While staying hydrated is an important part of health — and survival — it’s actually possible to overdo it.
Water poisoning, also known as water intoxication, is a real thing, and it can be deadly. Awareness of water poisoning has increased recently, thanks to a series events that have also called into question just how much water people should be drinking daily. Here’s what’s been going on, as well as how concerned you should be about water intoxication.
Several recent headlines on hydration have raised some eyebrows. Most recently, Vanity Fair did a behind-the-scenes look at Marvel “secrets” and included a few tidbits about Chris Pratt being cast as Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. The initial story reported that a nutritionist Pratt worked with for the movie had him drink 220 glasses of water a day. “I was peeing all day long, every day,” Pratt said. “That part was a nightmare.”
That mention drew plenty of attention, with toxicologist Dr. Ryan Marino going viral on X (formerly known as Twitter) for calling it out. “This is not possible and is literally how you get water poisoning, which is really, really dangerous to do cause it’s really, really bad,” Marino wrote. “He absolutely did not do this, and you should not do this, too!”
The story was later edited to say this: “Marvel also introduced Pratt to nutritionist Philip Goglia, who increased Pratt’s caloric intake to 4,000 a day, plus one ounce of water for each pound the actor weighed.”
That story comes just weeks after news broke that Indiana mom Ashley Summers died after drinking too much water, too quickly. “At one point during the day, she started getting a bad headache,” her brother, Devon Miller, told Good Morning America. “So, she was drinking a lot of water.” According to Miller, his sister drank the equivalent of four 16-ounce water bottles in 20 minutes. She later collapsed inside her garage and died.
Do I need to worry?
Water intoxication is serious and can be fatal. It’s known medically as hyponatremia; this happens when a person drinks so much water that the electrolytes in their blood become diluted, Dr. Eric Adkins, an emergency room physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. In drinking too much water, “people are really worried about sodium, which is an electrolyte,” he says.
Among other things, sodium helps control your blood pressure, nerves and muscles, as well as balances the fluids in your body, according to the National Kidney Foundation. If your sodium levels get too low (below 135 milliequivalents per liter), extra water may enter your cells and cause swelling. That can lead to symptoms such as confusion, convulsions, headache, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. People can even experience seizures, brain swelling and death, Dr. Andrew C. Kline, emergency medicine physician at Corewell Health, tells Yahoo Life.
But while doctors say that water poisoning isn’t an overly common occurrence, it can happen. “We’ve seen so many people over the years who have done things like this, often as an attempt to ‘flush out toxins’ or as part of a special training or diet routine,” Dr. Lewis Nelson, chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. “It inevitably leads to significant harm.”
But your body is typically able to handle a little more water than usual, Dr. Natasha Trentacosta, sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, tells Yahoo Life. “Normally, drinking large amounts of water can be managed by the natural ability of our bodies to regulate water excretion through the combined efforts of the pituitary gland, kidneys, liver and heart,” she says.
Kline also says it’s “rare” for someone to accidentally have too much water that would cause serious problems. “When these situations do occur, it is usually intentional,” he says, citing competitive runners or endurance athletes trying to get well hydrated. This means that you’re unlikely to get water poisoning by accidentally drinking an extra bottle of water while you go about your daily routine.
What can I do about it?
There are a few things you can do to lower your risk of water poisoning, including keeping tabs on much water you regularly take in and being aware that you can get sick from having too much water, Adkins says.
Listening to your thirst cues is also a good idea, Kline says. “For a majority of patients, allowing thirst to guide your water consumption is a safe bet,” he says.
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that women strive to have around 11.5 cups of fluids — from food and water — a day, and that men should aim to have about 15.5 cups daily. But your body composition, how active you’ve been, how often you sweat and the temperature around you can also influence how much you should have, Nelson says, making it difficult to say that you shouldn’t have more than a set number of glasses of water a day.
A good way to measure your hydration is by monitoring your urine, Adkins says. “You want it to be light yellow to clear, but you shouldn’t be going to the bathroom every 15 minutes,” he says. “The body can’t keep up with that.”
The main takeaway
Doctors say that you shouldn’t live in fear of overhydration- but that you should be aware that water poisoning can happen.
“Anything in excess is a problem,” Nelson says. “Even water is toxic if you have too much.”
Gary Rose is a lifestyle connoisseur who celebrates the art of living well. She explores topics ranging from travel and fashion to home decor and culinary delights. Gary’s passion for aesthetics extends to her hobbies, which include photography and interior design.