So recently, my roommate told me, “I just read that one should not drink more than 2 liters of water a day, so I will only store that much for drinking”. Now, I kind of got triggered, because I’m a big fan of hydration. Believe me not, I’m a huge fan of water– cold, warm, flavored, unflavoured, still, sparkling. There was a time when I would hardly drink a liter of water a day. But ever since I upped my water intake, I’ve seen so many positive changes in my body that I can’t drink a lot of water. My average water intake is over 3 liters a day now, which MAY be a lot for me according to popular belief since I’m a petite female. So when she said that, I felt a little offended.
Water is an amazing thing. It is literally the elixir of life and the reason why life even exists on our planet. Our body too is 70% water by composition. So naturally, we need to keep ourselves hydrated to prevent all that water in our body from drying out. But too much of a good thing is also a bad thing. So too much water should also be bad for you, right? And so, I was forced to think, “how much water is too much water?”
The side-effects of too much water
For people who don’t know, water poisoning DOES exist. Water dilutes everything, and there are a lot of fluids in our body carrying all kinds of electrolytes necessary for its normal functioning. Electrolytes like calcium, sodium, and potassium ions are present in the bloodstream, governing different functions in the body. If we drink too much water, blood dilution decreases the concentration of these electrolytes. Low concentration of sodium and potassium in the blood causes a condition called hyponatremia, also called “water poisoning”. Its symptoms include headache, nausea, and dizziness.
Hyponatremia can be extremely dangerous as it can cause swelling in the brain, which in turn can result in stroke, hemorrhage, and even death. Apart from this, too much water also causes muscle cramps and adrenal fatigue. Excess water in the system means that your kidneys have to work that much harder to flush it out. This overworking of kidneys can cause muscle cramps due to fatigue. Too much stress on your kidneys can result in their abnormal functioning and injury.
But how much water is too much water?
The question here actually is wrong. There is something like too much water, but the quantity matters more when you consider the timeframe you drink it in. If you drink a total of 2 liters of water spaced throughout the day, nothing may happen to you. But if you drink that amount of water within 2 hours, it’s definitely going to cause you some discomfort. The human body can eliminate around 20-28 liters of water every day, but it cannot eliminate more than a liter of water per hour. So it doesn’t matter how much water you drink throughout the day as much as the amount of time you drink it in.
Basically, an average human can safely consume 20 liters of water a day, provided they aren’t drinking more than a liter an hour. Hyponatremia symptoms start showing if you consume around 1-1.5 liters of water within an hour and grow more serious as this amount of water in that hour increases. Most of the cases of death or stroke by hyponatremia occurred when the individuals consumed around 2 liters of water within an hour (on an average).
So how much water should you ideally drink?
Do yourself a favor, and let your body decide that for you. The human body is intelligent; it knows what it needs and when. So if your body is dehydrated, it will tell your brain to send thirst signals. All you have to do is listen to these signals, and replenish the water in your system. Now, of course, your ideal daily water intake is highly subjective to climatic conditions, your physical activity, and your weight. It also depends on any health issues that you may have. A person with a sedentary office job needs a lot less water than an athlete. Similarly, a pregnant or diabetic woman needs a lot more water than a normal woman. People living in tropical regions need more water than ones living in colder climates because they sweat more.
The medically approved baseline of your average water intake is around 3.5-4 liters for men, and 2.5-3 liters for women. If you are healthy and engage in minimal physical activity, this much water is sufficient for you. However, if you are suffering from a medical condition or engage in strenuous physical activity on a daily basis, increase your water intake by 0.5-1 liters.
Undoubtedly, water is the ultimate elixir of life. But nothing in this world is 100% good. Everything has a side-effect. So listen to your body, and learn to identify its needs. If you learn how to do so, your body will never give you any reason to complain. Happy hydrating!