“Stay hydrated, fam.” is a phrase I hear and see a lot. I don’t know when advocating for hydration became trendy, but at some point it did. I’m a fan of staying hydrated, and I think the reminders are helpful. Being dehydrated is very uncomfortable – not to mention potentially dangerous. However, sometimes people ask me about the other extreme: can you drink too much water?
Well, like I always say, the dose makes the poison. You can have too much of anything (stay tuned for a ‘can you consume too much protein post, coming soon), including water. In this post, I explain how and why you can drink too much water, and why it can be dangerous.
Water is essential for life. Our bodies are made up of about 55-70% water. It’s a vital component of cells, helps to regulate internal body protein, lubricates joints, acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord, aids digestion, and helps us flush away waste in the form of urination.
While the whole “Drink 8 8-ounce glasses of water per day,” things isn’t based on much evidence in particular, you should indeed drink enough water to quench your thirst and avoid dehydration.
The exact amount varies from person to person, and there are actually very few recommendations made by health organization that specifically state the amount needed per day, but according to the Institute of Medicine, it’s generally thought that males need 16 cups of water a day, and adult females need about 11 cups per day.
This can include water intake from foods (such as fruits and vegetables), as well as beverages (and yes, you can include coffee and tea in your intake tallies).
Again, the exact amount of water needed varies person to person, day by day, but ample water consumption is important to avoid dehydration.
Dehydration can occur if you lose more water than you take in, and can lead to confusion, fainting, electrolyte imbalance, rapid heartbeat, improper kidney function, and death.
Why Too Much Water is Dangerous: Hyponatremia
In the same way that too little water can lead to electrolyte imbalance, too much water can also lead to electrolyte imbalance.
The most common electrolyte disorder is low blood sodium – a condition known as hyponatremia.
Sodium is an electrolyte found mostly outside the cells, and its balance is important for maintaining blood pressure, and normal nerve, muscle, and tissue function.
If you consume too much water, you may exceed the kidney’s ability to eliminate water (up to 20-28 liters per day), and therefore have an excess of fluid. As a result, the amount of sodium in the blood becomes diluted, resulting in hyponatremia.
Hyponatremia is rare. But it is dangerous. Symptoms of hyponatremia include headache, vomiting, muscle spasm, fatigue, and seizures. Serious hyponatremia may lead to coma and death.
Hyponatremia may also lead to edema (swelling due to excess of fluids), and if this occurs in the brain (known ass cerebral edema), it may causes brain damage.
Although uncommon, it is possible to drink too much water. Over-consuming water can lead to hyponatremia – a potentially dangerous electrolyte imbalance (it happened to me actually, and if you’re interested in that story, click here).
Strive to drink enough water consistently throughout the day to avoid feeling overly thirsty and/or becoming hydrated. And try to avoid drinking excessive amounts of water quickly (chugging some water when you’re parched is normal, but I’d just suggest avoiding speed water drinking contests, etc).
Again, I don’t want to scare anyone, but bring awareness that, as with all things, it is possible to drink too much water!
That’s all for now! I hope you learned some stuff about dehydration and what may happen if you go to the other extreme, and drink too much water.