Whether you came to this article out of pure curiosity or you are seriously considering your options for survival in a disaster, the burning question of the day is: Is drinking urine for survival safe?
Although urine is not completely sterile as many suggest, it only contains bacteria and toxins that were already in your body before being flushed out. These contaminants likely wont hurt you by themselves, but in some situations the additional strain placed on your kidney’s and your immune system can cause serious health complications. This is especially true if you repeatedly drink your own urine.
The full answer to this question is a bit more complicated. So if survival is your goal—as it should be for all of us—before you take that first sip of your personal golden brew, let’s take a closer look at the facts of drinking urine.
Can I Drink Urine?
Technically, yes, but you really shouldn’t in most cases. There are plenty of websites that tout the magical qualities of drinking your own urine to treat or prevent a host of issues. Medical professionals tend to agree that it’s a bad idea, though. The Army Field Manual specifically lists urine on the “do not drink” list right along with blood and seawater.
That might be fine advice for people who carry jugs of water everywhere they go, but the reality is that you could run into a survival scenario where consuming pee is your only option. The good news is that it’s safe enough as a last-ditch effort. The bad news is that you won’t reap the benefits for long.
You may have heard stories of people drinking urine in extreme situations, such as the 27 year old who was trapped under a boulder in Utah, but how many articles have you read about the lasting effects on those survivors’ bodies? Probably not many because most people don’t want to talk about drinking pee, let alone the possible side effects. What does that say about me for writing this article? Let’s shelf that thought for now.
So, Is It Completely Safe to Drink Urine?
As a short-term solution and the last resort, yes. Keep in mind, though, sipping your own piddle for extended periods isn’t a good idea. Your kidneys’ job is to filter waste products from your body and then excrete them through urine. Your pee is comprised of about 95% water, which sounds great when you’re trapped and thirsty. However, it’s the remaining 5% that has the potential to kill you in some slow and painful ways. That’s why you need to know what’s coming out of your body before you decide to put it all back in.
What’s in Urine?
That’s the short list. The big one has over 3,000 compounds. Every person will have their own unique recipe based on what they’ve been putting into their bodies and their overall health. In small doses, this stuff is harmless. The problems start cropping up after prolonged consumption of your own urine. It gets more and more concentrated on each trip through your kidneys.
When you’re dehydrated—a common issue in disaster scenarios—your kidneys can’t handle these minerals in such concentrated amounts. Aside from the growing danger of bacterial infections, subsisting on your own pee for a long enough stretch can cause catastrophic damage to your kidneys. More on that in a bit.
But Isn’t Urine Sterile?
I hate to kill this longstanding myth and upset generations of gleeful pro-pee practitioners, but urine is not sterile. You shouldn’t use it to treat jellyfish stings, rub it in your wounds, or use it to clear your sinuses—sorry, folks.
This unintentional bad information started in the 1950s during a study of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Samples of urine that had no UTI bacteria were labeled as “negative.” That label only referred to the absence of UTI bacteria, not all bacteria. Unfortunately, some people interpreted “negative” to mean sterile, and the myth was born.
The bladder and urethra are lined with bacteria, so when urine passes through the maze of your system, it picks up a lot of little hitchhikers along the way. Guess where all that bacteria goes when you drink your pee.
It’s worth noting that while urine isn’t actually sterile, the bacteria found in it is generally harmless to you. After all, it was in your body before it was in your glass and it wasn’t hurting you then. As with the toxins and other substances listed above, that “generally harmless” bacteria can multiply and become too difficult for your immune system to fight. Add in dehydration, exhaustion, and malnutrition and your chances of survival aren’t looking so good.
Is It Safe to Drink Other People’s Urine?
There isn’t much difference between drinking your own urine or drinking another person’s pee, but there are some things to keep in mind before doing it. When you drink from your own spigot, you’re reintroducing bacteria and waste that already existed in your body. You’re not likely to contract a new disease by drinking your own fresh pee—aged urine is a whole different story.
Drinking someone else’s urine, however, will expose you to their unique blend of toxins, waste, and bacteria. What was harmless to your friend might end up being harmful to you.
Before sipping your buddy’s private reserve, find out whether they have been drinking their own urine for a while themselves. As I explained above, urine becomes more concentrated each time your kidneys try to filter it. If your friend has been drinking his own urine for three days, you’re not getting a refreshing 95% water when you chug his offering. You’re getting his recycled waste products concentrated down into something turbid and dangerous.
Presence of Prescription Medications
Of special note when considering the safety of drinking another person’s pee is the presence of prescription medications. Preppers will have a supply of medications in their stash, meaning that even five days into a survival scenario your friend is likely still taking his prescription meds. They’re necessary for his survival—let’s say heart medication, for instance—but they could potentially kill you.
Can It Make You Sick?
Drinking urine for survival can make you very ill. Whether from a dangerous buildup of toxins that your kidneys can’t filter or a growing colony of bacteria, you could end up worse off than if you’d never tried drinking your urine. At the same time, if you can’t find fresh water and there is no sign of help coming before you die of dehydration, it might be worth the risk of infection to give yourself another day to get out.
Side Effects of Drinking Urine
I’ve already opened Pandora’s box at this point, so there’s no use in being shy about the side effects of drinking pee.
- Dehydration—In many cases, drinking urine can be just as bad as drinking seawater. With each pass through your kidneys, your urine contains less water and more sodium. High sodium levels can make existing dehydration worse or trigger dehydration symptoms much sooner.
- Gastrointestinal upset—Part physical reaction and part mental, feeling sick after drinking urine can cause vomiting, diarrhea, queasiness, and a general feeling of illness. While there’s not much you can do about the mental yuck factor. The real problem with a pee-induced tummy ache is dehydration. With extended vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration isn’t far behind.
- Infection—Infection can occur when bacteria gets reintroduced to existing bacterial colonies, encouraging them to grow beyond normal proportions. It’s also possible to spark an infection in new areas of your body. For instance, bacteria that are normally present in your urethra without any ill effects can cause a major infection if suddenly introduced to your mouth, throat, and stomach. This is especially dangerous when you’re suffering from injuries from a disaster or dealing with mouth sores from dehydration and malnutrition.
- Heart attack—Repeatedly drinking your urine can bring potassium to a dangerous level, which can cause a heart attack. This is less likely in an otherwise healthy adult, but too much potassium isn’t good for anyone.
- Kidney failure—This is the biggest problem with drinking urine, for obvious reasons. Once your kidneys go, there isn’t much you can do to reverse the damage, especially in a disaster scenario where medical care might not be possible. Kidney failure happens when the toxin load gets too high and your kidneys can’t filter everything out.
I know this all seems bad, but there is still hope for seemingly hopeless situations. It’s not ideal to drink urine, but you may find yourself in a situation where it’s that or certain death from dehydration. In those instances, you still have some options for making urine safer to drink and prolonging your life. That is if you prep for it.
Does Boiling Urine Make a Difference?
I never thought I’d write a sentence like this, but: there’s finally, some good news about drinking urine for survival! Yes, boiling urine can make it safer to drink, but only if you capture the vapors and condense it back down to a liquid (this is called “distilling”).
Distilling almost any water-based liquid can save your life. In fact, American astronauts drink recycled water which includes condensate from their breath, sweat, shower runoff, and urine. It might not be as cool as NASA’s methods, but for all of us earthbound people, boiling urine the old-fashioned way and collecting the steam works just as well.
If you were just to boil the urine and drink it with out distilling it, you would be drinking an even more concentrated urine mixture that is likely more dangerous then when you started. So if you are going to do this, make sure you follow a process for distilling it.
Will Water Filters Work?
Water filtration systems and purification tablets aren’t effective for urine. Water filters are rated in microns, and while a filter rated at 0.1 microns can filter out bacteria and parasites, you already know that urine’s main issue isn’t bacteria. Many of the waste products in urine are too small to be removed with those methods.
Activated charcoal is a better option, though still not perfect. It’s great at removing organic chemicals. Unfortunately, it can’t remove sodium, and it’s the sodium that’s going to cause or worsen dehydration.
If all you have is a water filter or a purification tablet and you can’t distill the urine, by all means, use what you have. Just don’t expect the result to be crisp, clean, safe water. You still need to be prepared for the side effects of extra sodium and toxins.
When Should You Drink Urine?
It’s hard to suggest any time as a good time to take a swig of pee. However, this is a survival site, so here we go. I can safely say that if it’s my only water source and I can distill it in some way, I’d do it without hesitation.
If I couldn’t distill my urine and would have to drink it right from the tap, I’d wait until it was my last resort. Only you can decide what situations would count as a last resort for you. Personally, if I’ve been trapped for days and don’t anticipate help soon, I’d tip a bit of yellow tea to up my chances of survival.
What’s more important here is when you should not drink urine for survival.
- Those with crushing injuries should avoid drinking urine at all costs. Damaged muscle cells release potassium and phosphorous into the bloodstream. Your kidneys already work hard to remove these substances; adding more by drinking urine will quickly overtax them and lead to kidney failure.
- If you’re already dehydrated, drinking pee isn’t going to help. You’ll be putting more sodium back into your system, exacerbating the situation.
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter for Hiking, Camping, and Emergency Preparedness
The best way to avoid having to make the decision about if you should drink your urine or not, is to always have access to drinkable water.
That’s why I always have one of these in my car, bug out bag, and even my suitcase when I’m traveling. It’s slightly bigger than a large pen and can filter some of the worst water you’ve ever seen. It makes up to 1,000 gallons of fresh drinkable water from a stream, river, lake or pretty much any other water source, so you’ll never go thirsty.
How Long Can You Survive Drinking Urine?
There isn’t a hard and fast rule for this. Since urine becomes more concentrated over time, it’s better to err on the side of caution with this survival tactic. Beyond mild stomach upset and the gross-out factor, you probably won’t have any ill effects after the first day.
You might even be fine after the second. After several days, however, you could be looking at kidney failure and other issues compounded by dehydration. In short, you can’t live on urine alone. Finding a source of fresh water should be your number one priority.
By now, you can see why having a reliable source of potable water is essential for survival. It’s a good idea to get an understanding of basic emergency water storage methods and options so you hopefully won’t ever find yourself in this type of situation.
However, if you do find yourself in a no-water situation, you can drink fresh urine without much worry. Just be sure to get to a clean water source as soon as possible to help mitigate the side effects of this last-resort practice.