How Much Water is Too Much?

It’sa well-known fact that water is essential for one’s well-being and survival. Doctors and dieticians typically recommend drinking about two litres of water per day to prevent dehydration. But have you ever wondered whether it’s possible to drink too much water? In fact, drinking excess water can lead to a serious health problem known as hyponatremia or, more simply, water intoxication. It’s a condition in which the level of sodium in the blood drops significantly. Sodium is important for regulating blood pressure, maintaining fluid balance, and for regular functioning of the nervous system. Consuming too much water dilutes the presence of electrolytes, particularly sodium, in the bloodstream. When the sodium level drops, it can lead to dangerous problems and, in some cases, can even be life-threatening.  

Let’s examine some of the symptoms and preventive measures of hyponatremia. One of the major effects of water intoxication is that it leads to swelling of the cells in our body – particularly brain cells. Due to swelling of brain cells, the pressure increases and as a result it can lead to various issues such as headache, vomiting, nausea, etc. In a few cases, patients might experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, drowsiness, weakness in the muscles, increased blood pressure, and inability to recognise sensory data. Drinking too much water can also lead to some severe problems when the fluid accumulates in the brain, there by affecting the brain stem and impacting the central nervous system. In extremely rare cases, this can lead to coma, brain damage, and even death. This type of health issue is more likely to occur in athletes (who consume excess water while working out) and in people with liver or kidney problems.

Water intoxication is a relatively rare condition, and most people are far more likely to not consume enough water, as opposed to drinking too much of it. Still, it’s important to guard against hyponatremia by following these simple guidelines:

Keep a check on how much water you consume. One of the first steps towards preventing this serious problem is to monitor how much water you consume in a day. On average, it’s recommended that one should follow the 8 by 8 rule, which says drink about eight glasses, each one consisting of eight ounces of water, or about two litres or half a gallon. It’s a good idea for athletes to weigh themselves before and after an intense workout, as this will help them determine how much water to consume. Compared to less active people, the water requirement for athletes is quite high. After rigorous exercise, one should consume between 16 and 20 ounces of water for every pound lost, for regeneration.

Replace excess water with electrolytes. When our bodies sweat (or during summer), we all know to stay well hydrated. But in addition to drinking water, it’s important to take in some electrolytes as well. This can be achieved by drinking other forms of drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade, or coconut water.

Eat more sodium-rich foods. To help prevent water intoxication, you should eat foods that are rich in sodium, such as meat, salad dressings, cheese, tomato juice, pizza, salted nuts, eggs, and soups. The increased sodium in the body helps keep sodium levels balanced – especially during workouts – and also stops water retention.

Avoid rapid water intake. One must always remember not to gulp down any fluid too quickly; instead you should drink slowly. Especially after or during a workout, we tend to gulp water fast; this should be avoided. Drinking too much water at once can prevent the body from absorbing the fluid, and a lot of water remains in our system. This can lead to water intoxication.       

-Akhila Kakarala