The Truth About Drinking Water: Does It Really Hydrate You?

Water is essential for life, but drinking too much water can actually be dangerous. This article will examine the science behind hydration, signs of overhydration, who is at risk for water intoxication, and healthy recommendations for fluid intake.

The Dangers of Drinking Excessive Water

There is a condition called water intoxication or hyponatremia that can occur when you drink too much water. This causes an imbalance of electrolytes in the body, mainly a dilution of sodium levels.

What Is Water Intoxication?

Water intoxication, also known as water poisoning or overhydration, happens when you consume excessive amounts of water. This dilutes the sodium levels in your blood, creating an electrolyte imbalance. Sodium helps transport water into your cells. Without adequate sodium, extra water in your bloodstream cannot permeate into the cells.

Signs and Symptoms

Some symptoms of hyponatremia or water intoxication include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Brain swelling
  • Seizures

In severe cases, it can lead to a condition called cerebral edema where fluid accumulates around the brain causing dangerous swelling. There have even been deaths from consuming too much water like 6 liters within a 3 hour time span.

Who Is At Risk?

Certain populations have an increased risk of developing hyponatremia if they drink excessive amounts of plain water. These higher risk groups include:

  • Endurance athletes
  • People with adrenal fatigue
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Infants
  • Elderly
  • SSRI medications
  • Diuretic medications

Vomiting, diarrhea and sweating profusely can also contribute to an electrolyte imbalance. Consuming alcohol without electrolytes is another risk factor.

Healthy Water Intake Recommendations

So how much water should you aim to drink daily? Here are some general guidelines:

  • Drink when thirsty rather than forcing yourself to drink excessive water. Pay attention to your body’s signals.
  • Consume 2 – 2.5 liters (68 – 85 oz) of total fluids daily. This will vary based on your sweat rate.
  • No more than 1 – 1.5 liters per hour if you are doing vigorous exercise and sweating profusely.
  • Include electrolytes! This helps your cells absorb the water efficiently. Focus on sodium, potassium and magnesium.
  • If you are prone to kidney stones, make sure to drink at least 2 liters daily.
  • Be cautious drinking lots of plain water if you fall into any higher risk categories for low sodium levels.

Water can absolutely be beneficial for health, but it’s important not to go overboard. Make sure you are drinking an appropriate amount for your individual needs and activity level. Pay attention to signs of excessive water intake. Stay hydrated and healthy!


Water is an essential component of good health. However, it is possible to drink too much water which can lead to dangerously low sodium levels in a condition called hyponatremia. Pay attention to your thirst signals and avoid drinking excessive amounts of plain water without electrolytes. Those at higher risk should be especially cautious. When consumed sensibly, water is beneficial for keeping our bodies healthy and hydrated.