Over the Limit; Drunk on Water
Upping your water intake can improve your health, but if you overdo it — really overdo it — too much water can be toxic. Here’s how to hit the hydration sweet spot.
What Is Water Intoxication?
Water intoxication — also called hyponatremia — occurs when the sodium (salt) levels in a person’s blood are unusually low. Sodium is an electrolyte, which means it helps move fluids and nerve signals in and out of cells. In order to keep enough sodium in the blood, cells take in and release water (because the sodium travels with it). If there is too much water in the blood stream, sodium levels can become diluted to the point that cells keep taking in water in an attempt to reach healthy levels of sodium. In extreme situations, the cells can take in so much water that they swell and may eventually burst. Symptoms of hyponatremia can include nausea, headache, confusion, and seizures. Severe cases of water intoxication can lead to coma and even death.
This all sounds pretty scary, but don’t swear off Hâ‚‚O yet. Generally, people who experience water intoxication have other health problems, such as cirrhosis or kidney failure. For the average person to have hyponatremia, they would have to drink gallons of water, enough to gain weight while exercising.
How Much Water You Should Drink?
The recommendations for how much water people should drink vary because people have different activity levels and lose water at different rates. Generally, eight to 12 8-ounce glasses of water per day is sufficient for adults, but there are many reasons to drink more than that.
If You ExercisE:
â–º Drink 15 to 20 ounces of water one to two hours before your workout (many people aren’t hydrated enough when they start their workouts).
â–º Drink an additional 8 to 10 ounces 15 minutes before your workout.
â–º Drink 8 ounces every 15 minutes throughout your workout.
â–º You may also need extra water if you live at high altitude (above 8,200 feet) because you may lose more fluids to increased sweating and urination. Hot, humid weather — and even hot indoor air — can cause increased water loss through the skin.
â–º Lastly, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should drink about 10 to 13 cups of water, respectively, each day.