Is Drinking Too Much Water Bad for You? We Investigate

Find out how to keep safe from water intoxication

Updated 04/16/19
woman at gym drinking water
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Water is legitimately the answer to all of our problems. Want to boost your metabolism? Drink more water. Want glowy, clear skin? Drink more water. Want to meet your fitness goals? Drink more water. We’ve all been told time and time again that staying hydrated is the best thing we can possibly do for our bodies—but can there ever be too much of a good thing? The golden rule is downing eight glasses per day, which already seems like a stretch to some but can be a walk in the park for others. Everyone’s body is completely different, which means the recommended water intake can vary depending on the person.

Truth is everything has its limits, and as healthy as water is, it’s certainly not excluded from that narrative. Can you drink too much water? Absolutely. Overhydrating yourself is a serious scenario that can lead to dangerous health conditions known as hyponatremia. It can happen to anyone who overdoses on the amount of H20 they’re consuming. So how do you control your hydration levels? We tapped three registered dietitians to give us the rundown on serious signs of overhydration. Read on for advice from registered dietitian Lisa Moskowitz, nutritionist Ali Heller, and registered dietitian and owner of Genki Nutrition Jonathan Valdez on all the water-related concerns you need to know about.

What Happens When You Drink Too Much Water?

“Drinking too much water can dilute the sodium in your blood, which can be dangerous and even potentially fatal. Those at risk are typically endurance athletes or exercisers who sweat heavily and don’t take in enough electrolytes,” Moskowitz explains

Speaking of fatal situations, Heller believes it’s important to be in the know about the life-altering effects drinking too much water can have on your body. “Some college students have died of hyponatremia, which is severely low blood sodium when they were forced to drink lots of water during hazing and initiation rituals,” says Heller. “Drinking too much water can upset the balance of sodium in the blood, causing hyponatremia, which can be fatal. But this is very rare. You’d need to drink an extreme amount of water in a short period of time. It’s important to note that this shouldn’t scare anyone away from staying properly hydrated.”

Although hyponatremia can happen to anyone, Valdez also believes that certain individuals are at a higher risk. “Too much water intake is of serious concern for endurance trainers, who may consume too many fluids while running. Although they are at greater risk, anyone can have hyponatremia,” Valdez says.

What Are Some Signs of Overhydration?

Fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and blurred vision,” explains Valdez. “Mental status changes can also occur, such as confusion, restlessness, irritability, and lethargy. Other physical changes that could occur are muscle tremors, muscle cramps, psychosis, seizures, increased salivation, diarrhea, elevated body temperature (similar to dehydration), and inability to sweat, properly.”

Moskowitz advises the major signs to look out for are feeling weak, headaches, or GI disturbances such as nausea or vomiting. “The biggest question to ask is why you’re constantly feeling thirsty all the time? If that’s the case, there could be an underlying medical issue such as hyperglycemia that should be discussed with your primary care doctor,” says Moskowitz. “Additionally, high-protein diets can often make someone more dehydrated and therefore feel thirstier.”

So How Much Water Is Too Much?

According to Moskowitz, it depends on each individual, but anything more than half your body weight could be the limit.

Symptomatic water intoxication, or hyponatremia, begins when someone drinks about three to four liters of water at one time,” explains Valdez. “A normal adult can excrete up to 20 liters per day and does not exceed three to four cups of water in an hour, because that’s what a normal kidney can excrete at a time.”

How Much Water Should We Drink Daily?

“It depends on each individual, but rarely does someone needs more than half their body weight in ounces,” Moskowitz says. “I usually recommend about two to three liters based on the individual’s activity level and weight.”

The common thread is that your water intake truly depends on your body and the state that it’s in. “It depends on the person and whether or not it is too hot or cold and by age, sex, pregnancy, and breastfeeding status. In general, the Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake for men is roughly about 3 liters of water per day and for women 2.2 liters of water per day,” says Valdez.

He recommends determining adequate hydration by looking at your urine color—it should be a pale yellow tint. Colorless urine indicates overhydration.

The Final Takeaway

“If you are a heavy drinker, make sure to add electrolytes to your water to avoid dangerously low sodium levels in your blood,” Moskowitz advises. “You can purchase electrolyte packets in a health food store or sporting goods store. They are zero calories and zero sugar.”

Valdez notes that fruit is also a great option. “There are other methods of getting fluid intake, like eating fruits with high water content. Watermelon, grapefruit, strawberries, and cantaloupes have high water content per volume,” suggests Valdez.

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