Drinking Salt Water


Drinking salt water poses risks that are generally underappreciated and that, if ignored, can have catastrophic consequences. Have you heard that consuming salty water can aid in rehydrating the body? or that a tiny bit of it is okay to drink? Although these myths can appear harmless, ingesting salt water might actually have negative effects. You should be aware of the risks associated with consuming it as well as how it affects the body in order to make wise choices regarding your health. Continue reading to find out more about the dangers of swallowing salt water and how to keep safe.


Drinking salt water can be extremely dangerous to your health.

  • Salt water is hypertonic, meaning it has a higher concentration of salt than the human body.
  • Ingesting salt water can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Long-term consumption of salt water can lead to serious health complications.

Find out more about the risks associated with consuming salt water and how to stay safe!

Ever wondered if drinking saltwater or ocean water is bad for humans and our health?

Have you ever considered the safety of drinking ocean salt water every day instead of regular water?

Others may vouch for a salt water flush (drinking ocean salt water as a cleanser) but is this practice based on myth or science facts?

Drinking ocean salt water or seawater is never a good idea, no matter how tempting.

At the very least, the experience of drinking saltwater or seawater is rather unpleasant. But did you know that it can also be dangerous? It may seem odd that something that covers over seventy percent of the earth’s surface could be dangerous to us. So, why is drinking saltwater or seawater dangerous for our health? Today we’ll explore just that, by examining;

  • What does drinking saltwater or seawater do to the body?
  • What are some of the symptoms of salt water poisoning?
  • What you can do to stop or reverse these salt water symptoms?
  • What are some good alternatives to drinking saltwater or seawater?

Have you ever been to the beach? You’re swimming around in the ocean, minding your own business and somehow you manage to swallow some water. Aside from the taste of seawater you think no big deal right? But shortly after, an upset stomach is what you’ve got. If you’ve ingested a significant quantity of salt water or seawater, that might be a problem.

Some fads have emerged that encourage people to drink small amounts of salt water daily to effect a sort of system purge. This is called a salt water flush.

A salt water or seawater flush isn’t necessarily harmful, so long as the amount remains small, and is balanced out with freshwater. The negative side effects of drinking saltwater or seawater happen when someone is forced to drink salt water consistently as their only source of water.

When Drinking Salt Water May Be The *ONLY* Option

You may be thinking that there wouldn’t be a situation where you need to drink salt water or ocean water exclusively. What would be the most common ways that salt water could become a viable water source?

  • According to The Water Project, almost one billion people the world over lack access to clean and safe drinking water. In a situation such as this, close proximity to the ocean could make it look like an option.
  • Cultures that survive in arid regions depend on annual rainfalls to replenish their clean water sources.
  • When rains in dependent regions are less than expected, or more devastatingly a drought happens, salt water or seawater sources may seem like the only ones available.
  • Increasingly all over the world, contamination of freshwater sources have become an alarmingly common occurrence. If that ever happens and you’re in such a location without freshwater sources such as rivers, drinking seawater or salt water from the ocean begins to look good when thirst sets in.

In developing countries, freshwater sources in rural areas can be scarce. The travel time to a source may be as much as half a day if one has to walk to the source. If there is a coastal source nearby, and people aren’t educated to the dangers of drinking or consuming large quantities of salt water, it becomes an option.

As much as it seems water is simply water, it really is not. Because of the how salt water or seawater becomes a part of the ocean, it also has additional minerals and a higher salinity level that our bodies can’t easily tolerate. In areas of high ground pollution there is a higher acidity level because of runoff. But the biggest problem is the salt levels it contains, so let’s examine what happens when you drink salt water or ocean water.

We can say that drinking ocean water or salt water is bad for you, but like with most things examples are the best ways of getting our ideas across. Before reading the following sections, ask yourself these questions. Why would drinking ocean water or salt water be harmful to the human body? If freshwater is in short supply or not available, why can’t you drink salt water?

How does drinking saltwater affect the body?

You might drink salt water because you’re thirsty and worried about getting dehydrated. What you’ve done is counterproductive though, because you’ll end up losing more water volume than you’re taking in. Through the process of osmosis, our body expels the salt from the water. So no matter how much sea salt water we consume to "quench" our thirst, our bodies will also take in all the salt that comes with it.

Drinking Seawater Affects the Kidneys

The kidneys can only process liquids in our body, solid matter is handled somewhere else by another system. But here’s the kicker, kidneys can only create urine from liquids that are less than 2% salt, or less salty than the water being ingested. Salt water or ocean salt water is usually at least 3.5% salt.

Our kidneys can't process salt water or seawater without taking liquid from other parts of the body to try and lower the blood's salt volume, so that it can get rid of it. What happens if you drink ocean water or salt water, is that your body will expel half more water than it’s taking in because it’s trying to lower the salt content in your blood.

The kidneys aren’t the only thing that gets affected by the inability to process this higher salt content found in salt water or seawater. Other organs in humans can also be affected.

Why Drinking Saltwater is *DANGEROUS*

Remember what we talked before? How other systems in the body are also affected by an overabundance of salt or salt water and the inability to remove it? Ok, this is where we discuss how these systems are affected, their reactions and how those will affect you.

Have you ever been out with friends and against your better judgement had maybe a little too much wine? You might feel somewhat off your game, your reactions become slower and your thought process a bit muddled. You’ve become intoxicated. Early signs of salt or salt water poisoning will look the same, because you have in fact become intoxicated.

Salt poisoning can have anything from very mild symptoms such as jitteriness, lethargy and confusion. To more complex and deadly reactions such as dehydration that can then lead to a whole host of issues including a spike in blood pressure, seizure and coma. Let’s talk a bit about how these happen.

Drinking Saltwater: *Poisoning Effects*

The jitters may not seem like a terrible reaction to have, merely a bit uncomfortable. But keep in mind that along with with jitters comes

  • an increase in respiration, blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Continued exposure to both those symptoms can lead to much more severe responses such as a myocardial infarction, or a heart attack.
  • Likewise lethargy and confusion can impair judgment and inhibit good decision making.
  • Confusion can cause you to not realize the severity or urgency of the symptoms that you’re experiencing.
  • Coupled with lethargy, this can leave you unable to seek the help that you need in a timely manner.

While those milder symptoms can sound anywhere from annoying to scary, if left untended they lead to much more severe, life threatening complications such as fluid build-up on the brain and in the lungs, seizures and coma, all of which can eventually lead to death.

*SEIZURES* from Drinking Saltwater

The path to death from salt poisoning is a domino effect, but can happen in a number of ways that begin with damage to brain cells caused by bleeding around or in the brain. They do not always lead to death, but it’s important to catch them as early as possible, once you’ve had a seizure it becomes more difficult to turn back the clock. Minute brain damage happens with every seizure.

The Central Nervous System (CNS) body regulates our body by sending messages via electric currents along our synapses to connecting neurons. You can think of neurons as two islands connected by a bridge, to get something from one side to the next, you have to cross the bridge.

When a seizure happens, it’s caused by abnormal electrical activity.

  • Either the synapses are over-firing and bombarding neurons with too much information, or not enough is being sent.
  • Because a seizure almost always involves brain bleeding to some degree, the length and severity of it can lead to a coma.
  • A coma while not always permanent can lead to death.
  • Salt poisoning can cause seizures when it builds up in the blood and brain cells.
  • Build up in the brain cells, cause the synapses to misfire either too much or too little, resulting in seizures.

Salt Water Poisoning Reversal

If you’ve ingested only a small amount of salt water or seawater, from say swimming in the ocean or something equally innocuous, there are things that you can do on your own that could reduce or reverse the effects, but there are things to keep in mind while doing so.

  • The best way to reverse any potential side-effect is to consume a larger volume of freshwater to dilute it.
  • Sometimes your body will act as its own agent and purge the salt water after drinking on it’s own. It’s still important, even in that situation to replace the water you’ve lost.
  • However, when trying to replace the salt water or seawater volume with freshwater, you don’t want to do so too quickly.
  • Because the body and brain will adapt to the higher concentration of salt rather quickly, rapid infusion of freshwater can cause brain cells to swell before it can effectively rid itself of salt water, which can lead to brain swelling, damage and death.

If freshwater isn’t available, but will be shortly, attempting to purge the salt water or ocean water is a good start. If you’ve had too much to purge effectively, and no freshwater is on hand, electrolyte rich alternatives such as coconuts are a good alternative. However, you should see a physician quickly after to assure that an imbalance hasn’t occurred.

If someone has already started to exhibit some of the more severe symptoms of salt or salt water poisoning, it’s imperative to get them to a physician, hospital or para-medical personnel as quickly as possible.

Additional Salt Water Drinking Research:

3 Essential Tips to Avoid the Dangers of Drinking Salt Water

  1. Avoid drinking salty water if you are in a survival situation. Instead, look for freshwater sources such as streams, rivers, and lakes.
  2. If you are stranded on an island or in a remote area with no access to freshwater, try collecting rainwater or digging for groundwater.
  3. Be aware of other potential dangers of drinking water in the wild. Even if it's not salty, it can still contain bacteria and other contaminants that can make you sick.

ALSO: If possible, bring along a portable desalination device when travelling to areas where freshwater is scarce!

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About The Author

Joseph Bartley
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Joseph Bartley, also known as the WaterFilterFanatic, is a seasoned content writer who specializes in water filtration and water quality topics. On AllAboutWaterFilters, he has written a range of water filtration system reviews, water health and quality articles, swimming pool, hot tub and aquarium filtration guides, DIY methods to assist people clean their drinking water, and much more. Joseph enjoys spending his time working with the #AllAboutWaterFilters Editorial Team to provide some of the best quality water filtration content available on the web.

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