A truly pointless way to die, part 3

If you want to know the skinny about the physiological mechanism by which a person can die of water intoxication, Radagast has posted A Look at Osmosis and Water Balance, a nice primer on the distribution of water in the human body and how it can be affected by drinking too much water too quickly.


  1. #1 Clare
    January 18, 2007

    Here’s a high profile story from the BBC from several years ago about the perils of drinking too much water. It was so surprising to read — particularly in light of so many injunctions to drink plenty of water in popular media — that I never forgot it.

  2. #2 DuWayne
    January 19, 2007

    You know, this has been an interesting discussion. I rather assumed it was fairly common knowlege that water can kill, or at least make one very ill.

    I worked for several years as a roofer. When it gets hot enough, a roofer can drink a gallon of water an hour, and still be dehydrated by the end of the day – been there many times. There are regular adverts and articles in trade rags warning that one needs to closely manage their salt intake, when they are trying to remain hydrated. They encourage the drinking of sports drinks, or just adding a tablespoon of salt to every gallon of water. They also encourage people to seek medical attention immediately if they start to get serious headaches. And since a lot of roofers suffer a cowboy mentality, they make it clear that the headache is an indication of a condition that can easily be fatal – regardless of one’s “manliness.” Our suppliers also put up signs warning of the same, when the hot season starts to hit.

    While none of these warnings explain any of the science behind it, they make it clear that staying hydrated requires both salt and water. Many of them also clearly state that too much water, without enough salt, can kill. And other trade rags in the construction business have been making similar warnings. That’s why most lumber yards, home improvement warehouses, building suppliers and even tool retailers, all started carrying sports drinks – often by the case.

    It has been interesting to hear about the science behind it though. I assumed that the salinity was just for the blood. I had no idea that too much water, without salt, would cause cells to burst. Hell, I find it interesting that cells are a one way, microporous membrane – something I work with a lot. It makes me curious how much the technology of microporous membranes has come from the study of living cells.

  3. #3 Calli Arcale
    January 19, 2007

    My high school bio class had a great demonstration of how water can kill. It made a big impression on me. We were looking at single-celled microbes under the microscope, and the final two experiments were to kill them by screwing with the salinity of the medium. First, they were exposed to very briny water. They shriveled up. Then, we exposed them to pure water. They exploded. And our cells take on water using exactly the same method, so…..

    Regarding roofing, you can lose salt even faster if you’re exerting yourself, because it’s a component of sweat. Thus, it’s even MORE important to get enough salt (or other electrolytes) in your line of work, DuWayne. I remember watching a documentary once about a pair of physicians donating their time in Brazil (IIRC; someplace very hot and humid, anyway). They went for a hike one day and got lost in the rainforest. One of them developed hyponatremia due to profuse sweating and insufficient salt intake. They’d come prepared, even bringing a block of salt, but unfortuantely it was destroyed when the guy carrying it fell in the water. Fortunately, the other guy was able to find help in time to save his buddy.

  4. #4 Coin
    January 19, 2007

    And behold! The Law Suit cometh!

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