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Drinking Water: How Much Is Needed?

Drinking Water: How Much Is Needed?

Finding a Balance: Drinking the Right Amount of Water

We all know about dehydration — the consequences of drinking too little water. But did you know that it’s possible to drink too much water? Striking a balance with your fluid intake is important, as being properly hydrated helps regulate your body temperature, protects your joints and soft tissues, maintains focus and concentration and eliminates waste, among other health benefits.

The Consequences of Drinking Too Little Water

Dehydration is a condition most of us are well aware of. On a hot day, it’s easy to forget about counteracting the effects of heat by drinking water until we’re feeling a little rough and thirsty. Dehydration isn’t just a problem during the summer months, though — it might surprise you that dehydration also occurs during the winter. This danger is due to the cold causing you to feel less thirsty, the dry winter air, and your body having to work harder in cold temperatures.

The top five symptoms of dehydration are:

• Headache

• Dizziness and fatigue

• Red, flushed skin

• High heart rate accompanied by low blood pressure

• Dark-colored urine

Dehydration can cause trouble focusing, irritability, and poor memory. In serious cases it can contribute to muscle cramps, heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, urinary or kidney problems, and in some cases seizures caused by out-of-balance electrolytes. For children, illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhea are the most common cause of dehydration. For adults, especially older adults who take medications that affect water retention, your body’s ability to retain water and feelings of thirst becoming less acute are common causes.

Too Much Water: Yes, It’s Possible

Overhydration can also happen because our kidneys can only filter so much water. If we’re overhydrating, they are less able to get rid of that excess water, which allows electrolyte levels to become imbalanced and, in some serious cases, cause health consequences. Sodium levels in our blood can get too low, a condition called hyponatremia. This condition is most often seen in endurance sports such as marathon running, when athletes take in more water than they expect to lose during the event.

The most obvious sign of overhydration is completely clear urine (pale urine is a good sign). Other symptoms include:

• Nausea and vomiting

• Muscle weakness, cramps or spasms

• Brain fog or clouded thinking

• Headaches

But is it worse to drink too much water or too little water? For most people dehydration is the more serious and relevant issue. However, overhydration can be a real cause of concern for people who take certain medications that cause the body to retain water, or people with thyroid, liver, or kidney disease.

In some cases, drinking too much water can be driven by excessive feelings of thirst. This thirst can be a sign of serious health problems such as diabetes. If you experience sustained feelings of excessive thirst — especially if they are accompanied by other symptoms such as fatigue or blurry vision — be sure to talk about it with your primary care provider.

Where Do You Draw the Line?

So how much water should you drink to stay properly hydrated throughout the day? It depends. The amount of water you need to drink to keep yourself hydrated likely differs from the amount others need.

For typically healthy people, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends approximately 3.7 liters of fluids (about 15.5 cups) per day for men and 2.7 (11.5 cups) per day for women. That may sound like a lot, but you don’t have to drink it all in water. Other liquids count toward your daily hydration, as does fluid intake from foods like fruits and vegetables (which can usually make up about 20 percent of fluid intake). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coffee, tea, milk, 100% fruit and vegetable juices also count toward your daily water intake.

Your fluid needs can change based on activity levels, the temperature outside, your current health concerns, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you aren’t sure whether a chronic health concern could affect your water intake levels, talk to your doctor.

Talk to your primary care provider if you have questions about your water intake. Don’t have a primary care provider? Find one today: