Can I Die From Too Much Water? Blood? Oxygen?


Look at your body. It’s pretty great, right? Doing all this
complicated stuff to keep you alive? Well, your body runs by the grace of a delicate
balance, maintaining just the right levels of the materials you need to live — water,
salts, oxygen, even your own blood cells. And you already know that getting too little
of something — like water, or air, or some vitamin or nutrient — is, medically speaking,
bad. Like, leads to death. But things that are considered healthy, or
beneficial, or even essential can be just as dangerous, in the wrong amounts. In fact, many vital substances — including
some that you’re taking in RIGHT NOW! — can totally do you in, if you end up ingesting
just a little too much of them. So consider yourself warned. You know how important water is to your body. I mean, seeing how it accounts for more than
60 percent of your total body mass, you pretty much are water. And the water in your body performs a lot
of important functions. But one of the most important happens when
it combines with ions from dissolved minerals like sodium and potassium — which you probably
know as electrolytes. Your cells use different concentrations of
these electrolytes to create the positive and negative charges that regulate your internal
electrical system. This is what you use to power your moving and thinking and everything
else that your body does. Which is why dehydration is no joke. Without enough water, the loss of electrolytes
can lead to the biological version of an electrical blackout, taking power away from your vital
organs, including your brain and your heart. But what you might not realize, is that drinking
too much water can be equally dangerous. Yeah, it turns out those urban legends about
folks dying from drinking too much water aren’t legends at all, and death by water intoxication
is a thing. Fraternity hazing ceremonies and radio-station
contests that dared people to chug a bunch of water have actually ended in deaths. And so have over-zealous attempts to rehydrate
after running marathons, or hiking in hot weather, or after long, drug-fueled dance
parties. The condition is called hyponatremia, or “insufficient
salt in the blood,” and it basically means you’ve diluted your blood too much for your
electrolytes to do any good. Chug six liters of water in a sitting, and
your kidneys probably won’t be able to flush it through fast enough to re-establish a proper
balance. Instead, all that extra water starts seeking
out higher concentrations of electrolytes — especially ions like sodium — in your
cells. Which makes your cells swell up like water balloons. The lack of electrical power is a big enough
problem on its own. But some of your cells just can’t take on that much water. The neurons in your brain, for example, are
jam-packed tight into your skull, and don’t have much room to expand. That’s why the brain swelling, or cerebral
edema, caused by too much water is so dangerous. It can lead to seizures, coma, brain damage,
and death. In the end, death by dehydration and death
by water intoxication have a lot of the same symptoms, and the same mechanisms, in common.
Because they’re really the same problem — an imbalance of water and electrolytes
in the body. Another kind of substance that can easily
become too-much-of-a-good-thing? Antioxidants. You see them touted on food labels all over
the place these days, but what are antioxidants, and why should we be eating them? Well, in a nutshell, antioxidants are molecules
that can help prevent, or at least delay, certain types of cell damage, caused by oxidation. To understand how this works, we’ve gotta
first talk about the threats that they help neutralize — free radicals. Now that might sound like a ‘90s garage
band, but free radicals are potentially dangerous atoms or molecules with an extra, unpaired
electron. This unpaired electron make a free radical
lonely and unstable … so desperate to find another electron that it’ll snatch one from
anything it can. And when it does snag one from another molecule
— say, one from your cells — it oxidizes it, or causes it to lose an electron. This electron-theft can cause oxidative stress,
damaging your cells and their structures, including your DNA. Thankfully, our bodies produce antioxidants
that can help neutralize many free radicals. And we also get extra help from antioxidants
in certain foods. Fruits and vegetables naturally provide lots
of antioxidants, like beta-carotene, lutein, and vitamins A, C, and E. These compounds can give a free radical one
of their own electrons, to basically shut it up and end its destructive rampage. So they are considered beneficial, and few
if any concerns have been raised about getting too many antioxidants in your diet. But you can’t say the same for taking antioxidant
supplements. When you eat a handful of blueberries or piece
of dark chocolate, you’re ingesting a bunch of different types of antioxidants. And it
turns out that they need to work together. See, when an antioxidant gives an electron
to a free radical, it briefly becomes unstable. But when other antioxidants are around, it
can take an electron from one of them. And that electron donor, in turn, will bum one
from someone else. This free swapping of electrons works best
among different kinds of antioxidants. But, if you take a mega-dose of a single kind,
like vitamin C, you don’t have other kinds around to help re-stabilize those vitamin
C molecules after they’ve done their job. This means you can actually end up with a
lot more unstable molecules floating around your body, which is the opposite of what you
wanted in the first place. So, I’m not saying that supplements are
going to kill you or anything — although extreme oxidative stress definitely can do
permanent harm, which I’ll explain in a bit. But for now, the thing to know is that the
balance between free radicals and antioxidants is more complicated than we used to think
— and taking high doses of antioxidant supplements can just muck it up. But what about maintaining the right balance
of things you don’t ingest, or probably even think about? Like … your own blood? Blood distributes nutrients, gets rid of waste,
clots wounds, and prevents infection. It does this all using four, well-balanced
components. You’ve got red blood cells carrying oxygen
around, white blood cells to help fight infections, and platelets to help with clotting. And all
of these float around in plasma made up of water, sugar, sodium, protein, and fat. The average adult body contains about 5 liters
of blood, and we all know that you can quickly die if you lose too much of it. Maintaining the right volume of blood is important,
and we’ve talked before about how a lot of so-called “doping” in professional
sports actually involves tinkering with your blood volume. But having the right amount of blood cells
is also key to maintaining your body’s balance. And most of the imbalances that occur here
are usually caused by medical conditions. You’ve probably heard how a low blood-cell
count can be a sign of trouble, like cancer or HIV/AIDS. But more is definitely not better when it
comes to blood cells. An overproduction of white blood cells, for
example, is known as leukocytosis. And even though white blood cells are the white knights
of your immune system, this condition actually suppresses your immune response. Leukemia is perhaps the most well-known disorder
associated with excess white blood cells. It’s a blood cancer that occurs when a person’s
bone marrow starts churning out immature and abnormal white blood cells. Unlike their healthy kin, these cells can’t
actually fight infection. And they don’t die when they should — instead, they keep
dividing and multiplying, until they crowd out healthy red blood cells and platelets. Eventually, the body winds up being unable
to adequately fight infection, carry oxygen, or stop bleeding. Likewise, a mutation in bone-marrow cells
can cause the overproduction of red blood cells, like in the case of a different kind
of blood cancer, called polycythemia vera. In a healthy body, red blood cells account
for about 45 percent of the blood. But in people with conditions like polycythemia,
the blood can get too thick, increasing the risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. But now, to oxygen… surely that’s something
you just can’t get too much of, right? Yeah, no. And frankly, by now you really shouldn’t
be surprised to hear it, because: balance! I think we can all agree oxygen is generally
a good thing. In fact, it’s probably the most important thing. You can go weeks without food, and days without
water if you have to, but without oxygen you could die within minutes. The air we breathe is about 21 percent oxygen.
And when you inhale, your red blood cells grab the O2 from your lungs, and pass it off
to your other cells, which use it for cellular respiration — the process of breaking down
sugar to create chemical energy. So without oxygen, your cells wouldn’t have
the energy to do anything. And yet, while they’d quickly die without
enough oxygen, they may die even faster with too much. So-called oxygen toxicity can happen when
the body is flooded with oxygen too quickly — usually in a hospital setting, like when
a person’s being resuscitated from a heart attack or stroke, or when a premature baby
is getting some help breathing. Basically, the risk here is from our old foe
oxidative stress. You know about the threat posed by free radicals,
which run around oxidizing just about anything they can snag an electron from. But nothing oxidizes like … oxygen! Oxygen itself is super needy, with two vacancies
in its outer electron shell that it would just LOVE to fill up. On its own, oxygen can go around your body
creating free radicals, which go on to steal electrons from other molecules. Of course, our bodies produce antioxidants
to repair the damage that all this oxygen can cause. But we’re used to dealing with
the stress caused by living in a 21 percent oxygen environment — not 100 percent! And in the past decade or so, scientists have
discovered that giving patients 100 percent oxygen creates hordes of free radicals that
can cause all kinds of tissue damage. In 2008, for example, researchers in Texas
found that oxygen-deprived baby mice that were treated with 100 percent oxygen experienced
brain damage, and exhibited symptoms similar to cerebral palsy. Why? Well, all that oxygen created a wave of free
radicals that caused enormous oxidative stress, doing special damage to the cells that make
myelin, the fatty insulation that covers nerve cells. But the researchers were able to treat some
of the harmful effects by giving the mice … antioxidants. Of course, only in the proper
amounts. So, the take-home message here is that your
body maintains specific balances for good reason. You live in a complex world with special,
precious amounts of what you need to survive. And you are set up to take in only what you
need, and use only what you take. So when it comes water, or oxygen, antioxidants,
or your own blood cells … you can end up having too much of a good thing. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this
show, just go to patreon.com/scishow to learn more. And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow
and subscribe!

100 thoughts on “Can I Die From Too Much Water? Blood? Oxygen?”

  1. Right but doctors and emergency crews do give pure oxygen to more critical patience who need them. Often times through ER. And it is or was such a problem the military, our military specifically has a name for that. Forced Hydration… it's a very real thing. On that note let your mind wonder how many times this happens in our armed services…. youd probably be surprised actually…. I know of about 3 people who died when I was in basic training long ago. And this happens all the time. But also true, probably equally the same amount are effected by dehydration. One of those three I mentioned knowing about, would have brain damage the rest of his life. Let that swirl in your mind a bit. The kid was 18-19 mabe. Crazy world…

  2. I’m curious…

    Is it possible to die of too much knowledge? Does knowing too much make your brain unstable? Is there a maximum amount of stuff your brain can know before it either has to get rid of some stuff or just not learn anything new?

  3. I notice Hemochromatosis wasn’t mentioned. Hemochromatosis can produce too much iron in the blood causing liver damage. Relatives of mine have the disorder. (It can be regulated by “blood letting,” but the blood cannot be donated.)

  4. Too many antyoxidants on the 3 liters of wine i drank in a day? balance it with the toxic oxidative gases of a 20 pack of cigarrettes, easy peasy.

  5. Question(s):
    1. Since we live in a time that the O2 concentration in our atmosphere is lower than that of say the Triassic (or even Jurassic) period, would the dinosaurs be able to live in our time? What, if any, changes would they need to make to survive?
    2. Question #1 vice versa: Would we be able to survive in their environment? Would we be able to make the necessary physiological adjustments, if necessary, quick enough?

  6. I cannot remember the clever cookie who said it, but the old adage goes: "there are no toxic substances; only toxic doses". there are, of course, many variations on this saying, but in the end they all talk about the same thing; moderation.

  7. Because the video title was framed as a question, going to try to answer before watching.

    Too much water? Yes, your body essentially drowns in that it cannot use electrolytes properly, and I believe your brain (and probably heart and other organs?) begins to fail. I remember when Nintendo Wii’s were released there was a radio giveaway for a Wii to the person who could drink the most water the quickest, and some woman died from it.

    Blood? Not sure what this means to be honest. Too much blood my body mass? Or too many blood cells? I think some cancers are from over-production of blood cells, kinda like how psoriasis is caused by the over-production of skin cells.

    Oxygen? Yes, oxygen is toxic at levels higher than the 20% or so in our atmosphere. I don’t know the mechanisms of it though, or how high the levels have to be and for how long to cause damage. You’d probably die due to some malfunction at the cellular level, as with too much water.

    Too much beer or steak? Never 😉

  8. We need video game tech in the real world, I want a HUD that displays we bodies requirement, I can look at it and see that I need some vitamin C and my blood is OK, my antioxidant levels are good etc etc,

  9. One of my professors in Grad school hypothesized that the reason life evolved to metabolized O2 was because it was so toxic. It was a way to get rid of it before it killed us.

  10. Fluorine is a better oxidizer than Oxygen. Fluorine's electronegativity is almost twice as much as Oxygen's. As such, it is even better at ripping electrons away to form covalent bonds.

  11. Oxygen toxicity is one of the first things you learn about when don't a proper SCUBA course (not one of those you take would on vacation – those will get you killed). Since you're breathing regular air under pressure everything becomes multiplied. You're also breathing in more per breath. Nitrogen is also exciting at depth. By exciting I mean it becomes a narcotic and not the fun kind.

    Of course it becomes even more likely when doing NitrOx diving which increases your dive times at the expense of max depth. Beyond that and you start using TriMix and others.

  12. Talking too much good thing can hurt you, my neighbor found it hard way. After underpowered WV beatle he purchased mercedes with V8 engine. Inexperienced driver in 300hp rear wheel driven car produced before any stability control invention. What could go wrong

  13. Child: Mommy, why do we need oxygen?
    Science mommy: Well, specifically we need a 21% oxygenated environment, so when we breathe it in, our blood can use it to break down sugars, which give us energy. Of course, if we don't have enough, we don't get enough energy, and we stop moving. Too much oxygen, and we can caus—
    Child: OK THANK YOU! (OMG WHY IS SHE ALWAYS LIKE THIS WHENEVER I ASK A QUESTION?!)

  14. At the end of the day: chunk some chocolate and blueberries to balance out all that extra oxidizing agent you got from all that deep breathing in the yoga class. Namaste 🙂

  15. That is why ..people you don't go running off to the Quacktor every time you get a BOO BOO!! Your body knows how to heal and it has the right stuff to heal all your woes!!!!!
    Natural healing is the way to go!

  16. So could you get like a 45% O2 and eat a ton of blueberries and dark chocolate?? If its balance thats needed, could there be a high functioning high intake of both? Same with if you drink a ton of water + electrolytes.??

  17. It’s a boring video with no new knowledge. Things I learnt in high school in the 1980’s.

    Actually been taking a broad spectrum of antioxidants since 1990-20 years old and I’m 50 now and look 35 years old.

    Solgar Advanced antioxidants
    Solgar selenium
    NAC
    NADH enzymes ENADA
    Solgar ESTER C

    Keeps me young

  18. Hnnnnggg I’m a blood cell just trying to pass through the heart but I’m dummy thicc and the clap off my ass cheeks keeps alerting the arteries

  19. Once we lose the balance we never get it back. The nutrition we need to live becomes harder for the body to absorb with age. B12, D, etc. Sleep gets harder, sense of hunger and thirst become less clear. I think we need good external throw away organs to clean our blood. Our parts never ever ever get the rest they need.

  20. Funny, I'm being tested for Polycythemia Vera. The way of fixing this is basically bloodletting. 😔😔😔

  21. Hi! You are great!!! I have doubt about how marines in submarines, breath pure oxygen from electrolsys and they dont have effects as you described . Can you help me to undersatnd, thank you!!!

  22. I’ve had a condition that produced too many red blood cells. When my red blood cells exceeded about 51% in my blood, I would be sent to the blood donation center to be… well, bled. It seemed like an 18th Century treatment, but it worked. I would be bled about once a month. Thankfully, the cause of this was eventually discovered and I was successfully treated, so I could stop being bled every month. Before this happened to me, I had no idea that excessive red blood cells were so dangerous.

  23. I just was teaching a construction safety class this evening and went over the safe oxygen levels from around 19% to 23%.

  24. How long can a body tolerate a pure Oxygen environment?

    Didn't the Russian cosmonauts live in a pure oxygen environment during their trips into orbit during the space race?

    I remember something about the difficulty of docking the Americans with the Russians in orbit due to this.

  25. You can never die from too much water. We are 80% water. That means if we have water we are just adding to ourselves what we already are. How can you die from yourself? Impossible. You will only get bigger. Even muscle is mostly water so drinking lots of water is the key thing to make more muscular not protein. Also if you lose weight for example if someone is 100kg and they lose 20kg they will become 80kg. We are 80% water at 100kg then going to 80kg you will become 100% water. So how can drinking more water harm us? Again we are made of water. Thank you for your time for all who made it this far.

  26. I mean the problem isn't just too much water, it's just an imbalance of electrolytes, so couldn't you balance it back out with Pedialyte or something like that?

  27. Fun fact: you can get hyponatremia severe enough for hospitalisation from drinking as little as 10.5 (5l) pints of water in 4 hours and the ld50 of water is 10l.

  28. Antioxidants are not bad for you, yes the pill form is bad for you. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are good for you even in higher amounts. Stop speaking this garbage that you do. I know that you didn’t say antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are bad. The way you make antioxidants seem, may make others think they are bad for you.

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