Earlier this year a 29 year old British engineer named Matthew Ellis went into a coma after drinking seven liters of water.
His brain swelled and he developed a rare condition called extrapontine myelinolysis, which destroys an important layer in the nerve cells of the brain stem. After seven months in a coma Ellis died.
“I just want people to know that drinking too much water can be dangerous,” said his mother. “I hope Matthew’s death was not in vain and that somebody else might be saved.”
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Water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia results from drinking too much water. This dilutes the amount of salts in the bloodstream. In contrast, the body’s cells have a high amount of salts. To balance this concentration water from the blood stream diffuses into cells, causing them to swell. When this swelling happens to cells in the brain water intoxication sets in. Victims experience headaches, personality changes, confusion, irritability and drowsiness.
Later symptoms include breathing difficulties, muscle weakness, twitching, cramping, nausea, vomiting and a dulled ability to perceive and interpret sensory information. Cells in the brain can swell so much that blood flow is interrupted, applying pressure to the brain stem. This in turn causes the central nervous system to dysfunction. Seizures, brain damage, coma and death are possible.
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Police surmised that Ellis was so thirsty because the evening before he died from water intoxication he drank 14 pints of beer and took ecstasy.
Death by water intoxication doesn’t seem to be too common, but it happens often enough. There seems to be four main causes:
1) People like Ellis who drink copious amounts of water after taking ecstasy.
2) People who drink too much water after prolonged physical exertion, like 29 year old Jonathan Paul Dent who became lost on a hike in Tasmania and was found dead, not from dehydration but over-hydration.
3) People who drink too much water as part of fraternity hazing rituals, like State University of New York Plattsburgh freshman Walter Dean Jennings, who was forced to drink gallons of water through a funnel.
4) And babysitters and parents who discipline their children by forcing them to drink huge quantities of water. Such was the case with four year old Cassandra Killpack, of Springville, Utah who died after her parents force-fed her as much as one gallon of water in a short period as an act of discipline. Her mother Jennette was convicted in 2005 of child abuse homicide.
Now that you’re familiar with water intoxication, what about soy sauce intoxication?
An article reported in the Journal of Emergency Medicine tells of a 19-year-old Virginia man who drank a quart of soy sauce on a dare. He went into a coma but survived.