Why You Should Not Drink Salt Water?

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Over half of Earth’s surface is made of water, but most of it is salt water and is not fit for human consumption.

Around 3% of the water covering the Earth is freshwater, and a lot of it is trapped in snowfields and glaciers. Saltwater is not recommended for human consumption, and it is associated with several adverse effects.

Why You Should Not Drink Salt Water?

What is Saltwater?

Saltwater is found in seas and oceans, while freshwater flows in rivers, streams, and lakes. Few animal and plant species can survive in the two types of environment as most of them are adapted to either of the habitats. The differences between saltwater and freshwater include:

  • Salinity– Saltwater contains high levels of salt or sodium chloride. Freshwater, on the other hand, has low amounts of salt. Ocean water contains an average salinity of 3.5%, that is there are 35 grams of salt in every liter of seawater. The salt in seawater is thought to originate from the seafloor in addition to the salt dissolved in water from streams and rivers.
  • Density- Because of its salt content, saltwater is denser when compared to freshwater, which means that a particular volume of ocean water is heavier than a similar quantity of freshwater. Warmer seawater is also denser than cold saltwater, and the colder water, therefore, sinks to the ocean floor. Once the colder water transforms into ice, it becomes less dense and rises to the surface. Objects in saltwater tend to have a higher capability to float than they do in freshwater.
  • Freezing and Boiling Point- The boiling and freezing points of saltwater differ from those of freshwater. The average freezing point of seawater is -2ºC, although it can be lower if the water is under pressure or if the salt content is higher. Freshwater, on the other hand, has a typical freezing point of 0 degrees Celsius.
  • Tonicity– When water with varying levels of a solute is placed across a semipermeable membrane, water will move to the side of the layer containing a higher solute concentration to even out the levels of solutes. Tonicity is vital for the animal and plant species inhabiting a particular body of water.

Saltwater is hypertonic to the tissues in animals and plants, which means that these species lose water to the environment they are in. These organisms have to consume water and get rid of the salt continually. Freshwater, on the other hand, is hypotonic to the plants and animals. Such organisms rarely need to absorb water, but they must excrete it continuously. This adaption is called osmoregulation.

The primary ions found in saltwater are chloride, calcium, sodium, sulfate, potassium, and magnesium. By weight, these ions represent nearly 99% of all sea salts. The levels of these salts in a volume of ocean water differ because of the removal or addition of water via processes like evaporation and precipitation. Other dissolved substances of saltwater include inorganic carbon, fluoride, bromide, strontium, and boron.

What Happens When You Drink Saltwater?

To understand the effect of saltwater on the body, we have to be aware of the kidneys’ role in elimination. The organ filters the waste in the blood, which is then stored and eliminated in the form of urine. Kidneys essentially purify the blood, which is why people with non-functioning kidneys need dialysis to clean their bodies.

Kidneys can only form urine from liquids which are less than 2% salt or which have fewer salts that the water being consumed. Saltwater is around 3.5% salt, and the kidneys will, therefore, have a hard time processing it for expulsion. The only way the organ can treat the liquid is by taking liquid from other areas of the body to lower the blood’s salt concentration so that it can get rid of it.

The ingestion of saltwater will also trigger the osmosis process in the body’s cells. This process is able to occur in the cells because they are semipermeable. They let water molecules through, but keep out solute molecules or charged ions. Water will migrate across the cell barrier to even out the solute levels on both sides. The more saltwater present in the blood, the higher the osmotic pressure, and the quicker the cells lose water. Your body may be full of saltwater after you ingest it, but you will be severely thirsty.

In addition to the kidneys, other the functionality of other organs will be impacted as well. The effects of drinking saltwater include:

Kidney Damage

Drinking saltwater will put stress on a person’s kidney, which may become damaged or even stop functioning if the consumption is continuous. Kidney damage is attributed to osmosis.

As the blood travels through the kidney for purification, extra water crosses through a semipermeable barrier into a collection channels inside the organ. The solute concentration in this chamber is typically higher than the level in the blood. In a situation where the blood has a high salt level, water will not pass through the membrane, and the blood will not get purified.

The level of proteins will subsequently be abnormally high, and the kidneys will be under a lot of pressure. An overworked kidney will pave the way for other serious health effects.


Saltwater has a higher concentration of salts than those required by the human body to survive. These high salt levels are even more than a body can handle. As soon as your body determines that there is an oversupply of salts in your bloodstream, your kidneys will go to work to filter and eliminate the salt via the passage of urine. The organs, however, need a significant amount of water to process a small amount of water.

When you ingest salt water, you are adding a lot of salts to the body and not sufficient water to eliminate them. Your body’s natural processes will, therefore, utilize a large amount of water and leave an unhealthy level of salts in your system.

Your Cells will Shrink

When too much salt inhabits the body, it impacts on its ability to control the amount of water in your cells. High salt levels will make the water level in a cell seem higher than it is, and trigger the movement of water from the cell to the bloodstream.

The cell will subsequently shrink and die. The water from the cells will be directed to the kidney to help it flush our excess salts. With the cells unable to carry out their functions, other health problems will arise.

Increased Blood Pressure

Saltwater destabilizes the blood pressure in the body and causes grave health effects in several organs.

Consuming salts increases the levels of the sodium in a person’s blood circulation. Your body will subsequently retain more water in an attempt to flush the salt out of itself. This water accumulates in body tissues and increases the volume of blood in your body. The extra volume exerts pressure on blood vessels, and it may cause increased blood pressure.

The extra blood pressure represents added strains on the insides of arteries. The tiny muscles in the artery walls respond by becoming thicker and stronger, which leaves small spaces inside the arteries, and drives the blood pressure even higher. If the situation is left unaddressed for several years, the arteries may burst or clog up entirely. The organs of the body that relied on blood from the arteries will thus become nutrient-starved.

If the arteries leading to the heart get damaged, it will receive less blood. The cells in the heart will, therefore, not work optimally as they are not obtaining sufficient nutrients. If a part of the heart is not receiving the nutrients it needs, a heart attack may ensue.

Clogged arteries also mean that the brain is not receiving a lot of blood, which may cause a stroke.

Other Side Effects

Early dehydration effects will include a dry mouth and quicker heartbeat, followed by headaches and dizziness. Confusion and lethargy will also set in. You may also experience unconsciousness, vomit, or loss of appetite.

Saltwater Poisoning

Continued ingestion of saltwater may lead to more grave symptoms like a heart attack or myocardial infarction. The confusion can leave you unable to realize the urgency of the symptoms. The milder symptoms should be addressed, in case they lead to severe complications like seizures and coma.

Death from saltwater is possible as continuous damage occurs in the brain. Saltwater poisoning can trigger seizures as it builds up in the brain cells and blood.

How to Reverse Saltwater Poisoning?

The most effective way of reversing the potential effects of drinking saltwater is by ingesting a higher volume of freshwater to dilute it. Your body may get rid of the water by itself, but it is still vital to consume a lot of water.

If you are trying to dilute salt water, however, it is a good idea not to it too quickly. The body and brain typically adapt to the higher volume of salt quickly, and rapid infusion of freshwater will cause brain cells to swell and lead to brain damage and even death.

If freshwater is not available immediately, you can attempt to purge the saltwater. You can also opt for electrolyte edibles like coconuts if freshwater will still not be available, and you can then consult a physician to ensure that imbalance has not occurred.

If someone exhibits the more severe effects of saltwater poisoning, consult medical personnel immediately.


This is George, the Aquaman, editor at AquaMantra. I'm a water quality analyst by profession, and used to work at one of the largest water bottler company.
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