Coconut Water: Benefits and Risks

One of the best-known benefits, an uncommonly high amount of potassium, is also one of the main coconut water disadvantages.

coconut water

How much coconut water should I drink per day? Limit your intake to a few servings a day to avoid coconut water disadvantages such as high levels of potassium.

© Raja Rc |

Editor’s note: When used safely, coconut water benefits can include lowering blood pressure and boosting hydration. Below, we discuss coconut water disadvantages; to learn more about the benefits of drinking coconut water daily, click here.

One of the best-known coconut water benefits, an uncommonly high amount of potassium, is also the main reason that drinking too much coconut water can cause harm. Too much potassium from over drinking coconut water brings many side effects.

In a case study titled “Death by Coconut,” published in Circulation, Justin Hakimian, MD, and his colleagues at the Department of Cardiology, New York Hospital Queens, describe the case of a 42-year-old previously healthy man who developed dangerously high potassium levels that led to fainting and abnormal heart rhythms after drinking a large amount of coconut water.[1]. The man had been playing tennis outdoors all day in temperatures in excess of 90° F. He reported drinking a total of eight 11-ounce bottles of coconut water throughout the day. He experienced a sudden onset of lightheadedness and briefly lost consciousness. Afterward, he complained of weakness and lightheadedness and was brought to the emergency department by ambulance. He was disoriented and warm and, most importantly, had a very low blood pressure and heart rate.

Coconut Water Side Effects

This unfortunate man was experiencing the classic signs of too much potassium in the blood. The body needs a delicate balance of potassium to help the heart and other muscles work properly. Most Americans consume too little potassium, which is mostly found in fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, consuming a large amount of coconut water potassium in a relatively short period of time can lead to dangerous, and possibly deadly, changes in heart rhythm.

In fact, high potassium (hyperkalemia) is a common cause of life-threatening heart rhythm changes, including ventricular fibrillation, an emergency condition in which the lower parts of the heart flutter rapidly instead of pumping blood. If extremely high potassium levels in the blood remain untreated, the heart may stop beating, causing death.

The Institute of Medicine has set an adequate intake for potassium at 4,700 mg/day for adults, but they have not set an upper limit. Therefore, it is not clear exactly how much potassium can be taken safely. However, as you just learned, very high doses of potassium can be deadly.

Causes of High Potassium

Potassium levels can become dangerously high from excessive intake, decreased excretion, or both. It can be particularly dangerous to consume high amounts of potassium when you have a certain medical condition or take any number of medications that also lead to high potassium levels in the blood. Side effects of coconut water in excess and high potassium levels include the following:

In the case above, the man was also found to have muscle tissue breakdown (rhabdomyolysis). This can occur from muscle exertion, including from strenuous exercise, endurance exercise, and exercise in hot and humid conditions. Rhabdomyolysis commonly causes kidney damage. His doctors estimated that he ingested about 5,500 mg of potassium from his eight servings of coconut water. This amount of potassium, combined with the potassium that was likely released from his muscle fibers after prolonged exercise, was enough to hospitalize him.

Fortunately, after a three-day hospital stay and a temporary pacemaker, the man recovered. His potassium levels returned to normal and his heart began working properly again, as did his muscles and kidneys, which had gone into acute failure.

People can suffer from too little potassium as well. Learn more in 3 Serious Potassium Deficiency Symptoms to Watch Out For.

The High Potassium Content of Coconut Water: Benefits and Risks

So is coconut water good for you? Or is coconut water bad for you? And, you may be asking yourself, “How much coconut water should I drink?” This story is not the only published report of dangerously high potassium levels caused by drinking too much coconut water.[2] But it’s a good lesson that too much of a good thing, even if it’s all natural, isn’t always safe. Anyone with a heart condition or kidney disease needs to avoid overdoing it with coconut water and talk to their doctor about how much potassium is safe to consume.

And, as you can read here, reversing severe dehydration and replenishing electrolytes with coconut water for diarrhea relief or help with prolonged strenuous exercise in the heat, is not recommended. Coconut water’s electrolytes and concentration just are not balanced enough to make it a great rehydration solution in extreme cases.

Most people have no reason to fear drinking coconut water. Benefits of drinking coconut water, an all-natural, uncommonly nutritious beverage, are great: Coconut water is an excellent way to quench your thirst, boost hydration, and increase your intake of important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. It even helps treat high blood pressure, if needed. Just limit your intake to a few servings a day. Use good judgment and remember that for non-athletes, plain water is the beverage of choice during and after a daily workout. Coconut oil, another product, also offers a variety of health benefits. Begin exploring them in Coconut Oil for Memory Loss. In addition, coconut milk can serve as an lower-fat substitute for whole milk. Find out more about its health benefits in Is Coconut Milk Healthy?

This post was originally published in 2014. It is regularly updated.

[1] Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2014 Feb;7(1):180-1.

[2] Br J Hosp Med (Lond). 2012 Sep;73(9):534.


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Kathleen Jade, ND

Dr. Kathleen Jade is a naturopathic physician and served for many years as the Medical Director and Editor-In-Chief of Natural Health Advisory Institute. She has been licensed as a primary … Read More

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  • The negative effects were probably due to either his over indulging in his sport, age, or Other Health reasons. Ive known ppl who trained for olympics & other high endurance sports in places that were very hot like Hawaii, & the Only way they could keep hydrated, healthy, & restore electrolites was to drink coconut water. They told me that before they knew the secret, they had water bottles and felt horribly exhausted. Though, when they drank coconut water, instantly they felt such amazing results of energy, and hydration. My personal results have been the same. I only drink Wild Harvest 100% pure coconut water (the only ingredient) with no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors in place of Turkey Hill green iced tea w/ ginseng & honey and I’ve already lost 3 lbs/ week bcz it makes me feel full, & I eat whole grains w/ proteins, lettuce spring mixes, (& mayo is my only weakness). I take a multi vitamin, but always felt needs to eat every hour or so aftr being layed off & gaining 75lbs. aftr have moved to a new place in suburbs where i know nobody. Coconut water was a recommendation that has Truly been a Blessing for me! ? I used to get foot & leg cramps but the potassium helped so much! Also, it curbs my appetite completely, so when its actual mealtime, Im not starving & eating fast unhealthy foods, but actually taking time to make a healthy chicken, lettuce, whole grain wrap or sandwhich. (Also, Another thing I Highly Recommend~*Modern Table Meals*- Soo TASTY, Healthy, & Carb Free-Pesto w/ Lentil Pasta is my Ultimate FAV! They r Soo Easy to make, 5 ingredients in One Box, yet HEALTHY! ?

  • Never underestimate the over-importance of small sample sizes! The man appeared to be exhausted, linking his condition to coconut water appears rather silly. I consume over 70 ounces (2 liters) of coconut water per day..

  • I drank approximately 12 fresh coconuts each day without drinking normal water and now every time I drink coconut water or Coke I get the most horrible leg cramps. The last time it happened I thought I was going to die. Too much has definitely cause numerous problems for me. I can be talking and in mid sentence start screaming. MRI, Cat Scans, x-rays, ultra sounds. nerve testing have provided no answers for this condition. What is common is that every time I get the cramp I have drank coconut water or coke and not enough normal water.

  • I drink coconut water everyday, it actually helps my irregular heart beat, and do suffer from ventricular fibrallation, but not as often as I used to before I drank coconut water. Everyone is different. I do drink 2-3 glasses per day. and water.

  • I was diagnosed with low potassium levels last year in October. I have had Chronic Migraine with Aura (visual loss) since I was 10 years old. When I was admitted to the ER for low potassium and put on an IV replacement, I got a raging migraine with visual loss within 45 minutes. I have been drinking at least a litre of coconut water a day, my migraines have gotten worse. Didn’t think that was possible! It occured to me that since I have read that potassium causes blood vessels to constrict, while I am suplimenting with potassium by drinking coconut water daily, that this could be the cause? Anybody have any expreience with this? I dring Pelligrino, a litre a day too. But that is the only liquids I drink. I am wondering if this could be a factor? I have to do something to keep potassium levels within normal range. Thank you!

  • Tis is as lame as it gets. utter nonsence.
    Unheard off for pple who live in the tropical region. And tt girl who drank coke…. and get cramps… seriously… bet coke and coconut water?
    Come on…just bcos its a University and based on 1 lame indiv.. aspect us to believe tt …

  • Let’s break this down shall we. This supposed man who, quote; “developed dangerously high potassium levels that led to fainting and abnormal heart rhythms after drinking a large amount of coconut water”, had consumed eight – 11 ounce cans of coconut water. That totals 88 ounces, which also totals approximately 3750 MG’s of potassium. Now for the record, the % of daily value allowed in Canada is 3500 MG’s, which is 82.5 ounces. So, the man only drank 5.5 ounces over the daily limit, but quote; “had dangerously high levels of potassium.” Conclusion – either this publication is made up, or the man also consumed 99 bananas on top of his coconut water, because I would be inclined to assume that in order to achieve “dangerously high levels of potassium”, one would need to at least quintuple the daily amount allowed… but hey, who’s counting. 🙂

  • I drank a litre of cocnut water everyday for 2 weeks and I began bleeding from the rectum profusely. I have since stopped drinking it and my symptoms seem to be easing. I can only link this to the cocnut water as nothing else in my diet had changed, I drank it in the morning, throughout the daya and at night. Some days I would consume 2 litres a day as I enjoyed the taste and thought the health benefits would be good. I would say it is good in moderation, but there is high potassium which can cause musle and red blood cell problems.

  • Utterly nonsence. I live in a tropical Singapore and this is so unheard of. And those who takes litres n litres of coconut water why? All foods in moderation. Even if drink large amount of plain water can cause you death.
    Natural food is your medicine.

  • How few is few? I drink 2 fresh coconut that is about 1400-1500 ml everyday for about 4 years now. I had few blood test from the previous years and the most recent is from last week. The doctor never said about potassium. Coconut in can is not pure, I think that extender is what will make you sick.

  • RUBBISH! I grow up in Indonesia, Coconut tree heaven, every corner there is coconut tree. We drank a lot of young coconut water and yet none of us ever when to the hospital. I went to the hospital here in the USA because of a stomach ulcer but not of coconut water. So please stop this rubbish!

  • I want to object I drank 1 liter of fresh coconut water and it tasted so good, the day was very humid so I started to drink another bottle and I started to get itching and swelling all over my body as someone mentioned before everything in moderation

  • Well I’m putting it to the test. On my 9th litre of coconut water and still feeling fresh if I make it to 50 then that clears it otherwise see you in the next life.

  • I have lived in a flat with serious mould smell and raw sewerage till afford to move i found a coconut every day helped energy feeling full and i think overall health which was my aim, but cannot be sure health v bad anyway and varying toxin levels etc. However now after about three months i wonder if the heart murmer on/off i have and heart pains plus diareah r connected so stopped today will be more moderate and buy Aloe vera poss also as anti fungal anti bactierial

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