Health experts are forever telling Americans to drink more water. They say to drink water to lose weight, to replace fluid lost through sweat, and just as an example of good overall health.
But can you drink too much water? The answer is “Yes!” and the results of overdoing it when it comes to water could be fatal.
This month in suburban Atlanta, a 17-year-old boy died after consuming copious amounts of water and Gatorade following a rigorous football practice. The family of Zyrees Oliver reported that he drank two gallons of water and two gallons of Gatorade that day.
He collapsed shortly after practice and fell into a coma. He was taken off life support a few days later.
Oliver’s physicians believe that he died from overhydration, which caused a swelling of the brain. It is not known at this time if there was an underlying condition present which contributed to his death.
Overhydration, or hyponatremia, is rare, but is more prevalent in athletes who often drink large amounts of fluids when exercising to avoid dehydration.
Dr. Mark Flodin, a Tampa, Florida physician explained this phenomenon in an interview with news station WTSP.
“When you drink too much water, especially if it’s done rapidly, the water shifts into the cells, causing the cells to swell, and the cell dies,” Flodin said. “In this case, the brain, which is in a rigid box, the skull, it has nowhere to go. If it begins to swell, the brain rapidly dies.”
The good news is that overhydration can be avoided. Experts urge athletes to drink fluids in moderation. If you're not thirsty, that is typically a good indication that your body doesn't need more water. Likewise, if your urine is a pale yellow color, you're probably getting enough fluid.
Drinking water is still crucial to your health, so don’t skimp on the fluids. However, they should be taken in moderation. Don’t overdo it!
For athletes, especially those who participate in high intensity activities, a good rule is to drink only as much fluid as you lose during the activity.
Anyone who is concerned about overhydration should speak to their doctor about their concerns.