In light of a recent incident, in which a radio show contestant died from water intoxication after taking part in a contest to see how much water one could drink without going to the bathroom, I thought there should be clarity on what happened. Drinking water is essential to living, but there are ways that you can die from drinking too much water. A concerned reader wrote:
"Perhaps you might consider updating your excellent article about drinking water in light of the death today of a young mother of three who induced hyponatremia by drinking water for a radio station contest."
I have written several articles about the importance of drinking water, including the following:
Weight Loss Myths - Discusses the importance of adding water to your diet for weight loss. Burning fat requires water and oxygen.
Can you Die from Drinking Too Much Water? - Discusses how an athlete can die from profuse water intake, a hot sweaty environment, a long period exertion, and alack of sodium/potassium replacement.
What the mother of three died from on the radio show was a condition called hyponatremia (meaning - a potentially fatal disturbance in brain function that results when the normal balance of electrolytes (salt, potassium) in the body is pushed outside of safe limits by a very rapid intake of water. She drank nearly two gallons of water - WITHOUT using the restroom - in a short period of time.
It is safe to sip water throughout the day and drink water with every meal, but you must add food that contains a healthy amount of salt and potassium. Having ONE banana or kiwi can make a difference in your electrolyte balances. You will notice that you must use the restroom every 1-2 hours. This too keep the balance (water and salts) in check.
The difference in a healthy amount of water intake and doing the above, is that you stretch that amount of water over the course of 24 hours, 4-5 meals (containing some potassium and sodium), and USE THE RESTROOM when you need to.
Important Note: If a person who is on a restricted sodium diet, drinks ONLY half a gallon (1.8 liters) in one sitting without using the restroom, that person could die from hyponatremia - water intoxication. However, the same holds true for a normal diet of sodium intake, but the limit increases to more than three liters of water in a SINGLE sitting. The Safe thing to do when it comes to water consumption is to drink just before you are thirsty - do not try to fit universally recommend amounts of water into a short period of time. Water consumption should be done throughout the day - not in a chugging effort to play catch-up because you missed the daily recommended amount.
Remember - Everything in moderation: Food, water, alcohol etc, even exercise!
I hope this clears up any confusion from the importance of water and the danger for us all to abuse water and hurt ourselves without even knowing.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Military.com Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at Military.com. To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.