All the major systems of your body depend on water to work properly. Drinking adequate water helps your body regulate temperature, prevent constipation, flush out waste products and perform all major bodily functions. However, drinking too much water can also be dangerous. Overhydration can lead to water intoxication. This occurs when the amount of salt and electrolytes in your body become too diluted. Hyponatremia is a condition where sodium levels become dangerously low.
What is overhydration?
Overhydration is an imbalance of fluids. It happens when your body takes in or holds on to more fluid than your kidneys can remove. Drinking too much water or not having a way to remove it can cause water levels to build up. Endurance athletes — those who run marathons and triathlons — sometimes drink too much water before and during an event.
Types of overhydration
Increased water intake: This occurs when you drink more water than your kidneys can remove through your urine. This can cause too much water to collect in your bloodstream.
Retaining water: This occurs when your body can’t get rid of water properly. Several medical conditions can cause your body to retain water.
The Institute of Medicine established guidelines for adequate water intake recommends that a healthy adult drink about nine to 13 cups of fluids per day, on average. In a healthy person, urine is a good indicator of hydration status. Pale yellow urine is a good goal, darker urine means you need more water, and colourless urine means you are overhydrated.
Some conditions and medicines cause overhydration. These include:
Congestive heart failure
MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy
Nausea or vomiting
Changes in mental state such as confusion and disorientation
Endurance athletes can reduce the risk of overhydration by weighing themselves before and after a race. This shows how much water they have lost and need to replenish. While exercising, try to drink two to four cups of fluid per hour. If you are exercising longer than an hour, sports beverages are also an option. These drinks contain sugar, along with electrolytes such as sodium and potassium which you lose in sweat.
Treatments may include:
Cutting back on your fluid intake.
Taking diuretics to increase the amount of urine you produce.
Treating the condition that caused overhydration.
Stopping any medications that caused the problem.
Replacing sodium in severe cases.
Always hydrate yourself adequately and appropriately based on your thirst, and also the required amount for the day.
The writer is founder and chief nutritionist at Sano Holistic Nutrition Clinic