It’s no secret that staying hydrated is a key to good health. It’s a staple in the world of health and wellness, and it’s often one of the top recommendations from nutritionists, wellness coaches, trainers, and others in the wellness community.
Not taking in enough water can lead to a whole host of uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches, nausea, dry skin, fogginess, and of course in extreme cases, much more serious effects.
However, the idea of chugging water all day may actually sometimes do more harm than good. Some health professionals and researchers are warning that drinking too much water can be detrimental to our health, digestion, and metabolism.
In extreme cases, overhydration can lead to a condition called Hyponatremia, in which salt and other electrolyte levels in the body become dangerously low and can even lead to death. This is very rare and is occasionally seen in athletes during an intense event like a marathon, but it’s not what we’re talking about here. Instead, we’re talking about simply drinking too much water on a daily basis and the effects it can have on your health.
You can think of it this way: food is vital for health and life, but overeating can cause a whole range of issues. Just like that, we need water, but too much of it is a problem.
The following are just some of the effects of overhydrating.
We need a certain level of electrolytes in our body in order to function optimally, and when we are drinking too much water, we can over dilute them. As we mentioned, the extreme end of this is Hyponatremia, but even mild dilution can cause issues. Proper sodium levels are required for everything from balancing blood sugar to maintaining bone density, and water logging our cells prevents them from communicating and functioning properly.
“It’s all about increasing the nutrients – the electrolytes, including sodium – in our body fluids,” says Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Lauren Geertsen. “If we drink too much water, we decrease those nutrients and prevent our cells from working optimally. Water-logged cells are not happy cells! And when cells work optimally, it means that we have a high metabolism and healthy thyroid function.”
Dehydration can cause headaches but, annoyingly, so can overhydration. By diluting our sodium levels, the excess water can cause our cells to expand, resulting in a headache.
It seems hard to believe but drinking too much water can actually leave you feeling anxious and cranky. This is because your kidneys are working overtime to filter all of the extra water that you’re consuming, which taxes your adrenal glands and can lead to stress, anxiety, and even adrenal fatigue.
Drinking too much water can dilute your stomach acids, making it harder for your body to break down your food. This is especially prevalent if you’re drinking a lot of liquid with your meals. A small amount of water with your meals is okay but avoid drinking until after you’re done eating, if possible.
Diet advice 101 always seems to include drinking lots of water to fill up your stomach and boost your metabolism, but too much water can actually slow down your metabolism. Because excess water dilutes your sodium and glucose levels, it’s more difficult for your body to produce energy. Low energy means a slower metabolism (as well as general fatigue).
Other symptoms of overhydrating can include muscle cramping, nausea, and not surprisingly, frequent urination.
According to Healthline, the color of your urine is a great indicator of your level of hydration.
“In a healthy person, your urine is a good indicator of your hydration status. Pale yellow urine that looks like lemonade is a good goal. Darker urine means you need more water. Colorless urine means you are overhydrated.”
Another way to test if you’re drinking too much water is to check the temperature of your fingers and toes. If you’re extremities are always cold, it may be a sign that you are overhydrated. Of course, there are other factors that can lead to this, but it is something to look for.
So how can you ensure that you’re staying hydrated without over doing it?
First off, and this may seem obvious but it often no longer is, just drink when you’re thirsty. Humans are the only animals who over drink because we’ve lost touched with our own instinctual cues. If you need water, your body will tell you; if you don’t feel thirsty, don’t drink. If you’re a heavy water drinker, it may take a bit of time to break your habit of constantly reaching for your water bottle, but in time you’ll come back into balance with what your body needs.
Another tip that a number of health and wellness professionals recommend is to “eat your water” rather than drink it. Dermatologist and pharmacist Dr. Howard Murad argues that getting your water from whole foods is often preferable to drinking a glass of water.
“The water in fruits and vegetables is surrounded by molecules that help it get into cells easily,” he says. “For this reason, I encourage patients to eat – not drink – water. Fruit and vegetables are rich in healing antioxidants. They also contain trace minerals and B vitamins your body uses to metabolize carbohydrates, fat and protein.”
The food we eat has a surprising amount of water, so while we’re definitely not recommending that you give up beverages altogether, it is still possible to get a lot of hydration from your food. Cucumbers and watermelons, for example, are 97% water! And even roasted chicken breasts are 62% water.
You can also add some electrolytes to your water to make sure that you’re maintaining your electrolyte levels while staying hydrated. A pinch of good quality salt or a splash of natural fruit juice (particularly orange) are two great ways to add some nutrients into your water. Salted bone broth is another popular option for taking in nutrients with your liquids.
The last thing to keep in mind is that water intake requirements vary greatly from person to person or day to day. Factors like the temperature, time of year, amount of exercise, health conditions, etc. will have a major impact on the amount of water you drink. So, following a blanket statement, like you need to drink eight glasses of water a day, can lead you away from your body’s own guidance and requirements.
Bottom line: think of your water intake the way you think about food. While it is absolutely necessary, more isn’t always better. Tune in to what your body needs and you’ll find the right balance for you.