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DO NOT drink too much water

"Drink more water," everybody says. But what if we drink too much water?

The effect can be worse than not drinking enough. In fact, there was a case - in California on January 12, 2007 - when one lady died from drinking too much water in a water-drinking contest called "Hold your wee for a Wii".

As I will explain in this article, you sabotage your immunity and risk kidney damage, among other things, when you drink too much water.

So don't just blindly follow the meaningless advice to "drink eight glasses of water a day".

You need to know how much water to drink. You need to know the right amount of water FOR YOU - because everybody has different needs and there is no magic figure like "eight glasses" that suits everybody.

How much water to drink depends on many different factors, such as:

Water and perspiration

The amount of perspiration you have when you exert yourself physically should rightly also indicate how much water you need to drink, and whether or not you drink too much water.

But... this can be misleading. Because the more water you drink, the more you will perspire.

I noticed this long ago when my wife and I used to walk up Bukit Timah hill, a low hill in Singapore, for exercise. We do not drink before we walk and when we reached the summit, we had only light perspiration. Others who drink a lot of water, however, would perspire so profusely that the men could take off their t-shirts and wring out sweat as if the t-shirt had just come out from a washing machine!

Pay attention the next time you feel thirsty after exercise. If you drink a lot of water and quickly, you will immediately sweat even more. If you take slow, small sips, you will not sweat so much.

Watch your thirst / urine

So how to tell whether you need to drink more water, or you generally drink too much water?

The first and most obvious way is, of course, to watch your thirst. If you constantly feel thirsty, you need to drink more water. Note, however, that constant thirst may also be a sign of diabetes so if you feel that you are overly thirsty most of the time, get your blood sugar level checked.

Again, however, this can be misleading. Personally i find that I tend to "forget" my thirst when I am engrossed with work so that by the time I feel thirsty, I am already somewhat dehydrated - and then when I drink, I need to drink a lot before feeling satisfied.

So your level of thirst is not a very good indicator of how much water you need to drink.

A better indication - of how much water to drink overall, not at any particular time of the day - is your urine. Consider...

Remember, don't go by silly rules about drinking eight glasses of water a day. Some people need to drink more, some need to drink less.

I remember when I visited India some years back, the weather was so hot and dry that even 10 to 12 glasses of water did not seem enough for me. I suspect, however, that Indians who are used to their climate will not need to drink as much water as a visitor like me.

When you drink too much...

The first and most obvious thing that happens when you drink too much water is that your kidneys will have more work to do.

It may not even function properly. The kidneys are not like water pipes that get cleaner when you flush more water through them. Rather, they act like sponges - with filters inside to filter out toxins. Now think of what happens to a "sponge" when it is all water-clogged and bloated. Can it work? In the long term, over-worked and non-functioning kidneys get damaged.

Next, your blood volume increases when you drink too much water. This will overburden your heart, possisbly leading to increased blood pressure. It will also stress the blood vessels.

Water, salt and immunity

Probably the most important - yet least obvious - effect of drinking too much water is its impact on the body's immune system.

To understand how and why this happens, we need to first understand the process of osmosis. If you remember from your science lessons in school, osmosis happens when diluted water is drawn towards a stonger, thicker fluids. This is how plants take up water from the soil. The fluids inside the plant is thicker than the water outside, so the water outsides gets drawn into the plant.

The same thing happens in the cells of your body, which has a salty environment. When you drink too much water, the fluid outside your cells will become more diluted and water gets drawn into the cells.

The result - your cells expand and become bloated. The tiny pores on the skin of your cells then become enlarged... until they are big enough to let viruses in. And that is when viruses start to cause trouble. Viruses are harmless as long as they remain outside the cells. They need to enter your cells before they become active, multiply and make you ill.

A vital key to immunity, then, is how you manage the fluid environment inside and outside your cells. This depends on how you balance your intake of both salt and water. Click here to read more about how immunity is affected when you drink too much water.

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