Water intoxication, also known as water poisoning or dilutional hyponatrieamia is a potentially deadly disturbance in brain functions that results when the normal balance of electrolytes in the body is pushed outside not dangerous limits by overhydration. It is rare in normal circumstances for one to have water intoxicity; excess water consumption is expected to be excreted in the urine.
Most deaths related to water intoxication in normal individuals have resulted either from water drinking contests in which individuals attempt to consume large amounts of water, or from long bouts of exercise during which excessive amounts of fluid were consumed. Also in some form of torture in which the victim is forced to consume excessive amounts of water can cause water intoxication.
Water enters the body when we drink and is removed primarily in the urine and sweat. The amount of water in the body is regulated to control the levels of certain compounds, such as salt, in the blood. If you drink too much water eventually the kidneys will not be able to work fast enough to remove sufficient amounts from the body, so the blood becomes more dilute with low salt concentrations.
The diluted blood can then cause your brain to swell, stopping it from regulating vital functions such as breathing, and causing death. In water intoxication, there is no time for the body to adjust and maintain equilibrium. Brain is enclosed in bony box called skull which does not allow expansion beyond a limit thereby leading to adverse compression (conning) as it swells from excess water consumption. Warning signs include confusion and headaches. Symptoms would normally occur very soon after drinking the water, but if the gut is absorbing the water more slowly, then it can take longer. Drinking several liters over a relatively short period of time could be enough to cause water intoxication. Other symptoms of hyponatremia include confusion, disorientation, nausea and vomiting. Cough and sudden breathlessness occur when the lungs are congested with water.
There are certain clinical conditions such as chronic heart disease, heart failure or renal failure where there are restrictions to the amount of water that they can consume because taking too much water in excess of what their body can cope with will increase their risks of overhydration. If you are in this condition, your water intake should be as advised by your doctor. You cannot participate in “water therapy”. The message here is not to stop taking water but to know your limit and daily requirement. The biggest thing for you is to monitor fluid loss through sweat and urine and balance it with intake.
Why do we need water?
As mentioned earlier, right quantity of water in the body is essential to maintain the balance of essential minerals. The functions of water include temperature regulation, especially keeping you cool by allowing you to sweat when you get hot. The gastrointestinal tract/gut is kept moist to aid digestion and processing of food thereby making the absorption of nutrients and passage of waste easy.
There are certain conditions where you need to take more water as found in very hot weather, febrile illness and after an exercise where you have lost water through sweat. When you lose more fluid than you take in, you become dehydrated, this is a particular problem when:
The quantity of water you take depends on your activities, the environment and types of food consumed. Approximately four glasses of water or a liter a day is obtained from the food that we eat. So we get that from solid foods and things such as watermelon, tea, coffee, milk and yogurt, which all contribute to our total fluid load. Caffeinated drinks do have a mild diuretic effect (ie they promote water loss) but you get more fluid from them than you lose. Note that alcohol makes you dehydrated. About 250mls of water is produced in the body from metabolism of fat, protein and starch.
You will agree with me that daily water requirement is indivdualised but an average of 2.5 to 3 liters a day is recommended. Be cautious in that practice of water therapy and be extremely careful in that water drinking competition. Excess water intake can kill! Yes, water toxicity exists! Maintain a healthy heart!