Most of your body is made of water, the universal solvent that is required for life. But can you drink too much of a good thing? Absolutely!
How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day?
Everyone has their own personal requirements when it comes to water consumption. The combination of climate, level of activity, metabolism and eating habits can significantly influence the amount water that you need. However, the Institute of Medicine does provide guidelines, and currently advises that men consume about 3 liters, or 13 cups, of total beverages a day, and that women consume 2.2 liters, the equivalent of 9 cups of total beverages each day.
The term ‘total beverages’ means total fluid intake, regardless of what it is. Even diuretics such as coffee and pop are included as part of total beverage intake, but bear in mind that these beverages, as well as alcohol, can rob your body of fluid.
In addition to the Institute of Medicine’s suggestion, I’ve also seen a recommendation that the number of ounces a person should drink daily be the equivalent to half of his or her own body weight in pounds. So if you weigh 140 pounds, you should be drinking around 70 ounces of water per day. This formula seems to be a little more individual-specific.
We know that water is necessary for good health and should be consumed in adequate amounts. It is possible, however, to drink too much water, although it takes a lot of effort. It is rare for a person to consume so much that it has an adverse effect on health.
Can Drinking Too Much Water Harm You?
Drinking an excessive amount of water can be damaging to the body, causing a condition known as water intoxication. But it is not merely the amount of water that is the problem, but more so the amount of time over which the water is consumed. Drinking large quantities of water in a short period can cause several harmful results including hyponatremia and stress on the heart and kidneys.
Water Intoxication and Hyponatremia
When large amounts of water are consumed too quickly, this can cause an electrolyte imbalance, since the large amounts of water coming in don’t contain salt, while the cells of the body do.
Osmosis is the movement of water molecules across a membrane, from an area where the water is more concentrated, to an area where it is less concentrated. Drinking too much water results in a higher concentration of water molecules outside of the body’s cells compared to the amount of water within the body’s cells. This condition is referred to as low serum sodium or hyponatremia.
When this imbalance happens, the body struggles to rebalance the level of electrolytes inside and outside the cells. But since water will always move from the side of the cell membrane where there is lots of water to the side of the cell membrane where there a lower concentration of water, hyponatremia can ultimately result. Cells, and the tissues they compose, will swell as water moves in from the diluted serum. It is even possible for cells to burst when they can hold no more water.
Athletes are at higher risk of hyponatremia, since they are sweating out electrolytes and liquid during high levels of physical exertion. Replacing fluids with a sports drink containing electrolytes, rather than merely drinking water, can help prevent water intoxication.
Taxing Your Heart, Vessels and Kidneys
Drinking too much water in a short period of time also increases your total blood volume, since water is moving into your circulatory system faster than your kidneys can take it out. An overloaded circulatory system potentially stresses your heart and blood vessels as well as giving your kidneys far too much to do.
Please note: The information in this article is not to be followed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult with your physician or primary health practitioner for information regarding your own personal health and necessary treatments.