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Better safe than sorry

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In Man vs. Wild the host Bear Grylls claims you should drink your own urine to avoid dehydration. Among the many other interesting feats he has done:

The show has featured stunts including Grylls climbing cliffs, parachuting from helicopters, balloons, and planes, paragliding, ice climbing, running through a forest fire, wading rapids, eating snakes, wrapping his urine-soaked t-shirt around his head to help stave off the desert heat, drinking urine saved in a rattlesnake skin, drinking fecal liquid from elephant dung, eating deer droppings, wrestling alligators, field dressing a camel carcass and drinking water from it, eating various "creepy crawlies" [insects], utilizing the corpse of a sheep as a sleeping bag and flotation device, free climbing waterfalls and using a bird guano/water enema for hydration.

Is this really a good idea to drink your own urine in a survival situation? Wouldn't it cause other health problems and reduce your chance of survival?

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+1 for bear-grylls tag. :) –  NickC Mar 30 '11 at 4:25
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People drink urine not only in survival situations, but for healing and cosmetic purposes. And this article says it all. I thought its popular woo, but I guess I know too many weird people :) –  Egle Mar 30 '11 at 6:49
    
related :) –  David Hedlund Mar 30 '11 at 9:55
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It's a last resort. It can cause a build up of Urea salts in your blood, which is bad. But, when your choice is death vs. hospitalization, go with the hospitalization. –  Chris Cudmore Mar 30 '11 at 12:00
    
if it's a question of drinking your own urine or dying from dehydration, the health problems it can cause are preferable to the alternative. –  jwenting Mar 30 '11 at 14:24

1 Answer 1

up vote 41 down vote accepted

Summary: You can do it, as a last resort, but it's dicey.

The US Army doesn't think it's a good idea and lists it on its "Do NOT drink" list, stating in its Field Manual that it "contains harmful body wastes" and that it is "about 2 percent salt." Several other resources seem to agree, all indicating that it will increase your rate of dehydration. (Warning: the popular science link is not fun to open.)

If it's your only source of water, it's likely that the US Army's recommendations of how to purify polluted water for consumption also applies to urine:

If polluted water is your only moisture source, dig a small trough outside the hole about 25 centimeters from the still’s lip (Figure 6-8). Dig the trough about 25 centimeters deep and 8 centimeters wide. Pour the polluted water in the trough. Be sure you do not spill any polluted water around the rim of the hole where the plastic sheet touches the soil. The trough holds the polluted water and the soil filters it as the still draws it. The water then condenses on the plastic and drains into the container. This process works extremely well when your only water source is salt water.

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Other sources, which support my memory on the matter, indicate that it is at best a short term solution. For example, in a Slate article named The Yellow Liquid Diet, the author says that the waste might eventually "cause symptoms similar to those brought on by total kidney failure":

How long can you survive by drinking pee?

An extra day or two, at best. A healthy person's urine is about 95 percent water and sterile, so in the short term it's safe to drink and does replenish lost water. But the other 5 percent of urine comprises a diverse collection of waste products, including nitrogen, potassium, and calcium—and too much of these can cause problems. When you drink your own pee, all the stuff that your kidneys had attempted to excrete comes right back into your stomach, and much of it ends up back in your kidneys. After several days of this, your urine will become highly concentrated with dangerous waste products, and drinking it can cause symptoms similar to those brought on by total kidney failure. At that point, you're doomed either way—from dehydration on the one hand or renal meltdown on the other. (Even if one could filter out most of the unwanted products in urine, the cycle would not be sustainable for long. In addition to what he or she pees out, the average human excretes about half a quart of water a day through sweating and exhaling.)

However, drinking urine for survival has been attempted successfully before.

For example, in 2008, a Chinese man by the name of Shen Peiyun survived six days by laying still and drinking his own urine, which is solid evidence that it won't kill you at least some of the time. While it is not necessarily fatal, it doesn't mean it isn't harmful. For instance, in the case above, no expert has asserted that he would have died without drinking his own urine.

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Needs more citations! :-) –  Sklivvz Mar 30 '11 at 5:29
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Wow! You were not kidding about the popular science link. –  Borror0 Mar 30 '11 at 9:36
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I made a substantial edit to your answer. It's mostly bringing the information over here, but I added a bit of info and reformulated many sentences. I figured you would not mind. –  Borror0 Mar 30 '11 at 12:28
    
Holy crap Borror0. Thank you! –  Russell Steen Mar 30 '11 at 15:31
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As a graduate of USAF survival school, I endorse this answer. +1 –  Larian LeQuella Mar 30 '11 at 21:52

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