Dangers of drinking water in excess

On August 20th, I provided ideas to make drinking water taste better to encourage everyone to drink more fluids. If you don’t replenish lost fluids, you will end up retaining more water and have that not-so-pretty bloated look. Maybe it’s not fat that’s making you look heavy, maybe it’s water. Did you know that our bodies are over 50% water?

Back in college, I remember a student who carried a gallon of water in addition to her books and course material every day to class. I thought that was an excessive amount of water for her just to drink at school. It’s not like she had to sprint between classes. She would swig water throughout the 50-minute period. One day she brought in a half gallon jug instead of her typical gallon, so I commented, “I see you’re now carrying a smaller water bottle.” She replied, “My doctor told me I was drinking too much water so my cells were swelling. I had to cut back.”

Most of us know a little about the dangers of dehydration, but rarely about the hazards of drinking too much water or any type of liquid, for that matter. The medical term for overhydrating is hyponatremia. Hyponatremia causes low sodium levels and the extra water can seep into the brain causing encephalopathy. Now, that’s scary!

This is a definite cause for alarm. Anything you eat or drink when taken in excess, no matter how healthy it is, can hurt you. A study of 488 Boston Marathon runners were diagnosed with hyponatremia at the end of the race. (2) That’s a lot! Most runners think they are feeling ill because they are dehydrated so they drink more. Some of these runners are in such bad shape that they are taken to the hospital. You would think that the medical treatment provided would make these runners better but “…Some doctors mistakenly think the runner is dehydrated and give intravenous fluids.”(1)  People have died from overhydrating. Case in point: A “28-year-old Boston Marathon runner who suffered severe hyponatremia…died en route to the hospital.”  (2)

Because so many runners are drinking a surplus of liquids, it is now recommended that marathoners consume “no more than eight ounces of water every 20 minutes.” (1) When I’m thirsty I drink water or tea, but there were times when I felt a bit ill and thought, “Maybe I drank too much.” I’m going to pay more attention to how much water I drink, and hope you will too. No one should die from drinking water.

(sources: ACE Fitness Nutrition Manual (2), Mayo Clinic, NY Times on-line. Internet article, “Marathoners Warned About Too Much Water”(1))

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