As athletes, exercisers and lovers of spending time outside, we’re constantly warned against the dangers of becoming dehydrated.
It is for good reason; if you’re going to spend time getting sweaty, you’ll want to replace those fluids so that your body can continue functioning optimally. But what’s hardly ever brought to our attention is the fact that overhydrating—or in medical terms, hyponatraemia—is a health risk that is far more common and quite possibly even more detrimental.
“I think that over-hydration has become more of an issue, ironically, because of the messages promoted by the sports drink and bottled water industries who have been very keen to point out the pitfalls of dehydration, as their products can provide a 'cure' for this,” says Andy Blow, co-founder and Sports Scientist at Precision Hydration and a Red Bull High Performance partner. “They’ve created a 'fear' of dehydration, whilst simultaneously failing to point out that over-drinking is also very harmful.”
Blow pointed out that the “beware dehydration” message has gained a lot of traction because athletes especially are often paranoid about how they can best optimize their performance. “Drinking a bit more, rather than not enough has become the norm,” he said.
Overhydrating is particularly problematic when excessive amounts of low-sodium fluids are consumed. Blow says that the sodium levels in our blood must be tightly regulated. If those levels drop too far below the optimal amount hyponatraemia occurs.
“This causes fluid to shift into the body's cell, making them swell up which can be especially problematic if it happens in the brain,” says Blow.
According to Blow, common signs of hyponatraemia include headaches, nausea, confusion, loss of energy, muscle twitching or cramps, and in advanced cases, seizures and coma. However, he says it can be hard to diagnose because other symptoms like low blood sugar, low blood pressure and fatigue are common issues that many athletes sometimes experience during exercise for reasons unrelated to overhydrating.
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Since confusion and disorientation are both associated with hyponatraemia, Blow says it can be very difficult to self-diagnose. However, if you ever find yourself in a position where you may have accidentally overhydrated and think you may be at risk, he offered the following advice.
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