“Drink More Water” is drilled into us from all angles these days. Whether it is for better skin, better brain function, better energy levels, better organ function or even for a better bikini body.
We, as humans, are made up of approximately 66% water. H2O runs through our blood, our cells and just about everywhere in between. We lose it through any number of bodily functions whether you’re sweating it out on the dancefloor, making a quick wee-stop or even just exhaling.
We all have heard the “8 glasses a day” water but is that still the best benchmark? And is there such thing as too much water?
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Death By Water Overdose
It turns out there is such a thing as too much water. Unfortunately, it seems, little is known about this risk and there have been many documented deaths from water intoxication since the 80’s.
As reported in this article by Scientific American, early in 2007 a California woman died after consuming 6 litres of water in 3 hours during a live radio station contest. In 2005, a fraternity hazing involving excessive water consumption ended in the death of a 21 year old male. In 2008, the BBC reported the death of a 40 year old woman following the consumption of large amounts of water as part of an intense diet regime. The deaths of 14 marathon runners, football players and other athletes have also been attributed to drinking too much water as discussed in this article.
What Is Water Intoxication?
Water intoxication occurs when over-hydration effects the normal balance of your electrolytes causing a potentially fatal disturbance in brain function.
Before you put down your drink bottle, please note that accidentally consuming too much water is extremely rare. Almost all deaths related to excessive water consumption have been a result of water drinking contests or long stints of exercise during which large amounts of fluid were consumed (e.g. marathons etc).
Joseph Verbalis, chairman of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, explains further in this ScientificAmerican piece…
Most cases of water poisoning do not result from simply drinking too much water. Every hour, a healthy kidney at rest can excrete 800 to 1,000 milliliters, or 0.21 to 0.26 gallon, of water and therefore a person can drink water at a rate of 800 to 1,000 milliliters per hour without experiencing a net gain in water. If that same person is running a marathon, however, the stress of the situation will increase vasopressin levels, reducing the kidney’s excretion capacity to as low as 100 milliliters per hour. Drinking 800 to 1,000 milliliters of water per hour under these conditions can potentially lead a net gain in water, even with considerable sweating.”
New Water Consumption Guidelines
Following the growing number of deaths from water intoxication, including two young football players in Summer 2014, a panel of 17 experts was assembled to set new safety guidelines on water consumption.
This panel focused specifically on the condition of “Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia” (EAH) which is the medical term for the potentially fatal disorder resulting from drinking excessive amounts of fluid during physical activity but the recommendations can apply more broadly.
MedicalDaily reported on this panel discussion and conclusion in this piece. Here are some highlights from their coverage.
The lead author of this new guideline, Dr. Tamara Hew-Butler, an exercise science professor at Oakland University stated…
Our major goal was to re-educate the public on the hazards of drinking beyond thirst during exercise.Every single EAH death is tragic and preventable, if we just listen to our bodies and let go of the pervasive advice that if a little is good, than more must be better.”
The guidelines, published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, went on to recommend the following…
Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a strategy that should limit drinking in excess and developing hyponatremia while providing sufficient fluid to prevent excessive dehydration.”
How Much Water Should You Really Drink?
To sum it all up, one of the safest ways to properly monitor your water consumption is to forget your “8 glasses a day ” mentality (which, it turns out is not necessarily evidence-based) and drink to your thirst. If you’re not impaired by age or chemical substances then your body will do a good job of steering you in the right direction. Be wary of drinking “just because” especially when you’re exercising.
This handy breakdown from AuthorityNutrition is the simplest summary…
- When thirsty, drink. 2. When not thirsty anymore, stop. 3. During high heat and exercise, drink enough to compensate for the lost fluids. 4. That’s it.”
There you go, H2O consumption debunked!