Hydrating yourself with water is an important part of a healthy lifestyle – and a regular Bikram Yoga practice. But is it possible to drink too much H2O? Ulrike, a BYV teacher and registered nurse, describes her experience with “water intoxication” – a condition that can occur when you drink far more fluid than your body actually needs.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
We’re constantly told that our bodies, comprised of at least 60% water, require us to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day – and even more when we practise Bikram Yoga. In general, however, it’s difficult to give recommendations for fluid intake, which varies daily depending on our activities, exposure to heat, how much we sweat and the kinds of foods we eat, to name a few.
The best advice is to drink according to your thirst. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware when they’re thirsty and when they’re not …
Symptoms of Water Intoxication
Several months ago, I experienced “water intoxication” by drinking copious amounts of fluids – up to 6 litres on days that I taught multiple Bikram Yoga classes. And I was still thirsty. I was retaining a lot of fluid in my body, but not in the right places; I literally felt like I was “burning” internally. Besides feeling nauseous and sick, I stopped digesting my food and my belly became rock hard and distended. I had muscle weakness, twitches and nervous tics; I felt very “spaced out.” I knew something was wrong but assumed it was the heat in the yoga room. To be safe, I went to my doctor for a blood test to check my mineral levels. The results: my sodium and chloride levels were extremely low. The cause: I had been drinking too much for months, maybe even years …
The fact is, too much water taxes the kidneys and can lead to loss of kidney function in the long run. In 2008, researchers studied residents of Walkerton, Ontario, who were forced to switch to bottled water after the public supply was contaminated. For some reason, the switch to bottles saw an increase in the amount of water being consumed by individuals in Walkerton on a daily basis: between four and six litres a day, on average. This led to proteinuria: a protein that appears in the urine as a sign of microvascular damage, which affects the arteries of the heart and kidneys. But by limiting their fluids to less than eight glasses a day for just one week, many Walkerton residents were able to mostly reverse proteinuria.
The Secret is Sodium
I see some Bikram Yoga students drink two large bottles of water in class, plus a coconut water after – not only can this flood of fluid put unnecessary strain on the kidneys and dilute/deplete the body of minerals (if your urine is clear and plentiful, it’s may not be a good sign), it’s a practice that’s counterproductive if the sodium you lose by sweating isn’t being replaced. Sodium (salt) works by combining with other elements in our bodies to create important compounds that break down proteins, help regulate the acid-base balance of the blood, aid nerve and muscle fibre transmission, control water distribution throughout the body and much, much more. With a potentially significant amount of salt loss during a 90-minute Bikram Yoga class, it’s important to replenish your sodium levels back to normal.
Recovery & Replenishment
In recovering from water intoxication, I’ve restricted my fluid intake to 2-3 litres a day, which includes food. While breaking the habit of guzzling water has been hard, I’m starting to feel better in my fourth week of recovery. My stomach is softer, my digestion has improved and the nausea and inner burn are gone. I feel stronger and can think more clearly. In order to ensure I am maintaining a healthy level of sodium in my body, I eat sea vegetables several times a week and add good salt (sea salt or Himalayan salt) to my water. And, perhaps most importantly, I am re-learning how to listen to my body.
Correcting Low Sodium Levels Through Diet
- Add a heaping teaspoon of Himalayan salt to a 40-ounce Hydroflask filled with water (drink this in class!)
- Snack on sea vegetables like nori sheets, hijiki and dulse
- Add Celtic sea salt, Himalayan salt or Dr. Vogel seasoning salt to food (even fruit!)
- Eat healthy salty snacks occasionally, like rice crisps, baked tortilla chips and nuts
- Avoid high-fat processed chips/crackers that can impair salt uptake by the digestive organs (in general, it’s a good idea to restrict the number of processed foods you eat)
- If you’re vegan/vegetarian, you may need to supplement your sodium intake more than those who eat meat/fish
- Be aware of any food sensitivities/allergic reactions you may have; avoid those foods (as well as alcohol and excess coffee/tea), as they can overtax the liver and hinder the absorption of minerals
- Listen to your body/thirst; replace salt accordingly and limit your fluid intake to only what you need (especially if you have a habit of drinking more than you need)
- When in doubt, talk to your doctor or speak with registered nutritionist/dietician to find solutions that work for you