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Matt: I drink a lot of water and Gatorade and stuff like that. My friend tells me I can die if I drink too much water. How is this possible? I thought water was good for you. How much water is too much? I’ve never felt bad from drinking as much as I do. — Waterlogged?, San Diego

Well, the closest I can come on this one is the day Grandma had finally had it and tried to drown all the elves in a bathtub. Unfortunately, while she was cramming the last of them in, the ones on the bottom pulled the plug; then they wrapped up Grandma in wet towels and escaped. I guess that’s not the same, though, is it. They once tried to force-feed the dog grape juice. Ditto with the cat and a Slurpee. When it comes to deaths by various liquids, I guess the Alices are a pretty boring lot. But then so is most of the rest of the world. Waterlogged’s friend has about an eighth of the story. We can fill in the missing stuff.

Yes, it’s possible to die from drinking too much water. Is it likely? Does it happen often? Do you know anybody who’s died from drinking water? No, right? Yes, no. Dying from an overdose of water is actually a little complicated. It’s based on the idea that we have in our bodies a particular balance of salt and water inside and outside our cells. If a cell were suddenly surrounded by pure water, the water would enter the cell (and salt exit) in an attempt to balance the saltiness of both. You can end up with a big fat water-filled cell that can rupture.

So in our real-life bodies, what happens? Well, our kidneys constantly sample the salt/water balance in our blood. If it detects too much water, it can send out a hormone that retains salt and diverts the excess water to the bladder as urine. So there’s our safety net under normal conditions. Kidneys can process about a liter of water every hour without problems.

“So, okay, Matt,” you say. “How about the death part.” The death part comes when we overwhelm our kidneys with water. In fact, it’s not how much we drink but how fast we drink it. Virtually every recorded death from “drinking too much water” was a death from drinking some amount of water too fast. These deaths have involved forced water-drinking in several fraternity hazings, as a disciplinary technique for children, marathoners/athletes/outdoor workmen drinking too much unsalted water, a night of dancing and ecstasy, and one infamous radio contest. The most unfortunate aspect of all this is that brain cells are most susceptible to the salt-water imbalance and are usually the first to fall. Unless there is some intervention, the drinker progresses from dizziness to death fairly promptly.

So, ’Logged, if you’re just slugging down your required eight glasses a day or even more at a moderate rate, you’re perfectly safe. And the Gatorade poses no problem at all, since it contains the salts you need. Sorry your friend scared you to the point that you had to resort to writing to me and the elves.

Mattster: What do you call people from Tokyo? Tokyoians? Tokyosters? I’m serious about this. — Anonymous, San Diego

Yo, Anonymous. I think you’ve already guessed the best names. English-language Japanese newspapers call them Tokyoites. So do CNN and the New York Times. But in Japanese, Tokyoites are Edo-ko, children of Edo — Edo being Tokyo’s traditional name. So how about Tokyoettes.

Hey, Matt: My friend has probably the worst-smelling farts I’ve ever been victim to, and he thinks it’s funny. It’s gut-wrenching and clears not only the room but the whole house. He laughs and says, “You smell that? That means the poop particles are floating around and they go in your nose and on your tongue, so if you can smell my fart, you really have my micropoop in your mouth! Ha ha ha!” Not that funny to us victims. You ever heard this? Thanks. — Luke, via email

We-e-e-e-e-e-ell, poop particles might be a stretch. How about poop molecules. For something to smell, it must contain volatile chemicals that can vaporize when they hit the air. Poops certainly qualify. But rather than carrying big juicy chunks, of course, the smell is reduced to molecules of things like sulfur and methane by the time it floats out as a fart and reaches your nose. So it’s only poop molecules molesting you. I don’t know if that helps any. Doesn’t seem much more appetizing to me.

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Comments

Josh Board April 15, 2009 @ 4:12 p.m.

MA...what was so horrible about that radio contest you mention, was the told listeners that they'd have to come in and the one that could drink the most water, without going to the bathroom, would win a wii (they played off a phrase that they thought was clever "wee for a wii", or some such thing). And, one of the producers told the DJs it wasn't safe. Then a nurse that was listening, called in and said it wasn't safe. To which the DJs laughed and said something along the lines of "Oh well, we won't get sued. They all signed waivers." And lastly, the woman was complaining of a headache, while on the air!

But, one thing that should be noted in your answer. You mention the "8 glasses a day" that doctors had been touting for years. Well, they have come out and said that is wrong. They say now that basically, you should drink when you're thirsty. Although, a handful of doctors have said that if you become thirsty, you're already dehydrated, and you should never let your body get to that point.

But back to the 8 glasses a day: they weren't counting the fact that you get water in other things (foods, juices, etc), and so 8 glasses isn't as necessary as they initially speculated.

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lallaw April 15, 2009 @ 4:55 p.m.

I've often wondered what happened as a result of that poor woman's death in regard to the radio station. Those signed waivers would not protect them from negligence nor intentional conduct. If I remember correctly, the DJ's were fired...but I sure hope more than that occurred for that family.

Btw, Matt...:) It seems the more water I drink, the more water I want to drink. Have a sprung a leak or is that part of the natural process of hydration?

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magicsfive April 15, 2009 @ 5:17 p.m.

lallaw...i don't want to overstep my boundaries or say anything inappropriate...but have you tested for diabetes? i'm a nurse and these are the things i think about.

and josh yes it is true...i mean unless you are running marathons and sweating out as much as you drink, 8 glasses of water a day isn't necessary. but we tend to get busy or don't get the chance to drink when we're thirsty. speaking for myself that is. sometimes i have to force myself to drink a big glass of water if i realize i haven't had any all day!

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magicsfive April 15, 2009 @ 5:23 p.m.

...also fluid volume overload can result in CHF...im just saying...

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lallaw April 15, 2009 @ 6:14 p.m.

No offense taken "magicsfive" (you're one of my favs, btw :)...I have not tested for diabetes recently, but I did have insulin dependent gestational diabetes with my last pregnancy (20 years ago) and I am reaching that magical age when I guess I should be on the lookout for a Type II return. I have, however, kept my weight in check and stay active...so I figured I was just thirsty...lol. I have had others tell me that when they did the regular water drinking thing as I have done for years now, it seemed to increase their thirst. So I wondered if that was part of the re-hydrating process. I know the body learns to "hoard" water when one doesn't regularly get enough. Once it begins to trust that it will be hydrated regularly it expends it regularly (normally). With regular output, I would imagine regular input is needed. Your expertise in this area, your thoughts period, are greatly appreciated!

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magicsfive April 15, 2009 @ 6:17 p.m.

Aww well thank you so much! what a nice thing to say. Well i do hope everything is ok, stay hydrated! xoxo

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Josh Board April 17, 2009 @ 5:01 p.m.

George Carlin once asked why everyone was carrying water bottles around and wondered "when the hell did everyone get so thirsty?"

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lallaw April 17, 2009 @ 5:08 p.m.

George Carlin is a God. May he rest in peace...he'd probably make a joke out of that and it would be funny too. :)

You could do a whole blog Josh entitled: "The Best of Carlin"...there would be no end to it.

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Josh Board April 19, 2009 @ 1:48 a.m.

Carlin wrote such brilliant material. I just got tired of his mannerisms and expressions when he performed.

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DavidPatrone April 19, 2009 @ 4:11 a.m.

I have a theory that part of our climate issues could be due to the fact that we now store more water in plastic bottles than ever in the history of the world. If we released all of the water that is stored in all of the tanks and bottles in all of the stores, supermarkets and water delivery warehouses, I wonder if it would make a significant difference in our current climate. Maybe we are really experiencing global warming as a result of a lack of water due to the fact that so much water has been locked away. Even if you account for the fact that it is constantly being used, you still have that part of the water which is continuously "stockpiled" in the process of supply and demand and reduces the amount of "ambient" available water which used to exist in the environment naturally.

just a thought...

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