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Drinking Too Much Water

In light of a recent incident, in which a radio show contestant died from water intoxication after taking part in a contest to see how much water one could drink without going to the bathroom, I thought there should be clarity on what happened. Drinking water is essential to living, but there are ways that you can die from drinking too much water. A concerned reader wrote:

Perhaps you might consider updating your excellent article about drinking water in light of the death today of a young mother of three who induced hyponatremia by drinking water for a radio station contest.

I have written several articles about the importance of drinking water, including the following:

Three Steps to Weight Loss -- Discusses the importance of adding water to your diet for weight loss.  Burning fat requires water and oxygen.

Can you Die from Drinking Too Much Water? -- Discusses how an athlete can die from profuse water intake, a hot sweaty environment, a long period exertion, and alack of sodium/potassium replacement.

What the mother of three died from on the radio show was a condition called hyponatremia (meaning -- a potentially fatal disturbance in brain function that results when the normal balance of electrolytes (salt, potassium) in the body is pushed outside of safe limits by a very rapid intake of water.  She drank nearly two gallons of water in a VERY short period of time. 

It is safe to sip water throughout the day and drink water with every meal, but you must add food that contains a healthy amount of salt and potassium. Having ONE banana or kiwi can make a difference in your electrolyte balances. You will notice that you must use the restroom every 1-2 hours. This too keep the balance (water and salts) in check.

The difference in a healthy amount of water intake and doing the above, is that you stretch that amount of water over the course of 24 hours, 4-5 meals (containing some potassium and sodium), and use the restroom when you need to. 

Typical Water intake for active people should be vary according to weight.  A easy formula to remember is (1/2 body weight in pounds = ____ oz of water that you should drink in a day).  So  200 lb person should get at least 100oz. in a day.

Important Note:
If a person who is on a restricted sodium diet, drinks ONLY ½ a gallon (1.8 liters) in one sitting without using the restroom, that person could die from hyponatremia – water intoxication.  However, the same holds true for a normal diet of sodium intake, but the limit increases to more than three liters of water in a SINGLE sitting. The Safe thing to do when it comes to water consumption is to drink just before you are thirsty – do not try to fit universally recommend amounts of water into a short period of time.  Water consumption should be done throughout the day – not in a chugging effort to play catch-up because you missed the daily recommended amount.

Remember -- Everything in Moderation:  Food, Water, Alcohol etc, even Exercise…

I hope this clears up any confusion from the importance of water and the danger for us all to abuse water and hurt ourselves without even knowing.  If you have any questions about any of the articles, feel free to email me, I can share the medical studies I referenced when discussing conditions such as these.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at



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