The women who drink 44 pints of water every day: And far from being healthy, their obsession could kill them…
21:27 GMT, 8 August 2012
When Sasha Kennedy feels her compulsion take hold of her, she tries to move out of view of her children. She is worried that if they discover her secret they may copy the habit that dominates her life.
It’s not hard drugs or alcohol that is Sasha’s problem. Her obsession is with water — and she can get through 44 pints of it a day.
‘I don’t drink it in front of my children, because I don’t want them to think that it is normal to drink the amount I do,’ Sasha admits.
Water addicts: Hannah Bellemy, left, and Bex Broughton are obsessed with staying hydrated
Sasha, 26, from Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, is a bright, chatty full-time mum who is devoted to her two young children — two-year-old Reggie and Fraser, one.
Yet her addiction has blighted her life — affecting her relationships, her career, even her sleep, because she can’t last an hour without glugging more water or going to the toilet — even in the middle of the night.
Water has come to symbolise well-being among many women, who, encouraged by the countless celebrities who espouse its health benefits, believe it will flush toxins from their system and improve their skin.
And now there are a growing number of women, some undoubtedly influenced by this celebrity fad — Elle Macpherson has talked about the eight glasses of water a day she drinks to keep herself in shape — who have increased their water consumption to potentially dangerous levels.
The official guidance is to drink six to eight glasses of water a day. But too much can be bad for you and even prove fatal.
'If I go out I actually get a bit panicky if I don’t think I have taken enough water with me'
There have even been cases of people who have died from water intoxication, or hypnatremia to give its proper medical name.
Meanwhile, a growing number of women are being diagnosed with water obsession, a little-known and researched condition that poses terrifying health risks.
One of them is Natasha Collins-Daniel, 28, an education manager for a charity, who drinks up to eight litres of water a day.
‘I never used to be this way, but when I started work I got into the habit of taking in a litre bottle and drinking from it constantly,’ says Natasha, who is married to graphic designer James Daniel, 29 and lives in Bristol.
‘I suppose subconsciously I may have been influenced by all those articles you read in magazines about how models and actresses claim the secret of their looks and good health is drinking lots of water.
‘Before I knew it I was refilling my bottle up seven or eight times a day. No one at work gave me second glance — the only comment I’d attract would be: “Oh you’re so healthy, drinking all that water.”
‘Then, a few months ago, I read an article saying that if you drink too much you risk damaging your kidneys and I thought, “I have to cut down”. But, like breaking any habit, it’s been hard.’
This desire to drink so much water is not technically an addiction, says Robert Brown, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Glasgow.
‘In some cases it will be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder,’ he explains. ‘With an obsession you do something because it gives you a sense of relief and not doing it brings a sense of catastrophe.
Celeb fad: Elle Macpherson has said she drinks eight glasses of water a day to keep herself in shape
‘The way to deal with it is with the help of a professional — perhaps a cognitive behavioural therapist who can try to change behaviour.’
Natasha identifies with the description. ‘I am obsessive about water. When I drink I convince myself I’m thirsty,’ she says. ‘If I don’t drink, I feel lethargic. But I’m sure it’s more psychological than physical.
And she is not alone, there are said to be an estimated 741,000 OCD sufferers in the UK.
As well as this, the consumption of bottled water is on the rise, increasing from 26.9 litres per person a year in 2001, to 34 litres in 2011. If current trends continue, it will hit 41 litres per person by 2021, according to food and drink consultancy Zenith International. And that takes into account only bottled water.
Water is undoubtedly vital for good health. It keeps our organs in good working order and helps to carry nutrients where needed and to remove waste products.
But Catherine Collins, principal dietitian at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, South London, warns that drinking too much can damage the heart.
‘If you go to the loo about three times a day, you’re probably drinking enough,’ she explains.
‘But if you have so much water that you go to the loo umpteen times a day, then you may be flushing out water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B group vitamins.
‘If this continues and someone is not eating a healthy diet then, in the long run, this could lead to health issues such as heart problems.”
Marc Laniado, a consultant urologist at Windsor Urology and Heatherwood and Wexham Park NHS Hospital, adds that people who feel the need to drink water constantly should always get themselves checked out by a doctor for conditions such as diabetes.
It was precisely this concern that led to Hannah Bellamy, 31, from Richmond, South West London, to go to her doctor about her excessive water intake.
The executive director of a charity drinks two pints of water before she goes to bed and still wakes up three or four times a night wanting more.
She has a large glass of water when she gets up, has a big jug of water on her desk which she sips at constantly through the day and has a another two or three pints at home in the evening as she watches TV.
'I drink constantly. I get through a big bottle in the morning, another in the afternoon and then some more at home'
At the moment she says her intake is higher than normal, because she is pregnant.
‘The doctor couldn’t find any physical reason why I should drink so much,’ she says.
‘My husband Freddie is a psychiatrist and should know if I have any psychological issues, but has come to the conclusion that it is just the way I am. It doesn’t bother me or distract me in any way and it’s not OCD — I just get thirsty.’
‘My mother took me to the doctor when I was young, because I was drinking so much then, too. If we were out and about on family trips we had to stop and find a loo for me all the time. I drink a bit of coffee and tea, too, but nothing quenches my thirst quite like water. I don’t think it is an issue.’
But unlike Hannah, most women who drink water to excess are desperate to cut back.
Bex Broughton, 25, from Fulham, South-West London, who works in the fashion industry, became hooked on water after she started work.
Doctors have found no reason why she should drink so much and she wishes she could stop drinking almost five litres of water a day.
‘I think it began almost a way to fill the day when I first started working and was finding my feet.
Health risk: Drinking too much water can flush out water-soluble vitamins (posed by model)
‘I drink constantly. I get through a big bottle in the morning, another in the afternoon and then some more at home.
‘It’s a pain, because I am constantly going to the loo, but I feel thirsty if I don’t drink that much.
‘I wake up three or four times a night needing the loo and find it hard to get back to sleep.
‘If I go out I actually get a bit panicky if I don’t think I have taken enough water with me. I would love to use little clutch bags, but there is no way I could fit a bottle of water in one, so I don’t.’
Sasha wishes she could stop, too. ‘I feel like it is a curse, that’s the only way to put it,’ she says.
‘I can put the children to bed and have some freedom from them, but not from my compulsion to drink water.
‘I am always tired, because my sleep is so interrupted.
‘My current boyfriend will sleep through anything but, in the past, partners have complained about me waking up so often to drink and go to the toilet,’ she says.
‘They found my behaviour disrupted their sleep so much that it was just too much for them to put up with.
‘When I do wake up in the night I don’t just take a sip of water — I will glug around a litre and a half. If I don’t drink then my mouth feels parched.’
Hospital tests on Sasha have been inconclusive.
‘Doctors wanted me to go back, but I found that day so hard that I couldn’t bear the idea of going through with it again,’ she says. ‘I wish I didn’t feel this way about water, but it’s just the way I am.
‘At the moment, my priority is to care for my children and I have to keep myself together for that.’
And she also has to continue to keep her secret from her two boys so they don’t go on to develop this debilitating obsession.