Drinking tons of water these days has become almost ‘trendy’ – people do it for better skin, better metabolism, as a part of their new crazy diets and so on. Since it is usually seen as such a good thing, patients often tell me that they are big water drinkers, finishing off liters before lunchtime. They are usually shocked, when I tell them that this could be making them sick.
Don’t get me wrong – most of us are probably dehydrated and not overhydrated, but the scales do seem to be balancing out. In office environments, I see people sitting at their desks and coercing themselves to chug as many glasses of water as they can. Young kids are constantly drinking tons of water to clear out their skin. And all of this information about the positives of drinking excess amounts of water also comes from unverified sources.
What Happens When You Drown Your System in Water?
Our body has a critical amount of salt, or sodium. Added to that, we can only expel half a liter of water in an hour – that is the limit to what our kidneys can process. So if you are filling yourself up with water well beyond the point that your kidneys can expel, you are throwing off the proportion of salt, or sodium required by your body. This condition is called hyponatremia or water intoxication – and it can be very serious and potentially fatal.
Why Do You Need to Maintain Sodium Levels?
Sodium balances the fluid levels in and outside your cells. If you drink too much water, your cells become full of liquid, making them swell up. This leads to swelling of the brain cells as well which usually requires urgent treatment and can be fatal.
Other outcomes can be seizures or comas.
The terrifying thing about water intoxication’s symptoms is that they match that of heat exhaustion, or even dehydration.
And as you can imagine, the treatment for both are completely opposite and if instead of administering salt water, a patient of water intoxication is further hydrated, it would be making the situation worse. So if you are in a situation wherein someone collapses or complains about not feeling great, throw in a question about how much water they have had to drink.
People living in urban centers also need to remember that our water is highly treated and as a result, may contain trace elements. You may have seen the terrifying articles about micro plastics in our water bodies. I often suggest cucumber or watermelon or our other summer fruits and vegetables as an alternate form of hydration that comes with nutrients too.
Indicators of Overhydration
Water intoxication is the final, potentially fatal stage of overdoing your hydration. But even if you are drinking more than your body can expel, you are not being healthy.
So, if you are worried you may be over consuming water, what are the indicators?
- Drinking water when you are not thirsty at all – This is a pointless exercise. Stay tuned into your body and drink water when you are thirsty, even just mildly, or exerting. Sip on water through the day if you want but do not drink gallons of water just for the sake of it.
- Not incorporating your lifestyle into your choices – Where you live, what you do, how much you exercise, your genetics, and your propensities – everything should determine how much water you drink. If you live in a hot, humid city with a physically taxing job, you need to be drinking much more water than someone with an office job in a cooler climate. Whether you’re a marathoner or someone with kidney disease, these are serious indicators of how much water you should drink.
- Finally, the color of your urine. If you go to the loo many times a day and your urine is clear every single time, you are definitely over hydrating. This should be your check.
Summer is about to descend and you must hydrate and tune into your body and give it what it needs to fight the harsh heat. But do it in a way that is mindful and guided by your context, and not one of the random tidbits you hear.
Camera: Nitin Chopra
Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Producer: Vaishali Sood
(With over 20 years of clinical, investment and operational experience in the healthcare sector, Dr Amit Varma brings with him a domain expertise that links all facets of healthcare. He is a reputed physician with diverse healthcare management leadership roles and has headed numerous companies)
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