Can you die from drinking too much water?

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalNov 22, 2022 | 18:43

Can you die from drinking too much water?

Researchers in Spain in their journal concluded that American actor and martial arts legend said that Bruce Lee might have died from consuming excess water. Photo: Getty

American martial arts legend Bruce Lee might have died due to drinking too much water, a recent study by kidney specialists in Spain has claimed. The study was published in the December 2022 edition of the Clinical Kidney Journal.

It said,

"In other words, we propose that the kidney's inability to excrete excess water killed Bruce Lee."

What are the findings of the study? The researchers wrote that Bruce Lee possessed multiple risk factors for hypoatraemia (low level of sodium in blood). They claimed that Lee may have been consuming unusually high quantities of liquid due to his fluid diet, which consisted of lots of juices and protein drinks. Further the use of marijuana might have also increased his thirst. 

"We hypothesise that Bruce Lee died from a specific form of kidney dysfunction; the inability to excrete enough water to mainatin water homeostasis," the researchers wrote. 

This brings us to the question: Can you die from drinking too much water?

Well, the answer to the question lies in how much water you are consuming in an hour. It also depends upon the age and health of a person.

  • The kidneys of a healthy adult can flush out 20 to 28 litres of water each day, but they can only flush out 1 litre of water in an hour.
  • This makes it harder for the kidneys to excrete more than 1 litre per hour.

The kidneys of older adults and children are less efficient, so the amount of water they can drink per hour is relatively lower.

Point to note: It's only when a person drinks more water than his kidneys can flush out is when water intoxication occurs.

What is water intoxication? Drinking too much water can cause water intoxication in the body. The symptoms of water intoxication are confusion, disorientation, nausea and vomiting.

  • It happens when a person drinks more water than their kidneys can get rid of via urine.

What causes hyponatremia?

  • Drinking too much water can cause hyponatremia. This happens when the blood sodium concentration becomes very low in the blood.
  • If you drink more water than your kidneys can flush out, it'll dilute the sodium in your bloodstream, causing the cells to swell.
  • Many cases of hyponatremia are instances of intense physical activity, such as military training, excessive physical activity like marathon training... and in Bruce Lee's case, intense physical activity, of course.

So, how much water should a person drink?

  • As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are no official guidelines on how much water a person needs to drink each day.
  • The exact amount depends upon the body weight, level of physicial activity and climate.
  • In 2004, The National Academy of Medicine recommended that women aged 19-30 should consume 2.7 litres per day whereas men around the same age should consume 3.7 litres per day.

Bottomline: It is quite rare for a person to die from drinking excessive drinking water. Yes, it is possible, but it happens quite rarely.

  • However, if you are an athelete or are into too much physical activity, you could be at a higher risk.
  • In that case, the best option would be to usually look at your urine colour and thirst level to tell you whether you really need to be drinking that much water.

Bruce Lee's death: Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973, at the age of 32. Doctors had diagnosed him with cerebral oedema two months before his death. On the day he died, he was given the painkiller Equagesic for a headache. He went to his room for a nap that he never woke up from.

Last updated: November 22, 2022 | 18:43
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