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How much water is too much water?


We know we need it, we know we love it. Get lost in the desert for the day and you’ll sell your mother for a glass of sky juice.


So can you ever have too much water?


Turns out you can. Not just in obvious ways - like when Mother Nature conjures up floods or tsunamis - you can actually drink too much.  In extreme cases you can make yourself very sick and some people have even died from drinking too much water.


Let’s take a look


When drinking too much water can make you sick

First up, we don’t want to alarm anyone; you are unlikely to kill yourself by drinking water.  This is because our bodies generally tell us how much water we need. You’ll start to feel uncomfortable if you drink too much. One study found our swallow reflex weakens once we’ve had enough to drink.


But water intoxication does happen.


Reported cases of people dying from drinking too much water have frequently involved people participating in extreme endurance activities – soldiers and marathon runners for instance.


This is partly because people participating in these activities are understandably anxious to avoid dehydration and therefore load up on excess water. Because the symptoms of water intoxication are often similar to those of dehydration, water intoxicated victims have actually been given MORE water by well meaning people, trying to make them feel better.


But water makes up about 60 per cent of our body weight, it’s vital for our survival, what is going on here??

It turns out it’s all about sodium levels. When you drink too much water, you dilute the sodium levels in your blood. When it’s a mild dilution this can cause cramping, fatigue, and brain fog. When levels fall below 135mmol/L it’s known as hyponatremia.


Hyponatremia is bad news. The condition results in fluids moving from the outside of your cells to the inside, causing your cells to swell. If the hyponatremia is severe you could experience brain swelling, seizures, coma and death. You want to get to an emergency room quickly, where a simple solution of concentrated salt water can restore your health.


What can you do to avoid water intoxication?

Lounge lizards, you’re at less risk of this problem. As we mentioned above water-consumption-induced hyponatremia commonly affects people engaging in feats of physical endurance. If you’re in the army, or love your endurance sports, water intoxication is something you should make yourself aware of.


As well as paying attention to your body (stop drinking when your body tells you it’s had enough), here’s some early warning signs you can look out for:

  • The colour of your pee. This is an important indicator; if your urine is clear instead of pale yellow, it’s a sign you’re overdoing the H2O.
  • If you are rushing to the restrooms more than 8 times a day this can also be an indicator you’re taking in more water than you need.
  • Or you could find yourself cramping more often than usual.

There’s no need to be too alarmed if you experience these three symptoms; but it’s obviously important to cut back your water consumption. Be sensible, listen to your body, and know the risks and you should not have a problem.