Drinking Too Much Of One Otherwise Healthy Liquid Per Day Can Kill You

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woman drinking water from glass

Most of us are reminded constantly to drink water — whether we're out in the heat, exercising, or just trying to stay hydrated. And we're no doubt familiar with the "8 glasses of water a day" encouragement.

But as it turns out, too much of a good thing does exist, and gulping down your 8 glasses or more of water per day can be extremely damaging.

Experts now warn that drinking water in this quantity isn't good for you and may actually be harmful.

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In the British Medical Journal, doctor and general practitioner Margaret McCartney said that drinking 8 glasses of water a day "is not only nonsense but is thoroughly debunked nonsense."

We've been told that drinking 8 glasses of water per day does wonderful things for your health — preventing urinary tract infections, improving the quality of your skin, helping with weight loss and digestion, and increasing concentration.

But McCartney disagrees and says that not only does drinking 8 glasses of water per day not deliver on those health benefits, it can also have detrimental effects — such as hyponatremia, a low-blood sodium condition common to marathon runners.

"If you're drinking excessively, if you're drinking beyond comfort, your kidneys are actually having to work very, very hard," McCartney said.

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At every moment, water is escaping from your body through sweating, going to the bathroom, or even exhaling. Replacing lost water is important, but rehydration can certainly be overdone, and there is such a thing as water intoxication

Water intoxication occurs when you drink too much water in a short period of time, resulting in the kidneys being unable flush the water out fast enough and the blood becomes waterlogged. 

The symptoms of water intoxication include headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, frequent urination, and mental disorientation.

Generally, the people who die from too much water are those who participate in water-drinking contests or athletes who mistakenly over-hydrate when training.

Of course, McCartney's claim that drinking the recommended amount of water per day is dangerous, there are others who completely disagree and consider this misleading.

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In a direct response to McCartney, Kinvara Carey, general manager of Natural Source Waters Association, said, "Over-hydration is very rare and usually only occurs when large amounts of water are consumed over a short period of time but not when spread over the day... Drinking water is one of the best ways to hydrate and contains zero sugar, calories, preservatives or additives."

So, while it seems that both are in agreement that over-hydration is dangerous, it's clear that water is an essential part of our health.

Now, if you shouldn't drink the "recommended" 8 glasses of water a day, how much water is safe to for you to drink? The Mayo Clinic recommends you drink enough fluids so you never feel thirsty, and so you can produce 6 cups of colorless or slightly yellow urine per day.

In other words, use your head when it comes to drinking water, and don't overdo it. Too much of a good thing, even when it's water, can be dangerous.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or her Instagram.

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted on April 25, 2018 and was updated with the latest information.