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Dangers of Too Much Water and Too Little Salt

Dangers of Too Much Water and Too Little Salt
Low sodium diet

Q. I was rushed to the emergency department a few weeks ago because of low sodium. I have always been careful to eat a healthy diet low in salt. I’ve also made it a habit to drink a lot of water to stay well hydrated.

As a consequence of my fluid intake and low-sodium diet, I actually ended up with hyponatremia. The doctor advised me not to drink too much water because it can lead to an imbalance of electrolytes. I’d like to warn others of this danger.

A. Hyponatremia is a life-threatening shortage of sodium in the blood stream. Elite athletes sometimes end up with this condition if they drink too much water and don’t replace electrolytes.

A low-salt diet rarely results in hyponatremia by itself, but some people may not do well on a strict regimen. One reader shared this story:

“My uncle Jim followed a low salt diet and suffered from dizziness to the point of vertigo. To keep his balance while walking, he had to hold onto the walls or furniture. He suffered with this for many months and consulted several physicians. Finally one suggested that he increase his sodium intake. This immediately cured his problem.”

Medications such as hydrochlorothiazide for high blood pressure can exacerbate the problem of hyponatremia by making the body throw off sodium (American Journal of Medicine, Aug., 2012). In an older person, the combination of exercise and a diuretic can lead to sodium depletion that causes delirium (Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, June, 2012).

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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