Can Water Kill? How much water does it take to kill a person? An international expert panel concluded that you should drink only when thirsty in order to avoid exercise-associated hyponatremia (water overdose).

In the summer of 2014, two otherwise healthy 17-year-old high school football players died. In both cases, the common denominator was excessive fluid consumption (a peril that is often underestimated).

Can Water Kill?

Can Water Kill: Exercise-Related Hyponatremia

Water overdose occurs when a person drinks too many fluids and the kidneys cannot “flush them out”. This results in the excess water entering the cells and causing them to swell. That’s when something as vital as water can quickly turn lethal, according to the guidelines published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.

Dr. Mitchell H. Rosner, from the Division of Nephrology at University of Virginia Health System, said that inaccurate statements can lead to dangerous behaviors and subsequent exercise-related hyponatremia.

Blanket statements that can be found on the Internet such as “don’t wait until you feel thirsty” have the potential for “disastrous consequences” as they reinforce the idea that near constant fluid consumption during athletic events is a judicious and even necessary thing to do, Rosner said.

Can Water Kill: Less is More

What could, therefore, be effective water overdose prevention techniques? The first is perhaps the most physiological and simple: drink according to thirst, according to Rosner.

Sports medicine physician James Winger said that modest to moderate levels of dehydration are tolerable. Thus, they pose little risk to otherwise healthy athletes. In fact, an athlete can lose up the 3 percent of his of her body weight during a competition without negatively affecting performance levels.

Exercise-related hyponatremia has mostly occurred during endurance competitions and military exercises, but the authors of the guidelines claim that it is not just athletes engaging in strenuous exercise that is prone to the condition. Cases have also been reported among people participating in “zen activities” such as lawn bowls and yoga. At present, statistics show that at least 14 athletes died as a result of EAH.

Can Water Kill: Water Overdose and Intoxication

The American Chemistry Society says that it takes about 6 liters of water to kill a 165-pound person. Death by water or water intoxication is not a rare phenomenon.

It’s common among young people who challenge themselves to “water drinking contests,” or athletes who mistakenly over-hydrate while training, Scientific American reported.

To avoid water overdose, these new guidelines are targeting athletes in particular. Experts say that administering a concentrated saline solution containing 3 percent sodium — about three times higher than the concentration in normal saline solution, is a life-saving technique that can treat exercise-associated hyponatremia.