Does over hydration really exist?

Is there such a thing as being over hydrated? It’s hard to believe there could be when we are often told we need to drink more water.

Maybe you’ve heard the story about a mother who was a contestant in a radio show challenge in which she had to drink as much water as possible, without urinating, to win a video game system. It’s a true story that happened in Los Angeles, California. The cause of death? Overhydration. No joke.

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How does overhydration happen?

The technical term is called hyponatremia, which means ‘not enough sodium’. As you drink excessive amounts of water, your sodium levels can become diluted.

Sodium is an ‘electrolyte’ that is needed for muscle contractions, nerve transmissions, pH balance and hydration. Sodium regulates the fluid that is outside of your cells and is needed to pump that fluid into the cells. If sodium levels become too low, which is the case in drinking too much water, the cells in your body begin to swell. Oh no!

Hyponatremia can also be caused by certain medications, chronic severe vomiting or diarrhea, dehydration, low thyroid function, or the party drug Ecstasy.

What are the symptoms?

how does overhydration happen_2It is extremely important to understand the signs and symptoms of overhydration, especially if you are an athlete or you undertake exercise regularly. If you or anyone you know experiences these symptoms, call an ambulance or get to a hospital. Immediately.

Hyponatremia signs and symptoms may include:

– Nausea and vomiting
– Headache
– Confusion
– Loss of energy and fatigue
– Restlessness and irritability
– Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
– Seizures
– Coma

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, medical history and daily habits and activities. Since the signs and symptoms of this condition do not point to a specific diagnosis, blood tests will need to be run.

What can I do?

Overhydration is more common among athletes who are involved in endurance sports. If you aren’t involved in sports, the chances of you drinking too much is less likely (unless you have one of the other above causes).

My recommendation to patients is to add an electrolyte mix to your drinking water, that way your body can more easily metabolize (or use) the water you drink. (However I do not endorse sugary fitness drinks that are prevalent in the market.) This is an easy solution, you’ll get hydrated and your body will perform better. Win win, right? High quality, filtered drinking water is always recommended (see my article on tap vs bottled water).

Remember, water is good for you!

Don’t let the possibility of overly hydrating yourself scare you into not drinking enough water. Most of us lean towards a state of dehydration. Ideally, you want to drink enough water so that you are urinating about once an hour. And once again, if you add in an electrolyte mix, you’ll get enough sodium as well as H2O.

Know that overhydration is a possibility and be aware of the possibility that you might be prone to it. But also realise that most people are more likely to be in a state nearer the dehydrated end of the spectrum. Bottoms up!

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