Monthly Archives: March 2015
Water is the substance of life. Without our innate thirst to drive us to consume water, we perish. But just as water is a life-sustaining essential, it can also work as a poison. A shocking fact, but true. If this surprises you, read on…
Water as a Poison
Water poisoning, water intoxication, or if you prefer the scientifically profound term…dilutional hyponatremia is a potentially fatal state in which your body becomes chemically imbalanced by simply having too much water at a given time. Overhydration can spell death if the quantities of electrolytes, particularly sodium, in the body are diluted too much to reach minimum survival limits.
With too much water at a given period, the cells in your body bloat. The water permeates the cell membranes via a process called osmosis. Electrolytes, concentrated mostly within the cells, passes back out through membranes because the concentration outside the cells now is so much reduced from water dilution. In effect, both water and electrolytes move in and out of the cells with the body’s desperate measures to maintain some balance.
Bloated tissues and electrolyte imbalance can cause reactions akin to drowning. Heartbeat begins to be irregular, eyelids flutter, and water can get into the lungs. The brain and nerves are pressured by the sudden high volume of fluids, threatening damage which manifests at first as symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Brain swelling can cause seizures worsening into a coma and eventually death.
The way out of this situation is through an imposition of liquid restriction and administration of a hypertonic salt solution early into the condition. Early treatment is the key before tissue swelling can cause much damage. One can hope for a complete recovery a few days after, in this case.
Death by Water: How does this Happen?
It is not the amount of water per se that makes it so dangerous. It is the sheer volume coupled with the speed of intake within a short time period that leads to water intoxication. Nothing bad will happen if you imbibe 10 litres as long as this is paced over time within the day. Actually adult kidneys can process a good 15 litres of water drunk in staggered amounts throughout the day; but the kidneys cannot handle 15 litres in one blow. It’s like dumping too much data on your computer’s processor at one instant that it just crashes from the sheer mass of work it has to do.
While this is incredibly hard to believe knowing that normally, we have a natural failsafe in our satiation levels, there are situations in which these satiation signals are either ignored, challenged, or unknowingly breached.
Marathon runners have died of excess water intake, in the attempt to hydrate themselves. Prolonged physical activities usually trigger the body to conserve water, a reaction that signals the kidneys to lower the excretion rate to as low as 100 ml. per hour. Normal kidney excretion rate is 800 to 1000 ml. per hour. That is why endurance athletes must be in tune with their body’s thirst barometer. The simple rule to follow: Drink only when thirsty.
Drugs can also alter one’s thirst perception. Take the case of Ana Wood, an Australian teenager who died of water intoxication, after taking ecstasy at a Sydney rave party. Overheating is a side effect of ecstasy use so users have the mistaken notion that drinking a lot of water would counteract the effects. The young girl experienced excessive nausea, sleep confusion, and convulsions before slipping into a coma from which she would never wake.
Recently, Zyrees Oliver, a 17-year-old football player of a highschool in Georgia, U.S. succumbed to hyponatremia after drinking 15 litres (4 gallons) of fluids with the hope of staving off cramps at practice. Oliver drank 7.5 litres (2 gallons) of water and 7.5 litres (2 gallons) of Gatorade. Although he felt better later that night, the poor boy collapsed the following day with a swollen brain and never recovered.
Babies are also susceptible to water poisoning, especially if they are under a year old. Because their bodies are very small, they could mistakenly be given more liquids than their body mass and sodium stores can take.
How Much Water Is Safe?
Most adults need about 2.8 litres of fluids in a day, some of which can come from the food you eat. One needs, however, more or less than this average mean depending on the weather or your activity. Normally, drinking 1 litre (4 cups) of water within one hour won’t harm you. As long as you are healthy, your natural satiation point will tell you when enough is enough; so get into one of the best lifestyle habits to acquire: listen to your body.
Although water is life, it can also mean death when abused. This just goes to show that too much of a good thing can be bad.