by Lisa J. Lehr
The weather is warming up, people are heading outside to exercise, and we’ve been told our entire lives to drink “plenty of water.” Not everyone realizes, however, that it’s possible to drink TOO much. How much is enough, and how much is too much?
You may remember back in January 2007, when Jennifer Strange, 28, a Sacramento-area mom of three, was found dead in her home of water intoxication. Jennifer had competed in a radio station’s “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest. The contest winner would be whoever drank the most water without going to the bathroom; the prize, a Nintendo Wii video game system. Jennifer wanted to win it for her kids.
“Holding it” against nature’s urging to get rid of it is intuitively a bad idea, and putting yourself in danger in order to gain some material thing is just foolish. The bulk of the blame lies with the radio station, however; station officials had been advised that someone had previously died of the same cause in a hazing incident, and they reportedly didn’t take Jennifer seriously when she complained of feeling ill. Still, this story should be a warning to everyone who might think that if drinking plenty of water is good for us, then there’s no such thing as “too much.”
We don’t know for sure how much Jennifer drank, but drinking too much can lead to water intoxication as well as hypothermia. Through perspiration during and after exertion, we lose both water and electrolytes; water intoxication and hyponatremia result when a dehydrated person drinks too much water without the accompanying electrolytes.
We all learned about osmosis in school, yet perhaps we don’t all have a clear idea of what osmosis actually is. Osmosis is simply the movement of water across a semipermeable membrane from higher to lower concentration; both electrolytes and water move back and forth across the cell membrane in an effort to balance concentration. Electrolytes are more concentrated inside the cells, and water outside; cells try to regain balance by pulling in water, and could eventually swell to the point of bursting.
This is a simplified version of the events taking place in your body, but you don’t need a background in biochemistry to understand that burst cells cause serious bodily damage.
Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., describes the symptoms of water intoxication at About.com:
“Electrolyte imbalance and tissue swelling can cause an irregular heartbeat, allow fluid to enter the lungs, and may cause fluttering eyelids. Swelling puts pressure on the brain and nerves, which can cause behaviors resembling alcohol intoxication. Swelling of brain tissues can cause seizures, coma and ultimately death unless water intake is restricted and a hypertonic saline (salt) solution is administered. If treatment is given before tissue swelling causes too much cellular damage, then a complete recovery can be expected within a few days.”
If you or your workout buddy shows any of these symptoms—GET HELP.
Dr. Helmenstine says that the kidneys of a healthy adult can process fifteen liters of water a day. You probably won’t suffer from water intoxication, even if you drink a lot of water, as long as you drink it over time rather than an enormous volume at once. Much of our need for water is satisfied by the food we eat, so 8-12 eight-ounce glasses a day is a common recommended intake.
We may need more water if the weather is very warm or very dry, or during exercise. While water intoxication is very uncommon, it is not unheard-of, so be careful. If you’re exercising a lot, especially in hot, dry conditions, drink enough water—but not too much. Be sure to replace your electrolytes by consuming essential elements like potassium and sodium, and to a lesser degree magnesium and calcium. Sports drinks and “vitamin water” drinks can help. And never enter any contests that involve drinking of any kind, water included!
Lisa J. Lehr is a writer, copywriter, and fitness enthusiast living in Grass Valley. She can help you promote your business with a full range of online and offline marketing pieces. A member of Empire Toastmasters, she’s available to speak to your business or professional group. Visit her website www.justrightcopy.com for more information, opt in for a message series, and receive a free Marketing Guide.
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