We have all heard it. In fact, it has become a mantra of sorts for healthy living – one and a half litres of water first thing in the morning before brushing the teeth. In some quarters, it is said that this estimate should be higher for those in the tropics where dehydration as a result of high temperatures is a possibility. The belief is that drinking certain amount of water at specific periods can prevent and treat a load of conditions, thus giving rise to a new method of treatment known as water therapy.
Water is indeed an elixir of life – it is involved in every type of cellular process in the body and when one is dehydrated, it can contribute to causing diseases such as kidney stones, headaches, constipation and others, but what some don’t know is that drinking too much water within a short period may be counterproductive and can even cause death in some cases.
According to medical experts, besides the urgent need to urinate, excessive water consumption can lead to water intoxication or over hydration which can result in sodium imbalance thereby causing cell damage. Usually, sodium helps regulate blood pressure among other functions and cells actively maintain a precise sodium concentration in the body. When one drinks too much water at a short period of time, the excess water dilutes body fluids to the point that sodium levels become life-threateningly low, causing cells to swell, a condition known as hyponatraemia.
The swelling can include the cells in the brain, leading to loss of consciousness, seizures and even coma and death. There have been reported cases of deaths from over-hydration, especially among long-distance athletes.
So, how do you know how to regulate the amount of water you drink so as to keep your metabolism and system functioning optimally?
According to a nutritionist, Mr. Ifeanyi Ojah, “There is no one-cap-fits-all when it comes to water consumption, although we are advised to always be hydrated. It actually depends on your size, body weight, level of activity and your environment. If you live in a hot climate and exercise a lot, you would definitely need more water than someone who stays in a cooler climate and is sedentary. However, you should consult with your doctor before you proceed with any form of water therapy. For those who have kidney or heart problems, it can be especially dangerous for them to embark on water therapy without a doctor’s supervision.”
He, however, suggests a quick test to know when one is due for some water. “You don’t have to wait until you are thirsty before you drink some water. One quick test to know if one is getting dehydrated is to look at the urine. If your urine is clear or a pale yellow colour and has some odour, it shows you are well hydrated but once it is darker and has a stronger, pungent odour, it could be a pointer to the fact that you are dehydrated,” he says.