As it turns out, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. You can, in fact, drink too much water. Doing so can lead to serious health consequences.
Water Intoxication and Hyponatremia
Water intoxication is a disruption in brain function that results when there is too much water in the body. Drinking too much water increases the amount in the blood, which then dilutes sodium and other electrolytes in the blood.
Popular diet culture shuns sodium in the diet. While sodium in excess can create a myriad of other health issues, the body needs to maintain sufficient sodium intake to maintain the balance of fluids in and around its cells. When sodium levels drop, this is known as hyponatremia. Fluids travel from the outside to the inside of these cells, causing them to swell. When this happens to brain cells, the pressure inside the brain increases. Therefore, the first symptoms of water intoxication are headaches, nausea, and even vomiting. More serious cases will produce symptoms like muscle cramping and weakness, increased blood pressure, fatigue, double vision, and confusion. In severe, and rare cases, water intoxication can lead to brain damage and even death.
How Much Is “Too Much”?
Before you go thinking you fall into this category, it’s important to note that drinking too much water is rare. A vast majority of people don’t drink enough water.
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends an adequate daily fluid intake of about 3.7 liters for men, and 2.7 liters of fluids for women. But for some people this may not be enough. This recommendation doesn’t factor in the individual’s activity, body composition or time. According to one study, the kidneys eliminate about 20-28 liters of water a day. However, they can only remove .8-1 liters of water every hour. To avoid hyponatremia, it’s important not to drink more than the kidneys can eliminate.
For example, one case report describes symptoms of hyponatremia after drinking more than 5 liters in only a few hours.
Another case study cites symptoms of hyponatremia in soldiers after drinking more than 2 quarts of water per hour.
Balancing Your Body Water and Electrolytes
The balance between dehydration and overhydration can be a sliding scale and vary based on daily activity, how much one sweats, and the kidney function of the individual. While salt supplements won’t prevent overhydration, they can be useful in helping to balance the body’s electrolyte levels and “give back” what your body has lost through sweat and elimination.
Taking an amino supplement like Protea Nutrition’s Vegan Aminos increases uptake of crucial electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These can be taken daily, not just during exercise, to maintain crucial electrolyte balance in the body and keep it functioning at optimal levels!