Is Drinking Too Much Water Dangerous to Your Health?


Water is the Elixir of Life

As I learned many years ago, if your urine is too yellow, you’ve not drank enough water.  If it is clear, you’re well hydrated.  I actually use this as an indicator when I need to hydrate during hard physical work.  Fortunately for me, I’m not concerned about over hydration, I’m more concerned about under hydration.  It is surprising how many people know very little about their bodies hydration needs or ignore the water consumption, especially when the body is screaming for it.  And then get themselves into trouble with heat exhaustion, heat stroke, kidney stones and other ill-health complications due to not consuming enough water.

There is really no rule on how much water one should drink in a day as an average requirement.  But there are safe hydration guidelines when there is a change to specific conditions, or variables: such as, environmental, health, age and/or physical work intensity.  Also, it is good to note our bodies are made up of 60% water [other experts’ say 2/3, or 66%] and that maintaining that requirement is physiologically crucial in balancing life supporting blood volume, electrolytes and life in general.

The daily average hydration consensus from the experts appears to be:  drink 8, 8oz glasses of water/day (1.9 liters).  This recommendation by the Institute of Medicine for example is not supported by hard scientific data.  Instead, this standard is based on a few variables: that one exercises at least 20 minutes/day and the individual weighs about 150lbs and lives in fairly mild to cool temps throughout the year.  Now when looking outside of this average and at a young metabolism, the kidney functions are capable of handling up to 6 gallons of water a day.  For example, athlete’s that work very hard during training can exceed this volume daily, especially during hot summer months.  I make mention of this because age and work intensity play a vital role in determining proper hydration needs.  I’ve listed a hydration calculator link at the bottom of this article should you want to find out your approximate daily hydration requirements based on these variables.

Now let’s take a closer look at the too much water hydration scenario?  Over hydration is known as hyponatremia.  The worse case medical outcomes: seizures, coma or death.  You ask yourself, how is it possible to get sick, or to die from drinking too much water?  When your internal cellular electrolytes sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and phosphate are overwhelmed with liquid in the body, the inner cells swell up.  And this includes swelling within the brains cavity.  The blood that travels through the brain can then be restricted, or interrupted.  For most of us, as previously stated, drinking too much water in a day is not going to be a problem.  However, several news headlines featuring water drinking contests that resulted in recent deaths put this “awareness” topic on the map.  Aside from these infrequent deaths caused from water drinking contests, there are medical conditions that can be aggravated when consuming the average, or exceeding these water consumption requirements.  There is also a mental disorder “psychogenic polydipsia” where a dry sensation constantly causes one to experience a dry mouth that can lead to consuming too much water daily.

If you experience certain symptoms due to illness, or disease, or using certain prescriptions that cause water retention, your risk factor of over-hydrating the body has just increased.  And by drinking more water than the recommended average could create further ill-health problems.  For example, if you have kidney disease or congenital heart failure your body’s ability to move liquid throughout the body is less efficient.  And body swelling in the feet, ankles and legs typically occurs as a first sign the body is retaining too much water.

Symptoms of Over Hydration and Treatment

With mild like or severe hyponatremia symptoms:  nausea, vomiting, confusion, loss of energy, headache, seizures, unconsciousness, coma, muscle weakness, spasms or cramps; reduce or stop your hydration consumption until symptoms are manageable.  Also limit fluids to under a quarter of water intake for up to 24 hours.  And then ensure you hydrate within recommended doctor’s advisement.  It may take up to 7 days for those that experience hyponatremia symptoms to completely go away.  Also consume small portions of foods with sodium to increase the electrolytes within your body.   In severe cases you may require medical treatment such as intravenous (IV) fluids with the right electrolyte balance to get your body’s blood volume back in balance.  However, if you have kidney, liver or heart disease, you’ll want to be monitored by your doctor when increasing your sodium intake as this will cause water retention and more stress on your organs.  Striking a balance through medical monitoring and advisement is key here.

So the question is how much water do we really need?

The answer appears to be rather simple.  Drink as much as your body requires.  In other words, when you drink water, you know when your bodies thirst has been quenched.  When this occurs, there’s really no need to drink more.  The problem for many of us, we satisfy our thirst with too many processed beverage drinks which can become toxic to the body and causes weight gain.

Under hydrate and you’ll also gain weight!

One ill-health condition that we’re all too familiar with where there is a direct relationship for lack of daily water consumption is obesity.  Yes, too many of our adult population and now our kids consume too much sugar based drinks, desserts, “junk” processed/fatty foods and drink too little water in a day.  And unfortunately, your body will win in its demand to meet those 8 glasses of water requirement by the over consumption of foods and beverage drinks you consume to get the water hydration it requires.  Then your body absorbs more toxins as the body’s filters become incapable of processing the toxins.  You then become a toxic filter!  And when your filters become less efficient you begin to feel ill and then get sick!  And this is one of those “connecting of the dots” that is greatly responsible for the increase of childhood obesity, Type 2 adult onset diabetes and weight bearing pain caused from being overweight.  And once you achieve these ill-health conditions, many more problems often ensue!  See a doctor if you suffer from mild to chronic hyponatremia, or any other abnormal, or unexplained ill-health, or weight gain conditions.


The Running Institute.  The Dangers of Overhydration.

Mayo Clinic Staff.  Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?  Human Water Requirement Calculator.

Henshaw, Ashley.  Water Intoxication: The Dangers of Overhydration.  Symptomfind.  July 24, 2011.

Author: Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, ARNG, CPT, RET. 2012 Copyright. All rights reserved, Mirror Athlete Inc.,, Sign up for your Free eNewsletter.

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About Marc Woodard

As a fit healthy lifestyle author and consultant, retired corporate employee and retired Army officer, I've spent many years taking care of my career goals and financial security. It is now my time to give something back to my community. Without a healthy mind, body and spirit it is really difficult to move forward to achieve great things in life. To share information is something everyone of us are capable of doing. And to share fitness and health related information with your children is the best thing you could do for them and your community. Saving the health of our nation one person at a time is our goal. Learn more about Marc Woodard @ LinkedIn Good health to you and your family.

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