You CAN drink too much water

I’ve almost killed myself two different times. Neither of them was on purpose, but rather because I did not have a clear understanding of the guidance that I got from doing “healthy” things.

Pick up any magazine with tips and advice about how to lose weight and be healthy and it will tell you to drink more water.

Going to a potluck and worried about grazing? Be sure to drink a big glass of water before you go.

Worried about overeating this holiday? Make sure to drink 16oz of water beforehand.

Are you hungry, or just thirsty?

Start your day with a tall glass of water to start your day right!

Now this is normally good advice. According to some studies, some 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated.

As an overachieving hydrator, I am accustomed to drinking a lot of water. There are so many health benefits to staying well hydrated!

When I was in high school, I started drinking ~18oz of water every morning as soon as I woke up. I would often wake up, walk into the bathroom, fill up my large glass of water, and proceed to drink it while simultaneously peeing in the toilet!

It was kind of an obsession.

That’s when I also started carrying around a water bottle everywhere I went so I was never at risk of being without water.

Ok, maybe a full on obsession.

What I didn’t know at the time was that it is possible to drink too much pure H2O water.

There’s a bike ride every summer between Seattle and Portland called the Seattle to Portland (STP). I had wanted to do it for a while and in the summer of 2006, I got my opportunity. I was in my early 20s and full of feelings of invincibility.

I had already survived one self-imposed near death experience, finished college, and living in rural Central America by myself for two years.

I could certainly make a ~200 mile bike ride over the course of two days.

I got some new gear to help me along with my ride, including a 1.5 L Camelbak hydration backpack so I wouldn’t have to fuss with a water bottle.

My dad was the brave soul that agreed to do the ride with me. We drove up to Seattle the night before the ride with our bikes and all of our gear. We “carb-loaded” that night in Seattle over pasta.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, we met with the other thousands of crazy riders who were prepped for tackling the STP.

It actually wasn’t bright at all, in fact, it was a quite stereotypical day in Seattle – grey and dreary. But we were ready!

We took off and started riding south. Our goal was to make it to an aproximate half-way point where we would sleep for the night and finish the last ~90 miles of the ride.

All along the route, I happily sipped on my little Camelbak straw that was conveniently positioned right near my mouth. I also regularly nudged my dad that he wasn’t drinking enough water and that he really needed to get on it.

Since STP is a fully organized event, there were stop points and water stations set up all along the route. They also offered hydration drinks to fill your bottle. Since I was a water purist, I stuck with the unadulterated water

The first day went well, and the spaghetti dinner at the school where we stayed was a nice break from energy bars and goos.

Day two started much like day one, aside from my extremely tender backside. It got better a few miles in, and we enjoyed the rest of our ride into Portland.

We drove home after a brief celebration at the finish line and got a ride home.

Within a couple hours of getting home, I started getting a headache. It wasn’t so bad, and I figured I was probably tired and dehydrated from the strenuous past two days. We ate dinner and I got ready for bed.

But the persistent headache just wouldn’t subside.

Having recently arrived from Central America, my first thought was that maybe I had malaria that sat dormant in my system and got triggered from the intense activity, you know, something “logical” like that.

By about 11:00 that night, I couldn’t bear it any longer. The headache had gotten progressively worse, and I was feeling lightheaded.

Since my mind jumped to extreme conclusions like latent mosquito-borne malaria, I decided I needed to go to the emergency room.

Once there, my symptoms worsened into projectile vomiting, feeling faint as well as chilled and irritable, extreme tiredness, and I made a mess of the emergency lobby while waiting to see a doctor. To be fair, many of these are symptoms of dehydration or malaria.

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Symptoms of malaria (which can indeed lie dormant for up to a year in your body):

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • General feeling of discomfort
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cough

I remember going back into the emergency treatment area and getting hooked up to an IV drip of a rehydration solution. That’s when everything went black.

I woke up out of a wild dream about being tied down in a castle. I came to find out that I had had a grand mal seizure and continued unconscious seizing for two days in the ICU of the hospital. The doctors had to restrain me in my hospital bed to prevent me from ripping out the PICC lines in my arm and neck bringing me electrolytes and nutrients.

I wasn’t sore from my long ride and felt alive and refreshed; almost like a reboot. I had a hard time recognizing my boyfriend at the time and could not recall any of the Spanish I’d honed over the past couple of years, and thankfully, it all came back within a few days.

I’ve never had another seizure or similar experience.

And I don’t want you to either! It was an extremely expensive and dangerous accidental experiment.

What I experienced is called hyponatremia, and it’s caused by an imbalance of electrolytes, specifically, abnormally low levels of sodium.

Symptoms of hyponatremia include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Loss of energy, drowsiness and fatigue
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
  • Seizures
  • Coma

My dad would have been exceptionally smug about my unfounded nagging that he drink more water over the course of our ride had he not been so traumatized that he had almost lost his only child to over-hydration.

I'm not alone

Back in 2007, a woman died in a radio competition “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” where participants were challenged to drink the most water without having to go to the restroom. She tragically died of acute water intoxication to try and win her kids a video game console. She drowned herself.

Just this month, Brooke Shields went public that she had a grand mal seizure in September after drinking too much water. Like me, she lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, that was not the outcome for this other mother.

Let me know – have you ever experienced water toxicity? Leave a comment below.

A hydration rule of thumb

Using the Imperial measurement system:

Take your body weight in pounds (lbs). Divide that number in half, and these are the number of ounces (oz) of water to drink in a day UP TO 100 ounces

For example: If you weigh 140lbs, then you should shoot for 70oz of water each day

However, if you drink caffeine, take certain medicines, or consume other dehydrating foods like sugar, then, for every 8oz of diuretic need to drink another 12-16oz of water UP TO 100oz.

But the trick is not just how much water to drink, but also when and what else to consider while drinking it.

  • Drink small sips of water throughout the day so your cells have time to assimilate it, otherwise, it just goes through your system too quickly and is eliminated (and potentially damaging your kidneys)

  • If you are sweating a lot or feeling like you’re just not getting hydrated, add a few grains of sea salt into your water for some electrolytes

I see challenges and advice to drink a gallon of water each day to clean up skin problems, help with weight loss, and solve all your problems.

Don’t do it.

Or, at least, don’t go into a challenge like this blindly.

Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of the water we drink throughout the day. That’s why we added it as a healthy habit to track in The Agile Life Plan 4-week kick-start free course. Try it out for yourself 🙂

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