What Happens If You Drink Too Much Water

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what happens if you drink too much water

Surprising Side Effects of Excessive Water Consumption

It turns out that you can have too much of a good thing, even when it comes to a life-sustaining substance like water, which accounts for at least 60% of the adult body. (Newborns are 78 percent water, which explains why they're so squishy!)

However, the dangers of overhydration are far less understood than the dangers of dehydration, according to Tamara Hew-Butler, an associate professor of Exercise and Sport Studies at Wayne State University whose research focuses on fluid dysregulation.

Hydration will be a hot topic among wellness evangelists as summer approaches. They routinely tell us what to put in our water to make it healthier, and they try to get us to drink more of it.

Water is essential for every cell and powers nearly all biological functions, including regulating our internal temperature, flushing waste out through urination, supporting digestion and metabolism, lubricating our joints, and more.

All of that being said, you don't have to drink gallons of it. And doing so could be hazardous to your health, which is why you should avoid the "hydration challenges" that have sprung up on social media and on school campuses.

Recognizing Your Limits

According to conventional wisdom, you should drink eight glasses of water per day—but doesn't that depend on the size of the glass? Is it a juice glass or a Big Gulp? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine of the United States determined that an adequate daily fluid intake for men is approximately 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids per day and approximately 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids per day for women.

Any recommended amount, however, must be adjusted for a variety of factors, including how active you are, the type of environment you live in (hotter climates cause more water loss), your body weight, and whether or not you are pregnant.

How to overdo on H20

Water intoxication is a real condition, though it is uncommon. Water, contrary to popular belief, will not get you drunk—but it can do much worse.

The medical term for water intoxication (also known as water poisoning) is hyponatremia, as explained by the Mayo Clinic "occurs when the sodium concentration in your blood is abnormally low... When this happens, the water levels in your body rise, and your cells begin to swell. This swelling can cause a variety of health issues, ranging from minor to life-threatening."

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), "3.2 million to 6.1 million people in the United States suffer from hyponatremia" each year, with up to 75% of those cases being chronic and asymptomatic. (This implies that you could be overhydrating your system without even realizing it.)

There are no official guidelines for how much water to drink, but experts say that a person with normal renal function should drink no more than 800 to 1,000 mL/hr (about 4 cups) to avoid hyponatremia symptoms.

Over hydration Symptoms

This is where things become extremely perplexing. Many of the symptoms of overhydration are the same as those of dehydration, such as:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps and spasms

Is there one distinction? When you're dehydrated, your urine is dark yellow; when you're adequately hydrated, it's more like lemonade (sorry! ); and when you're overly hydrated, it's nearly clear. This pee chart may be useful if you need a color reference.

Surprising Side Effects of Excessive Water Consumption

Here are some of the more serious consequences of drinking more water than your body requires. Later, check out our list of the 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked by Toxicity.

Imbalances in electrolytes

Electrolytes (such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium) aid in the regulation of your kidneys and heart. Drinking an excessive amount of water disrupts these vital functions.

Swelling/retention of water

Drinking too much water may result in low sodium levels in the blood, causing the body's cells to swell and retain fluid.

Bladder problems

Excessive fluid consumption can worsen and lengthen the occurrence and severity of Overactive Bladder (OAB) symptoms. Even if you don't have OAB, your bladder could suffer.

"Superfluous drinking requires more muscular effort than thirsty drinking," Hew-Butler observes. "Our brain tries to discourage chronic overdrinking (polydipsia), which causes chronic peeing (polyuria), which can lead to internal plumbing changes like bladder distention."

Kidney Impairment

Healthy kidneys are agile organs that can typically adjust the amount of water they command your body to retain or excrete—but they can become overburdened. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you drink too much water, your kidneys are unable to eliminate the excess water. As a result, the sodium content of your blood is diluted once more, resulting in a chain reaction of biological dysfunction.


Cerebral edema (brain swelling), heart failure, and other organ failures can be fatal in severe cases. Deaths from water-drinking contests, over-rehydration after participating in sports, and military training situations are extremely rare, but they have occurred.

What You Can Do to Avoid These Surprising Side Effects

And now, here are three solutions for drinking enough water:

Allow thirst to be your guide.

Because your body is astute as Mensa, it recognizes when it is in need of something and sends you a signal. According to one study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, all you have to do is listen.

Take note of your speed.

You get into trouble by drinking too much water too quickly. (According to this study, one dangerous condition known as acute water toxicity is caused by consuming large amounts of fluids in a short period of time that far exceeds the kidney's maximum excretion rate.) Drink small amounts more frequently throughout the day for a healthier hydration strategy.

Consume water-rich foods.

Foods with a high water content contribute significantly to your total liquid consumption because it is extremely difficult to over-hydrate by eating water-rich foods. "The best way to consume hydrating foods is raw," says Keri Glassman, RD, founder of Nutritious Life. "Cucumbers, celery, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and watermelon are some of my favorite fruits and vegetables. Another example is iceberg lettuce, which, while lacking in nutrients when compared to darker leafy greens, is 96 percent water."

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