Let us guess: you’re slimming down this summer and the first step is basically OD’ing on water. Flushing out the system, right? Filling up on zero calories, right? Peeing it all out, right?
We love ourselves some good ol’ fashioned water. And we are so down with lemon water, too. But the question here is does drinking more water really help you lose weight? The short answer is yes—and no. That’s because if you’re already well hydrated, adding more water to your diet probably won’t make a lot of difference. Then again, if you’re walking around dehydrated, getting enough water into your system could help.
What you don’t want is to become an aquaholic, to become such an H2O devotee, that you’re in danger of overhydration. Have you become so obsessed about staying hydrated that you’re guzzling water to life-threatening extremes? Find out here.
What is Overhydration?
There are two types of overhydration: Increased water intake and retaining water. Increased water intake—or drinking more water than the kidneys can get rid of in the urine—can cause too much water to collect in the body.
When the body is unable to get rid of excess water, it is said to be retaining water. This happens with several medical conditions, for instance. It can be dangerous because it throws off the balance between water and sodium in the blood.
Overhydration caused by drinking too much water can occur both consciously and unconsciously. A person may drink too much water during exercise. Some medications can also cause dry mouth and cause an increase in thirst. Increased thirst can also be caused by uncontrolled diabetes. Psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia (primary polydipsia or psychogenic polydipsia) can also cause compulsive water drinking.
What Are the Symptoms of Overhydration?
Symptoms of overhydration may not be recognized in the early stages but can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in mental state (confusion or disorientation)
If left untreated, overhydration can lead to dangerously low levels of sodium in the blood (hyponatremia). This can cause more-severe symptoms, such as:
- Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
How Can Overhydration Be Prevented?
One rule of thumb is to avoid drinking more than one litre per hour of fluid. Drinking more fluids before and during a race or an intensive athletic exertion can also help you avoid the need to drink too much water afterwards. Instead, drink sports beverages that contain the electrolytes sodium and potassium, which you lose when you sweat.
How Much Water is Too Much Water?
So how do you know how much water you need?
For starters, don’t rely solely on thirst. As soon as you put water on your tongue, you kill your thirst mechanism. Instead, try these tips.
1. Weigh yourself daily for a week, to check hydration. Your body weight shouldn’t fluctuate too much.
2. Notice how much you pee—and its colour—in the morning. It should be a copious amount and pale or clear.
3. Aim to wake feeling hydrated. If you’re thirsty when you get out of bed in the morning, you may not be consuming enough fluids.
4. When choosing sports drinks, search for labels with low sugar, about 5 grams per 8-ounce serving. Even natural drinks like coconut water have too much sugar and potassium to hydrate.
5. Coffee, tea, and watery fruits and vegetables count toward fluid intake. Also, caffeine is not a diuretic. It’s about volume, so if you drink five cups, you’ll pee more.
6. Start slowly. Sleep is a 6 to 8-hour fast, so if you drink three cups of juice or water right away, you’ll trigger the volume response. Sip instead.
When to Worry About Overhydration
If you have an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, or kidney problems, talk to your doctor about the best treatments for those conditions. If you experience excessive thirst or an overly strong urge to drink water, contact your doctor before you develop symptoms—it could indicate a medical problem that requires treatment.
Dr. Christopher Calapai is an 0steopathic physician board certified in family medicine, and anti-aging medicine. Named “The Stem Cell Guru” by the New York Daily News, Dr. Calapai is a leader in the field of stem cell therapy in the U.S.