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Thursday, January 18th 2007

Too Much Water…

A radio station held a “Hold your wee for a Wii” competition. A mother of three died of water intoxication.

[L]aw officers launched a formal inquiry Wednesday into the death of a 28-year-old mother after she drank nearly 2 gallons of water in a radio station’s on-air contest.

Jennifer Strange, a mother of three from suburban Rancho Cordova, died Friday of apparent water intoxication hours after a failed attempt to win a Nintendo Wii video game system for her children in a promotion dubbed “Hold Your Wee for a Wii.”

Should Never Be Associated With Tragedy

Sadly the DJs jokes about water intoxication during the program and a listener called in to warn against it.

A tape of the program, known as the “Morning Rave” on KDND-FM, reveals that the potential fatal effects of drinking too much water were raised during the course of the contest, with one on-air host mentioning the 2005 death of a college student during a hazing ritual in Chico. A listener also called in to advise against the stunt.

The mother’s death led to 10 people associated with the morning drive program and, as mentioned, could lead to criminal prosecutions.

So how can you die from drinking water, the substance of life? Well as WebMD says, it is rare,

It does happen, but so rarely that I couldn’t find statistics on the number of cases. These people become drowsy, lightheaded, and weak. They have trouble coordinating bodily movements and thinking straight, looking and feeling as if they just stumbled out of the local bar. But the water-intoxicated can’t just go home and sleep it off. They must get treatment or risk going into convulsions, a coma, or even death.

Of course, as this story and this story and others point out, WebMD’s answer to the question “Can I Overdose On Water?” is completely bogus,

No. And you are unlikely to ever meet someone who has overdosed on water.

You would need to chug down about three quarts of water or more all at once to come down with a case of true water intoxication.

Water intoxication leads to hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is low sodium, a vital electrolyte, concentrations in the plasma.

We need to view water, for the purposes of this discussion, as existing in two compartments within the body. An oversimplification, but first, think that when you ingest water it exists outside of the cells in your body and is extracellular fluid (ECF). Inside the cells is the intracellular fluid (ICF).

Sodium is the primary extracellular electrolyte (note: acting with the same “osmotic force” potassium is the primary intracellular cation). When you drink A LOT of water you dilute the concentration of sodium in the ECF.

However the cell membranes which separate the ECF from ICF are only semipermeable – they let water more easily through than Na+ ions. If you remember your first day of high school chemistry an osmotic force wants to even concentrations across the cell membrane.

The Fluid Compartments In Your Body Are Analogous To A Pipe According To This Picture

Osmotic forces cause water to “rush” into the cells and causes them to swell up. When this happens in your brain you can imagine that it is a bad thing and it causes the symptoms of water intoxication (and can even lead to death, as we’ve seen).

Your Brain Cell Before And After…

While that answer is a gross simplification (but the way I understand it), I suppose it can be simplified even more — “Too much water collects in your brain cells, causes them to swell up and stop functioning normally.” And thus you have the very basic explanation of water intoxication.