Keeping your body hydrated is crucial for health and well-being. “Drink a lot of water”, has been a long standing advice. This is simply because many people do not consume enough water on a daily basis.
However, there are many who gulp down almost a gallon of water, all too soon, assuming it can do no harm. ‘The More the Better’. But, this is simply untrue. Too much of water, like too much of anything, does have its disadvantages and it is important to be aware of the same.
Drinking extreme amounts of water, can lead to Water Intoxication. It consequently increases the water in your blood. This can dilute the Sodium (one of the electrolytes in the blood) levels in your blood causing an electrolyte imbalance.
You have a greater risk of developing water intoxication if you drink a lot of water in a short period of time. The risk is less if you drink the same amount, over a much longer period of time.
Importance of maintaining healthy Sodium levels:
Although sodium is often scorned as the cause for high blood pressure, it is an essential electrolyte in the blood which helps maintain the balance of water in and around your cells. It is also important for proper muscle and nerve function and helps maintain, stable blood pressure levels. When sodium levels are below the normal range, it causes excess fluids to move inside cells which then swell, including the brain cells. It can cause serious damage to the muscle tissues, organs, and the brain.
The normal range of sodium is anywhere between 135 and 145 milliequivalents per litre (mEq/L).
Sodium levels below 135 is what leads to Water Intoxication. The medical condition is also known as Hyponatremia. One of the reasons, for this condition is over-hydration, i.e. drinking too much water, consequently diluting the sodium levels in the blood.
Water Intoxication/Hyponatremia can lead to:
Seizures In (severe cases)
Coma (in severe cases)
Water intoxication also occurs during sports, especially endurance sports. Over-hydration is common in these activities as a means to avoid dehydration.
Over-hydration and water intoxication happens when you drink more water than your kidneys can get rid of via urine, thereby putting tremendous pressure on the kidneys to function constantly.
How much water should you drink?
Although the common recommendation is 8 to 10 glasses per day it can vary depending on an individual’s age, height, weight, sex, muscle composition, weather, physical activity and of course, overall health.
So, there is no exact formula on how much to drink. Common situations such as extreme heat, significant activity, and illness with fever will all require more fluid intake than average.
You Can Eat your Water!
It is often overlooked that drinking water is not the only source of water we get for hydrating our body. The foods we eat count towards this goal too. A lot fruits and vegetables contain 85% to 95% or more water and are an excellent choice to stay hydrated. Take an informed decision on how much water you drank from foods and beverages to keep a track on your total water intake.
A simple way to ensure you’re drinking enough water is to keep an eye on the colour of your urine. Urine gets its colour from a pigment called urochrome. When you’re dehydrated, this pigment won’t be diluted, so your urine will appear darker. Use the colour of your urine as a guide. Your urine should be light yellow. If it looks like water, you are drinking more than you need. If it is dark yellow or orange you need to drink more. However, if your taking supplements like vitamin B and C, or diet with beetroot, it could darken your urine colour.
To prevent night time urination, have your last glass of water a couple hours before bed to give your kidneys time to filter the water through your body. Drinking too close to bedtime, can interrupt your sleep cycle and negatively impact heart health.
There is no need to worry about dehydration as long as water is your main choice of drink, both when you’re feeling thirsty and when you’re drinking with a meal. If you are sweating profusely, it is advisable to add some electrolytes into your drinking water.
Last but not the least, the amount of water isn’t the only factor to keep in mind. How long you take to drink that amount also counts. So, drink water gradually and through the day.