from BBC Online, 23 July 2008
Our medical adviser Dr Charles Shepherd comments: "The important message here is that taking too much fluid/water (ie overhydration) can be just as dangerous as not taking enough fluid/water (ie dehydration)."
A woman has been awarded more than £800,000 after she suffered permanent brain damage while on a detox diet.
The High Court heard Dawn Page, 52, began vomiting uncontrollably after starting The Amazing Hydration Diet.
Mrs Page, from Oxfordshire, later had an epileptic seizure which damaged her memory, speech and concentration.
Her nutritionist Barbara Nash has denied any wrongdoing and the High Court ratified the settlement without mention of liability.
The court heard Mrs Page, from Faringdon, near Swindon, claimed Mrs Nash told her to drink large amounts of water and reduce her salt intake when she started the diet in October 2001.
She told the High Court that when she started vomiting Mrs Nash told her it was a normal part of the detoxification process.
Less than a week into the regime, mother-of-two Mrs Page had to be taken to Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon after suffering a severe epileptic seizure. Doctors diagnosed low salt levels in her body – known as hyponatraemia or water intoxication.
She has been left with "cognitive deficit" which she says has forced her to give up work as a conference organiser.
Her husband Geoff, 54, said: "Her life has been seriously affected, perhaps ruined, by this fad-type way of losing weight, which I can only say is a dangerous method of weight loss."
He said his wife had previously tried several other diets and had been told to drink four pints of water a day by Mrs Nash.
He said: "Just days after she started the Hydration Diet, she began to feel unwell and started vomiting.
‘Bad to worse’
"Things went from bad to worse, and within another couple of days she collapsed with the fit."
Mr Page told BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme that his wife was now on anti-epilepsy medication and mood-stabilising drugs.
"Appreciating and learning new things is difficult for her," he said. "Her life is quite structured and to a large degree written down for her."
Mrs Nash’s insurance company agreed to pay out £810,000 in an out-of-court settlement, but in a statement her lawyers denied any liability.
Plexus Law said: "On behalf of our client we wish to make it clear that all allegations of substandard practice made on behalf of Mrs Page in the litigation have always been and continue to remain firmly denied.
"Equally, the information contained in the medical records suggesting that Mrs Page appeared to have drunk five litres of water on the day that she was admitted to hospital, and therefore disregarded advice given by our client, were also denied by Mrs Page.
"In our view as a recognition of this, the settlement amount agreed to be paid was less than half the total amount claimed and the compromise which was offered and accepted was on the basis of no admission of liability."
Hyponatraemia can result when a person drinks too much water. This dilutes their blood and causes water to flood their cells and organs.
Cells in the brain can then swell up, increasing pressure inside the skull. If vital regions of the brain are compressed this can cause symptoms ranging from headaches to problems with breathing or seizures.
Detox diets are based on the theory that toxins from "unhealthy" food and drink build up in the body and can lead to health problems.
Purging those toxins – through restricted diets, lots of water or using particular supplements – is meant to leave people feeling better and, often, thinner.
But critics disagree with the principle. Dr Andrew Wadge, of the Food Standards Agency, has branded detox regimes "nonsense" and said the body has its own system of getting rid of toxins – the liver.
Dieticians are regulated by law in the UK, but nutritionists and nutritional therapists are not.
Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, told the BBC: "As a dietician I frequently see people who have been given the wrong information by nutritionists or nutritional therapists and we deal with the consequences," she said.
But others believe detoxing can beneficial if done properly. Ellie Kopiel, 55, detoxes about once a year by limiting her food intake, eating lots of fruit and vegetables and drinking about two litres of water a day.
Ms Kopiel, a reflexologist from London, told the BBC News website: "I do it when I’m feeling a bit clogged up.
"The first time I did it I must have had a lot of toxins in my body and for the first few days I felt very weak, very nervy and very tired. But now I’m more conscious of what I eat all the time so when I detox the most I get might be a headache."