from water intoxication after drinking four gallons of fluids to stop cramps during practice. 
  3. Gardner, 2002  study which includes  many  military personnel reveals water intoxication and three deaths as a result of overhydration and cerebral edema  proved a correlation with more than five liters (usually 10-20 L) of water being consumed during a period of a few hours. 
  4. Also in 2007, Scientific America published an article that mentioned a 28-year-old women who died after engaging in  a water-drinking competition in which she consumed an estimated six liters of water in three hours. The same article pointed out a 2005 study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine that states “one sixth of marathon runners develop some degree of hyponatremia, or dilution of the blood caused by drinking too much water.” 

Levy, 2018, agrees that, the treatment for hyponatremia and water intoxication start from regulating fluid levels in the body, especially raising sodium levels. She notes: “Intake and excretion of salt versus water must be balanced. Keep in mind that while sodium/salt might have earned a bad reputation — mostly because it’s found in highest concentrations in processed foods — sodium is actually an essential nutrient”. some of the roles that sodium has include:

  • Helping to regulate the amount of water in and around your cells.
  • Controlling blood volume.
  • Regulating blood pressure.
  • Allowing your muscles and nerves to work properly.

How much water Should I drink?

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Conflicting recommendations from studies. However, your individual water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are and where you live. No single formula fits everyone.  The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups(3.7litres) of fluids a day for men. 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) of fluids a day for women. The Mayo Clinic, 2020, notes: “These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages and food. About 20% of daily fluid intake usually comes from food and the rest from drinks”. Additionally, the 8 glasses a day rule is also a reasonable goal( Valtin , 2002), but not scientific. However, Levy, 2018, says, individual should aim to stay within six to seven glasses or potentially more per day.  For babies, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center advises parents with babies younger than 6 months old to never give their babies extra water to drink. If babies are thirsty, they need to drink more breast milk or formula. 

Take home on Water Intoxication

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Levy, 2018, notes: 

  • Water intoxication is a severe form of hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance caused by too little sodium in the body in proportion to water.
  • Water intoxication is most likely to occur when someone consumes more than 1.5 liters of water within an hour, especially if they are exercising intensely, have renal failure, kidney damage, diabetes, or a mental condition that affects their judgement.
  • Symptoms of water intoxication can include confusion, disorientation, nausea, vomiting, headaches and, in severe cases, brain damage due to swelling, seizures, coma and, potentially, death.
  • Hydration is important, but to prevent water intoxication and hyponatremia one should make sure to drink the right amount of water in proportion to how much sodium one is losing, to manage underlying health conditions, eat a balanced diet, and pay attention to your thirst. Do not follow water therapy hype just like that!