How much water is too much water to be drinking? With health and lifestyle articles usually focusing on the need for more ways and ways in which to increase your intake, the dangers of too much water are often overlooked. Following my own near fatal experience in 2020, this article looks at how much water we need, how to know whether you may be drinking too much & the potential consequences of water toxicity.
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Why Is Water Important? What Are The Benefits?
You’ll often read about the importance of drinking more water. Water actually makes up between 50% to 70% of your overall body weight. Every part of your body – tissues, organs and cells – need water to survive and work properly.
Water will help regulate your temperature, lubricate your joints, remove waste from the body and protect your sensitive tissues.
Water is also often recommended for constipation, kidney stones, urinary tract infections and skin hydration.
In a nutshell, water is vital for the healthy, efficient functioning of the body.
What Happens If I Don’t Drink Enough Water?
Dehydration occurs when you haven’t had enough water, and this lack of water can be detrimental to various bodily functions. Even quite mild dehydration may leave you feeling particularly tired and low on energy, or perhaps suffering from headaches, lightheadedness or dizziness. Lack of water could also lead to problems with urination or bowel movements.
It could lead to heat injury when perspiring significantly, such as in a hot climate or when exercising vigorously, which could trigger anything from cramps to life-threatening heatstroke.
Symptoms of dehydration can include decreased urination, increased thirst, dry skin and dry mouth. As dehydration progresses it can lead to low blood pressure, dark urine, rapid breathing, shrivelled skin, and rapid heart rate. While general dehydration and thirst can usually be treated at home with more hydration or rehydration solutions, severe dehydration required immediate medical attention.
If you want to increase your water intake, a decent filter jug for healthy, clean and fresh water is a good place to start. I’d personally recommend the Levoit water filter jug, which can be found on Amazon. You can find my full review of the Levoit jug here.
Going eco-friendly with a reusable BPA-free water bottle is also a good idea. I’d personally recommend the Super Sparrow range, especially their Tritan sports bottle, which you can find on Amazon. You can see my full review for Super Sparrow here.
How Is Water Lost?
While your body utilises water, you also lose water every day through your perspiration, breath, bowel movements and urination. You need to replenish your body’s resources by consuming more water to keep it functioning normally.
What’s The Recommended Daily Water Intake?
The recommended water intake figures do vary a little between countries and medical bodies. When you see a figure for how much it’s recommended you drink per day, that typically includes water, fluids from other beverages and water in food, the latter of which tends to account for 20% of total fluid intake.
The US National National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommend the following daily fluid intake amounts:
- 15.5 cups / 3.7 L of fluids for men
- 11.5 cups / 2.7 L of fluids for women
Should I Be Drinking 8 Glasses Of Water A Day?
The common advice for years has been to drink 8 glasses of water a day. This is a blanket piece of advice that is only a rough guideline to make it easier to apply and remember worldwide.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different and there are other factors to consider when gauging how much water you need, such as body size, age, activity level, health conditions and climate.
How Much Water Do I Personally Need?
The recommended figures can be used as guidelines. You can adjust these and finds what’s right for you. These are some examples of what to consider when gauging how much water you need :
- Climate & Environment : Warmer weather or humid climates can lead to the body using more water, and more water is additionally lost through perspiration.
- Weight : Smaller body sizes and weights typically need less water, similarly to requiring less calories, while someone of a greater weight may require more water to sustain a larger body.
- Exercise Levels : The greater the level of activity and exercise, the more water the body, particularly the muscles, will need for normal functioning and to account for the extra fluid lost through perspiration.
- Pregnancy or Breast Feeding : Those that are pregnant or are breastfeeding may find more water is needed to stay adequately hydrated.
- General Health : The body will lose more fluids when experiencing vomiting, diarrhoea or fever. Increased fluids are also typically recommended when dealing with certain infections like UTIs and kidney infections, or with urinary tract stones. Those with an ostomy (ie. an ileostomy / stoma bag) are also typically advised to drink more water and ensure adequate salt intake because more water is lost. In some cases, rehydration solutions are recommended or prescribed by a doctor to ensure adequate hydration and prevent electrolyte imbalance.
In theory, the body regulates and balances water levels to allow for optimal functioning. It’ll signal you by making you thirsty when you need to replenish the water level, but this isn’t always enough. Furthermore, this thirst mechanism might not be as reliable as we age, with those over 65 years of age more at risk of unknowingly becoming dehydrated.
Knowing how much you drink and getting an idea of how much you might need to be drinking can help you to see whether extra water intake throughout the day might be helpful.
What Does Fluid Intake Include? Do Other Drinks Or Foods Count?
When discussing ‘fluid intake’, other beverages and foods can also count. While water is held in the highest regard here, other drinks like juice, tea (herbal or caffeinated), soda, milk and coffee all contain water and can count towards your daily intake.
When it comes to food, a lot of fruits and vegetables are comprised of mostly water, such as apples, spinach and watermelon. Don’t forget things like fruit juice lollies and sugar-free jelly too.
How To Know If You’re Drinking Enough
The colour of your wee can be a good indicator of how much you’re drinking. The lighter it is, the more hydrated you are. This is why the first wee of the morning, after hours of no food or drink, is usually the darkest. During the day, pale yellow is seen as the ideal goal.
If you don’t often feel thirsty, that would also suggest you’re likely getting a reasonable amount of fluids. If you’re unsure or have any concerns, speak to your doctor. They’ll be able to suggest what level you should be looking at each day, or be able to refer you to a nutritionist or dietician to get more specialist advice.
How Do I Know If I’m Drinking Too Much?
Information online suggests that it’s rare for healthy adults to drink too much water. As such, it’s an issue that’s rarely talked about and there’s little awareness as to the signs and dangers of overdoing your fluid intake.
There are two main ways you could become over hydrated. Firstly from increased fluid intake, and secondly from water retention, where your body can’t rid itself of excess fluid properly. In terms of the latter, some medications and health conditions can lead to water retention, such as kidney problems, congestive heart failure, uncontrolled diabetes, NSAIDs and liver disease.
Some conditions and medications may also make you feel very thirsty, leading you to drink more water. Because you feel thirsty, you may not realise that you’re drinking too much as it seems normal to you and you’ve not had to work hard to drink more. For instance, MDMA, diuretics, xerostomia (dry mouth) and Sjögren’s syndrome.
In other cases, water intoxication may happen from intense exercise and training, living in a very humid environment, or from dieting.
A quick way to get a general idea as to what your fluid intake is like is to check the colour of urine. If you’re over hydrated, urine is likely to be incredibly pale or even clear and colourless.
Other symptoms of over hydration might include headaches, nausea, muscle weakness, muscle spasms and cramps, significant mental state changes, drowsiness, confusion, and double vision. More extreme cases of water intoxication can lead to head pressure, unconsciousness, seizures, coma and even death.
What Happens When You’re Overhydrated?
Too much fluid in the body will throw off the water and sodium balance, which can be very dangerous.
If you drink too much water, the kidneys will struggle to get rid of the excess and the sodium in your blood will become diluted. This is known as hyponatremia. This is usually diagnosed when sodium levels drop below 135 mmol/l.
When fluid builds up, sodium decreases and fluid can build in the brain, known as cerebral edema. This increase in pressure inside the skull can be potentially fatal, affecting the brain stem and resulting in central nervous system dysfunction.
Drinking too fluid much very quickly can be life-threatening, as can regularly drinking too much over a long period of time.
How Much Is Too Much Water?
Every body is different in terms of size, build, age, health conditions, living climate, activity levels and thus fluid requirements. Because of the inability to really state how much is needed, it’s also difficult to say exactly how much is too much.
If might be a good idea to keep a record of your fluid intake, including water from foods and other fluids, to see whether you’re drinking over the recommended 2.7L or 3.7L for women and men respectively.
If you’ve noticed any unusual symptoms, like muscle spasms or a sensation of a heavy head, check your water intake and speak to your GP.
My Experience Of Water Toxicity
For probably a year or two I’d noticed a ‘heavy head’ sensation. For several months it seemed to be getting more frequent, more intense and harder to ignore. I’d been putting it down to ‘one of those things’, perhaps a lack of fresh air or just a side-effect of a migraine. There were other symptoms, looking back, that I didn’t piece together. One day the world exploded. Or more precisely, my head nearly did.
I’d had a light lunch of yoghurt and baked crisps and my usual fluid intake, which was a lot. A small amount of food washed down with 1L fluids that I’d drink very quickly. I came downstairs and there was the heavy head sensation, along with a floating light in my vision. I had to go outside to take some deep breaths. I came back in the kitchen and suddenly I couldn’t see anything because my vision was full of squiggles.
The pressure in my head changed; it became incredibly intense, to a degree I can’t even begin to explain. It felt like my brain was being forced up through my skull. I felt sick. The pain was unreal.
I don’t know how I made it upstairs and I can’t remember going, but I got into bed and my left eye felt like it was going to be pushed out of my skull. I was rolling around, crying, in absolute agony and I didn’t have a clue what was happening. I started throwing up, a lot. My mother was there, no idea what to do to help me.
I couldn’t talk, my face seemed to have drooped, and I couldn’t move. I was just half lying down, throwing up, hand on my head trying to keep my brain inside my skull. This went on for hours.
I stayed in bed, not moving, until the next day. The insane pressure took 6 hours to start coming down a little. It took 48 hours to get to some degree of normality. Little did I know just how lucky I really was that day. I had no idea quite the level of water I was drinking each day, nor that such fluid intake, paired with my reduction in salt as well due to lack of proper meals, could be so incredibly dangerous.
I nearly died that day, and I had no idea.
Prior to this, I was noticing a sensation of a ‘heavy head’ with increasing regularity over perhaps two years or more. I felt the cold to a painful degree. I was getting shakes and muscle spasms, which caused me to splash tea all up the wall while going up the stairs on a number of occasions.
It turns out I was drinking over 7L of fluid each day for a couple of years. Thanks to having fairly stable routines, I was able to accurately calculate my typical water intake the same day I realised the detective work led me to my fluid habits. I only discovered that water was the culprit through a process of elimination over a week after this incident.
I’ve since realised that I’d mistaken a dry mouth for thirst, in what is believed to be Sjögren’s syndrome. I have dry eyes, nose and mouth, all of which have caused significant problems, partly because of being misdiagnosed and left untreated for so long. It’s thought that I developed this, along with connective tissues disease and all of the other bizarre conditions and symptoms, as an autoimmune response to a surgical implant in my body from 2015.
I’m explaining of all this because things aren’t always straightforward and sometimes it does take a while to figure out what’s going on. I knew I was drinking a lot but I thought I was perpetually thirsty rather than it being a dry mouth issue. I also had no idea quite how much I was drinking, nor how dangerous and potentially fatal too much water was.
Too Much Or Too Little Water : A Delicate Balance
Water is crucial for keeping us healthy and keeping our bodies functioning properly. For most people, fluid intake will be in a normal range and drinking won’t be something you have to give much thought to, but it’s important to be aware of the potential issues of dehydration and over hydration.
Both too little or too much can have consequences, and sometimes at either extreme it can be deadly.
If you have any concerns, please check your fluid intake and speak to your doctor.
Do you think you drink the amount of water your body needs each day? Did you know how dangerous too much fluid could be?