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.