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Can You Die if You Drink too Much Water?

Stew Smith, CSCS

This week, a concerned Army Reservist asks, “I have heard about people dieing of drinking too much water. Is this possible?” This is a great question because so many times this issue is taken out of context causing people to stop drinking water altogether.

When you read about people who die or get kidney damage “from drinking too much water” you are only hearing half of the story. The other half of the story is often overlooked. These people die or are seriously injured internally from over-hydration with insufficient replacement of sodium, which is called dilutional hyponatremia. The documented cases are from participants in long distance running or ultra endurance events lasting longer than four hours of continuous, sweaty, activity. Sports replacement drinks mixed with water are the best source of electrolytes and can be of significant help in avoiding hyponatremia in long distance athletic events or long, hot and humid days of rigorous outdoor work.

The regular person in America, who does not exercise at all or that rigorously, needs water to lose weight. If the body does not receive adequate amounts (1-2 quarts a day), you will actually start to retain water causing a net gain in weight and the liver to cease metabolizing fat at a normal rate. Basically, your metabolism will slow to a point where fat and water is now being stored by the body UNTIL it receives the proper amounts of water. An easy equation with the elements of weight loss is:

Water + Oxygen = Weight loss

Drinking water plus physical activity where you breathe at a higher heart rate (ie aerobic activity like walking, jogging, swimming, biking, resistance training etc,) will ultimately lead to weight loss. Not only will you release retained water – ending the bloated and puffy feeling, but your metabolism will burn fat at a higher rate than before you started adding sufficient water intake to your diet. If you are significantly overweight (50-100lbs), you need to add more water to your diet than the minimum recommended daily amount. Some experts agree that the intake should be another 6-8 oz. of water for every 10-20 lbs overweight.

The bad news is that coffee, tea, diet drinks, alcohol, and nicotine are diuretics meaning they actually will dehydrate you. These drinks should not count as your 1-2 quarts a day of daily water consumption. If you think you maybe retaining water, try adding up to a gallon of water a day and you could lose about five to ten pounds of retained water in a few short days. I have seen people lose up to twenty in a week by ONLY adding water to their diet.

See these tips and more on fitness at the Fitness Store and by reading the Stew Smith Article Archives.

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