How Much Water is Too Much? (According to a Dietician)

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Water is an essential nutrient – meaning we need it to survive. Most of our bodies are composed of water (approximately 60%). This is because water plays a key role in maintaining overall health and helping our bodies to function at its best.

Proper hydration is essential to ensure that our bodies function properly, however misconceptions on hydration can certainly lead to dehydration or overhydration.

In this article, we will discuss the significance of proper hydration and dive a little deeper into the potential risks of excess water intake.

📌 Key Takeaways

  • Water is a vital nutrient for a variety of bodily functions
  • Recommended water intake varies depending on a variety of factors including age, gender, physical activity, climate, and certain health conditions.
  • Drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or in more severe cases seizures and death
  • Most people don’t have to worry about drinking too much water, they need to focus on drinking enough water.

💧 The Role of Water in the Human Body

As mentioned, water is a vital nutrient that our bodies depend on. It serves in a variety of critical functions of the body, including the transportation of nutrients and oxygen to cells, regulating our body’s temperature, eliminates body waste and toxins, lubricates joints and more.

👩‍⚕️ Without water, our bodies do not perform optimally, which impacts both our physical and mental health. For more information on the benefits of drinking water, please visit this article.

Woman drinking a glass of water

✅ Recommended Water Intake

Recommended water intake varies from person to person due to a variety of factors. Water needs will vary depending on age, gender, body weight, your physical activity level, how much you sweat, where you live (climate) and health conditions such as heart failure or kidney disease.

For example, someone who lives at high altitude will need more water than someone who lives at sea level. Endurance athletes will generally need more water than someone who is more sedentary due to the water loss through sweat, breathing etc.

However, for the most part, 9-13 cups per day should be enough to meet your daily fluid needs based on the National Academy of Medicine.

The dietary reference intakes suggest drinking 2.7-3.7 liters of water per day for women and men respectively. This is about 11-15.5 cups per day.

Special Considerations: Hydration for Children, Seniors, and Pregnant Women

We know that different age groups have unique hydration needs. Ensuring children stay properly hydrated is vital for their growth and development, however they will need less water than an adult due to their decreased size and height.

Pregnant women require increased water intake to support the needs of their growing baby. Additionally, those who are breastfeeding need increased water as well since the body is using water to help produce breast milk.

For seniors, who may experience reduced thirst sensation, staying hydrated becomes even more critical to avoid health complications like UTIs etc.

Children drinking water

🩺 Overhydration: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much Water

While most individuals struggle to drink enough water, drinking too much water is possible. Generally, there is no tolerable upper limit for water because if our bodies are healthy, we can usually excrete the extra water through our urine or sweat.

However, in some rare instances, when too much water is taken in faster than our kidney’s ability to excrete it, this can lead to water intoxication. This overhydration can lead to a dangerous electrolyte imbalance in the body called hyponatremia, specifically a low sodium concentration in the blood.

👩‍⚕️ What Causes Overhydration?

Health Conditions

The condition hyponatremia is usually only seen in those with health conditions where the kidneys, liver or heart are not functioning properly.

For example, those with chronic kidney disease will sometimes have fluid build up in their legs because their bodies have a challenging time excreting the excess water. This leads to excess water in the body resulting in low sodium levels and fluid edema.

Because of this, if you have chronic kidney disease, liver disease, or heart failure your doctor may have you restrict your sodium intake, water, or both.

However, it can also occur in those who may consume too much water in too short of a period of time.

Endurance Sports

It can also occur if someone is in extreme heat or in endurance athletes where they undergo strenuous exercise for a prolonged period of time.

Additionally, those who are very physically active such as marathon runners are at risk for this condition since they tend to drink a good amount of water, however at the same time they lose a good amount of water and sodium through sweat.

If the athlete doesn’t take in electrolytes, this can lead to hyponatremia. While it’s normally best to drink water, this is where sports drinks can be beneficial in order to replace the electrolytes lost through sweat.

Hyponatremia in athletes

🔎 Signs and Symptoms

It is important to be aware of the risks associated with excessive water intake. The excess fluid intake can dilute blood sodium levels.

This can cause swelling of cells, particularly in your brain cells, which can lead to confusion, nausea, seizures and muscle spasms. In severe cases, it could result in coma or death if not treated right away.

📋 How is Overhydration Diagnosed?

If you are having any of the above symptoms it would be recommended to see a doctor right away.

The doctor would then likely obtain general medical history and ask you questions regarding your symptoms. They would then need to run tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.

Generally, if overhydration is suspected they may run tests on your blood and urine. In addition they may track your urine output and weight.

Depending on severity of symptoms you may be monitored for a longer period of time.

💉 Treating Overhydration

Depending on the cause of your symptoms you may be treated with the following:

  • Restricting your fluid intake
  • Prescribing diuretics to help increase your urine production
  • Replace sodium
  • Treating the condition that caused hyponatremia

📑 Striking the Right Balance: Finding Your Optimal Water Intake

Finding the right balance of water intake is crucial for overall health. Instead of adhering to arbitrary rules like drinking eight glasses of water per day, it’s best to listen to your body’s thirst cues.

If you’re thirsty and your urine is dark, this means you’re dehydrated! This is what the majority of people need to work on! Additionally, consuming water-rich foods can contribute to your daily hydration needs.

During exercise or in extreme environmental conditions, adjusting water intake is necessary to stay adequately hydrated without overdoing it.

There are also tools and apps available to help track and monitor water consumption.

Feeling sick after drinking water

📥 Hydration Myths and Misconceptions

Several common misconceptions about water intake persist. One is the widely spread belief that one only needs to drink eight glasses of water per day.

While this may be a great place to start, water needs vary based on individual factors. Thirst, weight (lost weight) and urine color are excellent indicators of hydration status (aka the WUT rule).

Generally, if you have two out of the three criteria you are likely dehydrated. For example, if you are thirsty and your urine is dark you’re likely dehydrated. Additionally, if you’re thirsty, have lost weight and urine is dark you are very likely dehydrated.

Additionally, clear urine doesn’t always indicate proper hydration, and drinking excessive water is not without risks. Understanding the science behind these myths is essential for making informed decisions about water intake.

🔚 Conclusion

In conclusion, water is pertinent to our survival and performing everyday functions. While drinking water is important, excess consumption of water can lead to water intoxication.

Even though this is rare, it is important to understand your body’s hydration needs so you can stay properly hydrated. If you develop any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, it is recommended to see a health care provider right away particularly if you are experiencing more severe symptoms.

Remember to be mindful and pay attention to your urine color and thirst cues to know if you’re staying properly hydrated.

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Know if I Drank Too Much Water?

The symptoms of drinking too much water (overhydration) may look similarly to dehydration. For example, you may have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. You may also be disoriented and confused.

Is a Gallon of Water a Day Too Much?

A gallon of water per day would generally be too much water for a child. However, for adults, while it’s not necessary for your body to properly function, a gallon of water per day would not cause “overhydration” or water intoxication.

How Much Water is Too Much in a Day?

Most individuals don’t need to worry about drinking too much water. In fact, most individuals don’t drink enough water each day. With that being said, it is not recommended to drink more than 48 ounces of water in an hour since more than this can lead to the electrolyte imbalances discussed earlier in this article.

How Long Does it Take for Overhydration to Go Away?

Generally, it would vary depending on the severity of over hydration. Naturally, if you were having symptoms such as nausea or vomiting then this would likely clear up more quickly than if you developed severe symptoms such as a seizure.

If it is more mild symptoms this would likely clear up within a few hours after reducing water intake.

  • Roxanne Trotter
    MS, RDN

    Registered Dietitian Roxy, fueled by her love for food and wellness, tackles misinformation head-on. Her Master's in Human Nutrition and diverse experience (weight management, hospitals) equip her to translate complex health topics, especially those related to water quality. Through her own practice (Nutremedies LLC) and writing for Water Filter Guru, Roxy empowers readers with accurate, evidence-based information, helping them make informed choices for a healthier life, one sip at a time.

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