Drinking enough water has become a national obsession. But are you drinking too much water?
From flawless skin, abundant energy, a detoxed body and appetite suppression, the world and his dog insists you must drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
But with many reported cases of water intoxication in the media, some experts are questioning the current guidelines.
Indeed, over-hydration, or water intoxication, can cause:
- even death.
Incidents of water intoxication are thankfully rare. It involves drinking gallons of water in a very short period.
When this occurs, large amounts of salt are lost and there’s an influx of water in the intracellular space.
The resulting syndrome, known as hyponatremia, causes:
- impaired performance.
Of course, this is the opposite goal of healthy hydration!
5 Signs You’re Drinking Too Much Water.
1. Drinking When You’re Not Thirsty.
Carrying around a bottle of water has become the default mode for many.
But continually drinking too much water, however, can cause us to become ‘aquaholics’.
Professor Mark Whiteley of the Whiteley Clinic, London, explains that drinking too much water over an extended amount of time ‘resets the brain’s chemistry to expect excessive amounts of water’.
Evolution has taught us when our body needs water by triggering the thirst reflex.
So why do we feel the need to override this delicate balance?
Check out what other experts say…
Dr Tamara Hew-Butler, PhD at Oakland University recommends:
“Drink according to thirst…following thirst as a real-time guide is safe and effective”.
2. Your Pee is Transparent.
For many, this is the (ahem) ‘gold standard’, of hydration health.
But if your urine is colourless or transparent or there’s a large volume of it, you’re possibly drinking too much water.
As always, there are exceptions:
- Strenuous exercise, hot baths and saunas may require compensation for the loss through heavy perspiration.
- High temperatures, high altitude and low humidity can lead to water loss through the lungs and skin up to 10x greater than normal.
Therefore, aim for a pale yellow or straw colour. Any darker and you’re possibly dehydrated.
3. Frequent Bathroom Visits.
A healthy person should urinate around 5 or 6 times each day and none while asleep.
‘When we fall asleep, our brains release ADH, anti-diuretic hormone, to slow down kidney function and stop us feeling the need to urinate during the night,’ says Professor Whiteley.
“If you drink two or three glasses of water in the evening, however, all that extra fluid working its way through your system is likely to override the effect of ADH, fill your bladder, and have you getting up in the small hours”.
Following his recommendations, I now restrict water intake 2 – 3 hours before my head hits the pillow. I don’t wake up for the loo as much and my quality of sleep is much better!Drink according to thirst…following thirst as a real-time guide is safe and effectiveClick To Tweet
4. Muscle Weakness and Fatigue.
Drinking too much water can deplete your levels of magnesium and calcium.
These electrolytes are key regulators of muscular contraction.
A deficiency of these two minerals can bring on muscular weakness, fatigue, tremors and cramps.Drinking too much water can deplete your levels of magnesium and calcium.Click To Tweet
We’ve already discussed the swelling effect that hyponatremia can cause to our cells.
So what happens when our brain swells from drinking too much water?
Fortunately, this organ can swell up to 8 – 10% before it reaches the skull.
Unfortunately, once this limit is reached it has nowhere else to go.
The resulting intracranial pressure causing headache or migraine.
So How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day?
As we’ve discussed, much depends on your activity levels and location.
Recommending 8 glasses a day is based on the average adult in the average environment.
It may surprise you to discover that this daily recommendation has no scientific backing.
Dr Imran Rafi, chairman of clinical innovation and research at the Royal College of GPs, says:
“There is no steadfast recommendation as to how much water people should drink in order to stay healthy. The key thing is to keep hydrated”.
Perhaps even more surprising: the 8 glasses guideline includes the water we don’t see.
For example, the hidden water content of food (50 – 70% in meats and 75 – 96% in fruits).
Even the water produced by our own bodies (a process known as metabolic oxidation).
Dr Rafi adds:
“Patients should keep their fluids up when unwell, particularly in conditions that can cause dehydration”.
These would include:
- Kidney disease, diabetes, diarrhea and vomiting. All can cause higher than normal fluid loss which needs to be replaced.
- The aged and infirm. Often the thirst reflex is muted. Balance is key – too much is just as dangerous as too little. Older hearts and kidneys can’t expel water as fast.
What About Tea, Coffee, Milk and Fruit Juices?
Can we include other beverages into our recommended allowance?
David Wheeler, Professor of Kidney Medicine seems to think so:
“You really don’t have to drink water to keep the body hydrated and the kidneys functioning. Fluid is fluid as far as the body is concerned, with the exception of alcohol, which has a diuretic effect and can dehydrate us.”
How to Tell if You’re Drinking Enough.
Perhaps the best approach is to go by thirst and the colour of your urine.
If it’s dark you’re probably dehydrated.
Consider that reviews have failed to find that there’s any evidence that drinking more water than we need delivers on its promise.
Dr Hew-Butler adds: “Modest levels of dehydration are tolerable and pose little risk in healthy individuals…Excessive fluid replacement that goes beyond thirst has not been shown to decrease the development of fatigue, muscle cramping or exertional heat stroke’.
The bottom line: Lubricate, don’t flood!Lubricate; don't flood!Click To Tweet
Thanks for reading. Do you feel that you’re possibly drinking too much water? Perhaps you’re already an aquaholic? Please leave your comments below, I want to hear from you!
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