Water intoxication is a potential problem for athletes

Water intoxication is a potential problem for athletes

It’s easy to overdo a good thing. In fact, when it comes to water intake, you can actually become intoxicated if you overdo it. Unfortunately, it’s not a wearing-a-lampshade-on- your-head type of intoxication.

In the e-Alert “Deep Sixed” (4/24/08) I told you about a recent review of water research that investigated some of the prominent myths surrounding the “8 x 8” recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.

The authors of the review conclude that there’s a general lack of evidence that that much water intake is beneficial, but they note: “There is no clear evidence of LACK of benefit.”

Actually, William Campbell Douglass III, M.D., wouldn’t agree with that.

In one of his Daily Dose e-letters that went out in 2005, Dr. Douglass wrote: “Drinking too much water during periods of exertion can flush your body of sodium and lead to hyponatremia, or ‘water intoxication’ – a condition where the sodium-starved brain swells against the skull until nausea, weakness, seizures and in extreme cases coma and death ensue. And potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) is even worse.”

Dr. Douglass notes that Houston Marathon officials were alarmed at the high number of runners who were diagnosed with hyponatremia in the finish line medical tents. In 2004 they cut way back on the number of water stops along the marathon route and significantly reduced the number of hyponatremia cases.

Of course, anyone who experiences physical exertion or exposure to prolonged heat needs to hydrate more often than normal – but within reason. Dr. Douglass: “In my opinion, anything beyond simply drinking when you’re thirsty is excessive.”

“The Water Shortage and How to Fix It” William Campbell Douglass III, M.D., Daily Dose, 1/21/08, douglassreport.com