Water is a necessity for life. We simply can’t live without it. Our bodies are full of water, it is in our bloodstream, our cells and everywhere else in between. The amount of water in the human body varies between genders. A male's body is generally made up of 60%-65% water while a female's body usually ranges from 55%-60%. Regardless of gender, that is a lot of water! It is like we are a giant jug of water sloshing back and forth as we walk.
What does all that water do for us?
Why is it that we are made up of so much water? Because it can do so much for our bodies, that’s why! We need every drop of water we have in order for our bodies to function properly. Water keeps our bodies moisturized and keeps us from drying up and withering away like a plant in the desert. It acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord, it lubricates the joints, it regulates our body temperature (sweating, respiration, etc.), it flushes out our bodies waste (mostly through urine), it converts our food into nutrients (digestion), and it keeps our mucosal membranes moist (naturally everyone knows we need to keep those moist). Amazingly water is what enables our body’s cells to grow, reproduce and survive. That is why our bodies are made up of so much water; without it we would simply not be able to exist.
Can I have too much water?
But you didn’t read this article to just find out how awesome water is did you? You were intrigued by the fact that you can drink too much water. You have obviously heard of dehydration, not having enough water in your system, but you, like most of us, have probably never given too much thought to overhydration. With all of the benefits of water, how can it be bad to drink too much, right?
Let’s start with sodium. Sodium is what balances the fluids in and around your cells. It simply keeps your cells from swelling or shriveling and causing harm to your body. As you drink water that sodium will help manage and distribute how much water is in and around the cells throughout your body. If you drink too much water it will dilute the amount of sodium in your body, limit the kidneys ability to flush it out and then be forced into your cells causing them to swell. As your cells swell it can cause various problems, but one particularly dangerous effect is the pressure it will put on your brain. This swelling of the brain cells will either leave you dead or cause some serious brain damage, either way, it is not good.
In 2007 there was a California woman who died from drinking 2 gallons of water. She was part of a radio contest, “Hold Your Wee for a Wii”, which challenged her to drink 2 gallons of water in a certain amount of time. She won, vomited and went home stating that she was suffering from an intense headache. She later died from water intoxication. This is a sad, but perfect example of how drinking too much water causes the cells in your brain to swell. She had left the contest stating that she had a splitting headache. This was the start of the brain cells beginning to swell.
Water intoxication, or hyponatremia, is not a common issue, but also should not be overlooked. There have been various reported cases of hyponatremia. In 2005 there was a fraternity hazing at California State University that left a 21-year-old man dead. The hazing forced this young man to drink an extreme amount of water while doing repeated amounts of push-ups in an ice cold basement. While the situation caused serious trauma to his body, it was the large amounts of water that led to his death.
Water Intoxication doesn’t just affect those who are weak or sick, it can kill even the healthiest of people. A young man in Douglasville, Georgia played on his high school football team. He was in his prime and as his family described him, he was a healthy and happy young man. During one of the practices he drank over 2 gallons of water causing him to lose strength, develop an intense headache and after being taken home, he collapsed. His autopsy proved that he suffered from swelling in his brain due to water intoxication.
Drinking water is important during fitness activities but often too many times athletes drink too much. This has been found in various sports, but is more common amongst marathon runners. The result of water intoxication has also been found among club-goers. After long nights of dancing, sweating and using drugs such as ecstasy, they try to hydrate themselves too quickly and end up drinking too much.
In most cases up to 6 liters (2 gallons) of water to kill a 165-pound person. This obviously varies with body size, the smaller the individual the less water it would take to cause water intoxication. This is why most doctors suggest that babies should usually drink formula or milk. A baby is so small that it will not be able to handle a lot of water. There have not been many cases of water intoxication among babies but it is something to be aware of.
How do I recognize and treat Water Intoxication?
Water Intoxication has symptoms and signs similar to heat stroke. Generally you will begin to feel tired and overall crummy. As the increase of water flows through your body your temperature will rise and you will begin to feel nauseous. Many people have suffered from diarrhea and vomiting. Another major sign is an intense headache causing you to feel queasy.
These signs are all very similar to heat exhaustion and it can be hard to tell the difference unless someone knows you just drank 6 liters of water. The best thing to do is to sit down in a cool place, try to increase your sodium intake through saltine crackers or other high sodium foods and if things get worse, get help!
Water intoxication can lead to swelling in the brain that will cause seizures and possibly even lead to a coma. Doctors have the ability to inject a concentrated amount of salt water that can reverse the issue and reduce the swelling.
A great way to try to prevent water intoxication is to regulate how much water you drink. Ways to measure your water intake is to drink until you no longer feel thirsty, don’t drink more than you sweat out and check your urine when you go to the bathroom. If your urine is consistently dark, you are dehydrated, if your urine is constantly clear you could be drinking too much. A light yellow color is healthy.
All in all, water intoxication does seem to be more rare of an experience. It is important that we regulate how much we drink, be educated to help others and make sure we keep a healthy level of water within our body. We truly do depend on water for life.