During emergencies many people have been forced to survive without any water for days at a time, leading them to take drastic measures. Among the most common is drinking your own urine, which to many people is basically a convenient last-ditch water source that you carry around with you on a daily basis. Everyone from Bear Grylls to trapped canyoneer Aron Ralston have used the technique, but is it really effective?
Disclaimer: I’m not a chemist, a nutritional scientist, or a medical professional of any kind. This information is my opinion only, and shouldn’t be mistaken for competent medical advice.
What’s in that yellow stuff?
As you can see, there is some value here but also some toxins present.
The best way to know if urine is healthy to drink is to see what’s in it, so let’s examine the composition. Generally speaking, aside from excess water urine contains electrolytes, salts, unabsorbed vitamins and minerals, as well as trace amounts of certain diseases and medications if they are in your system at the time. If you are completely healthy however, urine is generally understood to be sterile to the person who produced it.
With that knowledge in hand, you then need to determine what concentration each of these substances has in your urine. This is much more variable, since the concentration can vary depending on how much water you have consumed before urinating. A well-hydrated person, for example, has a high concentration of water (sometimes up to 85-90%) in their urine which can result in a very mild yellow or even clear liquid as opposed to the urine of a dehydrated person which has a low concentration of water and a dark yellow color. Since you really want the water and not the other toxins expelled with it, the urine of a thoroughly hydrated person is naturally preferable to the urine of someone who is dying of thirst.
So is it safe to drink at all?
This Army Manual Solar Still is designed for fouled water, but it works well for urine too.
That’s a mixed question in many ways, but in general just drinking your own urine won’t kill you in the short term. However, even the most diluted and water-heavy urine is only good for maybe one additional pass through before you start building up so much salt that you’re basically drinking ocean water, which will dehydrate you faster than not drinking at all. Under no circumstance would I recommend drinking another person’s urine: the danger of infecting yourself with a foreign disease is much too great even in a last-ditch situation.
Alternatively, although some survival experts recommend drinking it straight up out of the “tap”, the Army Survival Manual suggests a much better solution. Instead of drinking the urine with its water and salt content together, you would be much better off building a makeshift solar still of some kind, with a piece of metal or fabric setup to catch the evaporation from a cup of urine and condense it back into purer water without the salt. You can then drink this distilled water much more safely than the original urine. Of course, you’ll still get less and less water each time you distill the urine without another source of water, but at least you won’t be reintroducing salt into the body and dehydrating yourself faster.
What can happen if I don’t get enough water or dehydrate myself by drinking undistilled urine?
One of the main sufferers will be your kidneys. These are designed to clean your blood and deposit toxins and other waste products into your urine, but without water to keep everything flowing properly you will begin to experience symptoms of kidney failure. As a result, you’ll stop producing urine or will find it painful to do so since you’ll have very little water to carry all of the salts and toxins out.
The next major organ to receive damage will probably be your heart, since excess potassium will remain in the body rather than being expelled. This potassium will cause irregular heart rhythms, heart attacks, and even sudden heart failure if left untreated.
Other general symptoms will include shortness of breath, tiredness, and confusion as your body tries to function without that precious water it needs to keep blood flowing and all your organs lubricated. It is vital therefore that you avoid becoming dehydrated at all costs, since once you pass a certain stage confusion and hallucinations greatly increase the chance of death by falling off of ledges or wandering about and wasting energy.
Drinking your own urine has its place in a survival skillset, but I would not recommend drinking it straight up even if you were dehydrated. Spend the time before you’re tired and confused to build a solar still so that you can make the best use of this last bodily resource.
Let us know what you think! Would you drink urine? Would you distill it first if possible? Let us know in the comments below.