Saturday, June 23, 2012

Whenever water is involved, you always hear or read,
“Drink water, it’s good for you!”
“Constantly drinking water helps you lose weight”
“Want great skin? Drink lots of water!”
“Want to live a healthier lifestyle? Drink lots of water!”
But have you ever heard, “too much of one thing is not good for you?”
Water is one of the worlds most precious and valued commodities gifted to us in abundance by Mother Earth, without water, we would essentially die of thirst. It helps us to stay healthy, helps us to stay fit, helps to flush out toxins that may cause severe harm to your body. But in today’s seemingly health crazy world, it is easy to go overboard for the sake of getting better faster, because everything has its risks. Water is no different. As hard as it may seem, over consumption of water can have severe side effects, with the extreme cases allowing you to finally see the “big white light.”
Drinking too much water can lead to a condition known as water intoxication and resulting in the dilution of sodium in the body called hyponatremia. Our kidneys help control the amount of water and salts entering and leaving our body.
According to Joseph Verbalis, chairman of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, a healthy kidney at rest can excrete 800 to 1,000 milliliters, or 0.21 to 0.26 gallon, of water and therefore a person can drink water at a rate of 800 to 1,000 milliliters per hour without experiencing a net gain in water. But if water is guzzled down too quickly in a short period of time, your kidneys work on overdrive to help eliminate the excess water to keep your body concentration levels safe.
One of the more well known cases of water intoxication happened during the year of 2007, in California, when a woman was found dead in her house, just few hours after winning radio competition called “Hold Your Wee for a Wii”, where the contestants had to constantly be drinking water and they should hold themselves from going to the loo, with the winner being the person who held it the longest.
Jennifer Strange, 28, a mother of three, won the competition, but then started complaining of a headache. When it got worse, she called alled her office to tell that she wouldn’t be able to make it into work on that day, instead going home to rest. That was the last anyone heard of her. She consumed 2 gallons of water in the space of 3 hours.
According to Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., a doctorate of philosophy in biomedical sciences from the University of Tennessee and writer for, when too much water enters the body’s cells, the tissues swell with the excess fluid. Your cells maintain a specific concentration gradient, so excess water outside the cells (the serum) draws sodium from within the cells out into the serum in an attempt to re-establish the necessary concentration. As more water accumulates, the serum sodium concentration drops — a condition known as hyponatremia. Both electrolytes and water move across the cell membrane in an effort to balance concentration. Theoretically, cells could swell to the point of bursting.
Swelling puts pressure on the brain and nerves, which can cause behaviors resembling alcohol intoxication. Swelling of brain tissues can cause seizures, coma and ultimately death unless water intake is restricted and a hypertonic saline (salt) solution is administered.
Most cells have room to stretch because they are embedded in flexible tissues such as fat and muscle, but this is not the case for neurons. Brain cells are tightly packaged inside a rigid boney cage, the skull, and they have to share this space with blood and cerebrospinal fluid, explains Wolfgang Liedtke, a clinical neuroscientist at Duke University Medical Center. “Inside the skull there is almost zero room to expand and swell,” he says.
Thus, brain edema, or swelling, can be disastrous. “Rapid and severe hyponatremia causes entry of water into brain cells leading to brain swelling, which manifests as seizures, coma, respiratory arrest, brain stem herniation and death,” explains M. Amin Arnaout, chief of nephrology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Disastrous as it may seem, people should not panic. The amount of water that an average person consumes differs on the basis of age, body size and the country they live in, it also depends on the amount of physical activity a person does. The biggest sign when your body needs fluids is when you are thirsty, a parched tongue and the urge to drink water is an indication that your body needs fluids. Don’t go overboard and you should be able to live a long and healthy life.
The writer is a first year postgraduate student studying MA Media and Communications in Manipal University, Dubai.