Ask Stew: Can I Die from Drinking Too Much Water?


A concerned Army reservist asks:

"I have heard about people dying from drinking too much water. Is this possible?"

This is a great question, because so many times, this issue is taken out of context and causes people to stop drinking water altogether.

When you read about people who die or get kidney damage "from drinking too much water," you are only hearing half of the story. The other half often is overlooked. These people die or sustain serious internal damage from overhydration with insufficient replacement of sodium, which is called dilutional hyponatremia.

The documented cases are from participants in long-distance running or ultra-endurance events lasting longer than four hours of continuous, sweaty activity. Sports replacement drinks mixed with water are the best source of electrolytes and can be of significant help in avoiding hyponatremia in long-distance athletic events or long, hot and humid days of rigorous outdoor work.

The regular person in America, who does not exercise at all or that rigorously, needs water to lose weight. If the body does not receive adequate amounts (1-2 quarts a day), you will start to retain water. That causes a net gain in weight and the liver to cease metabolizing fat at a normal rate. Basically, your metabolism will slow to a point where fat and water are being stored by the body until it receives proper amounts of water. An easy equation with the elements of weight loss is:

Water oxygen = weight loss

Drinking water, plus physical activity where you breathe at a higher heart rate (i.e., aerobic activity like walking, jogging, swimming, biking, resistance training, etc.) ultimately will lead to weight loss. Not only will you release retained water (ending the bloated, puffy feeling), but your metabolism also will burn fat at a higher rate than before you started adding sufficient water intake to your diet.

If you are 50-100 pounds overweight, you need to drink more water than the minimum recommended daily amount. Some experts agree that the intake should be another 6-8 ounces of water for every 10-20 excess pounds.

The bad news is that coffee, tea, diet drinks, alcohol and nicotine are diuretics, meaning they will dehydrate you. These drinks should not count as your 1-2 quarts a day of daily water consumption. If you think you may be retaining water, try adding up to a gallon of water a day, and you could lose about 5-10 pounds of retained water in a few short days. I have seen people lose up to 20 pounds in a week by only adding water to their diet.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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