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Can You Drink Too Much Water?



Nothing marks the Aussie summer like sport in the hot sun. But it’s not just athletes sweating it out at the moment. So are millions of workers around Australia. This is the time of year when our filtered water taps get their biggest workout of the year. That’s great! That’s what they’re for. We all know we need to hydrate, but can you overdo it? Can you drink TOO much water? The short answer is, yes.

Drinking too much water can be unhealthy, and can even lead to death in extremely rare cases.  How can that be correct? When you guzzle down so much that your kidneys can’t handle it, you can reduce the sodium levels in your blood. This is better known as water poisoning or water intoxication. That is, it’s when there is too much water in your blood, so your brain literally stops to function.  

So how much is too much?

According to a YouTube Video released by The American Chemistry Society, it takes about 6 litres of water to kill a 75kg person. According to Scientific American, water intoxication has occurred in people who challenge themselves to water drinking contests, or athletes who over-hydrate when training.

Too much water dilutes the electrolytes in your blood, especially sodium. When sodium levels fall below 135 mmol/L, it is called hyponatremia. Sodium helps balance fluids between the inside and outside of cells. When sodium levels drop due to excess water consumption, fluids shift from the outside to the inside of cells, causing them to swell. When this happens to brain cells, it can produce dangerous and potentially life-threatening effects.

If you're sweating 500ml per hour, that’s what you should be drinking."

According to Joseph Verbalis, Chairman of Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, “every hour, a healthy kidney at rest can excrete 800ml to 1 litre of water and therefore a person can drink water at a rate of 800ml to 1 litre per hour without experiencing a net gain in water.” If that same person is running a marathon, however, the stress of the situation will increase vasopressin levels, reducing the kidney's excretion capacity to as low as 100ml per hour. Drinking 800ml to 1 litre of water per hour under these conditions can potentially lead a net gain in water, even with considerable sweating, he says. While exercising, "you should balance what you're drinking with what you're sweating," and that includes sports drinks. "If you're sweating 500ml per hour, that’s what you should be drinking," Verbalis advises

But how much am I sweating?

According to Active.com, the simplest way to measure your ‘sweat rate’ is to weigh yourself without clothes on before exercising/working for an hour. After one hour of exercise/work, find a place to strip down and weigh yourself again.

Assuming you did not use the toilet or consume any fluids during exercise, your weight loss is your sweat rate. If you have staff operating heavy machinery in a hot factory or warehouse, this free and simple exercise could help staff understand how much they should be drinking, and could save lives.

Should I be concerned?

After more than ten years of installing and maintaining thousands of filtered drinking water taps, we have never heard of anyone suffering water intoxication at our client’s premises. Clients should still understand the risks however, particularly in outdoor and hot indoor workplaces. We can also learn from overseas lapses of common sense, such as tragic American radio water drinking contest “hold your wee for a wii.”

Common sense suggests that dehydration, and poor safety related decisions made as a result – are much more of a risk than over-hydration in Australian conditions. For example, a busy fork-lift driver working in a 40-degree warehouse seems infinitely more likely to hurt themselves due to dehydration than over-hydration.  

Water intoxication is so rare, that there is a real chance, like the radio station example, that people could be ignorant of the risks. With that in mind, if you notice someone rapidly drinking several litres of water, it could be wise to warn them.    

Workplace locations or situations for heightened awareness include:

  • Gyms: We can all tend to overdo things from time to time. This is particularly likely with the inexperienced that might not be sure how much they should be drinking. 
  • Hot factories and warehouses. Dehydration or over-hydration and heavy machinery can be dangerous combination.
  • Mental Health Facilities:  Psychogenic polydipsia is the psychiatric disorder in which patients feel compelled to drink large quantities of water. This puts them at risk of water intoxication. This condition can be especially dangerous if the patient also exhibits other psychiatric indications (as is often the case), as the care-takers might misread the hyponatremic symptoms. Allowing such patients unsupervised access to water sources would not be advisable. 
  • Strenuous team building activities:  Half-marathon challenges and Kokoda Trail expeditions can all be amazing experiences, but it pays to learn about keeping your hydration balanced! 
     

Water intoxication treatments

This blog does not constitute medical advice. Urgently seek expert medical help if you suspect someone may be suffering water intoxication. Their advice could vary from simply stopping water intake, to calling an ambulance. Doctor prescribed treatment examples are diuretics for urination and water elimination. When in doubt, ask.

AquaClear offer national supply, installation, rental and ongoing maintenance of all major brands of drinking water filters. Bookings or enquires: www.aquaclear.com.au  1300 070 007. 

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