Can you drink your urine to survive?

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Can you drink yours or someone else’s urine in a survival situation?  In this article, I provide useful information and answers to clear up this question once and for all.

 

The first two questions I usually get asked.

There’s usually two questions that people ask when I say I spend a lot of time hiking, camping and practising survival skills, and it usually goes like this:

“Oh, so you do bushcraft and survival stuff in the middle of nowhere?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever had to drink your own piss to survive?”

  Camera House - Our Focus is You  

“Err…no.”

 

I’m not sure what everyone’s infatuation is with it, but it seems to be quite a common thing to talk about when you mention survival skills and training.  Personally, I think it is Bear Grylls fault as he always appears to take everything to the extreme – this is what makes good telly, so I’ve heard.

I always aim to educate people in these conversations and state that if you know good bushcraft and survival skills, then chances are you don’t need to drink your urine.  But it did get me thinking.

With the heat we experienced in NSW recently, a thought crossed my mind in that, if you did just hit every branch of bad luck as you’re falling off the survival tree and ended up in a bad situation, could you drink your urine to survive?

It’s a common thing to see the likes of Bear urinating on or in something during his shows, and there seems to be a level of confusion around the topic.  Just a quick glance at Google and some of the results it displays deepens the question – there are contradicting claims, statements, and theories.

So armed with Google and a warm beer, I thought I’d put together as comprehensive a breakdown as possible to answer the question, or at least dispel up some of the confusion.

 

To drink or not to drink, that is the question.

Please bear in mind that I am just doing Google research.  I am not a Doctor, nor a Urology Specialist, I’ve researched as best as I can, using tools available to everyone with an internet connection.

So let’s get some of the myths and questions out of the way first so we can set the scene.

 

A sample of urine
A sample of urine

What is urine?

Urine is made up of urea, which is mostly water (between 91-96%), while the other % contains an assortment of things like salts, organic compounds, proteins, hormones, metabolites, chloride and potassium ions.  Urine is a waste by-product that the body naturally produces while breaking down proteins throughout the body.

 

Where does it come from?

It comes from your bladder, which usually holds around 350ml (0.7 pints) depending on your age and gender (males can hold a bit more).  As mentioned above, urine is a by-product from eating and drinking.  The kidneys filter out what the body doesn’t need, and then flushes itself with water to pass the waste product through to the bladder for removal.

 

I’ve heard urine is sterile, is this true?

This is a big one that divides the internet!  Some websites and articles that I read stated quite emphatically that urine is indeed sterile and perfectly fine for using on cuts, jellyfish stings – you name it.  But an equally large number also confirm that it IS NOT sterile.

In 2015, a European study proved that urine contains a bacterial community, known as a microbiota, that contributes to your urinary health.

This bacteria lives in our urinary tract and urine, in the same way, that we have good and bad bacteria in our guts.  Granted it is mostly made up of water as mentioned earlier in the article, but it clearly proved that urine is 100% not sterile.

If you think about it, it’s a collection of waste products that your body is getting rid of, plus it has to pass through the urethra, where it may pick up extra potentially harmful and nasty bacteria from potential infections.

If it was good for your body, then your body would be using it, and not removing it.

 

So onto the serious questions now…

Can you drink your urine?

When you drink urine, you’re passing the waste (4 to 9%) back into your system, and the majority of it will end up back in your kidneys.  Every time you do this cycle, pee again and then drink again, the urine will become more concentrated with the dangerous waste products (because you’re not drinking water to dilute).

You can end up with symptoms similar to those brought on by kidney failure.

 

Can you drink other people’s urine?

As mentioned above with drinking your own wee.  Yes, it is possible, but it is not sterile, and so any bacteria that your very good friend has, will be passed onto you when you drink their urine.

 

Does the colour of the urine matter?

Unequivocally, yes.  The darker the colour, the more concentrated the urine, so drinking darker urine will definitely put more of a strain on your body to process it.  Your best bet, if you have to, is to drink urine that is as clear as possible.  This indicates that it has a higher % of just being water.

 

How long does urine last for in a water bottle?

At best, 24 hours max.  It does depend on the temperature that the bottle is being kept in.  Urine goes off quite quickly after leaving the body, add to this a high temperature and bacteria will start to form very efficiently.  If you have to store it, then think about how to keep the urine as cool as possible to minimise bacteria build-up.

 

Is Urine better to drink than salt water?

Water sign
Water – much better than piss

Again there was a pretty clear cut answer to this one.  And it is NO.  Saltwater is just that – water with lots of salt in it.  Your body will have to work very hard to deal with the massive hit of salt, and this, in turn will lead to further dehydration.

A better bet would be to use the saltwater to cool your body, and worst-case use the urine to drink.

 

Can you filter urine to make it safer?

Unfortunately, the answer is no on this one too.  You can’t use any of these fancy water filtration devices to get rid of all the nasties in the urine.  The only two proven ways of filtering your urine to remove the majority of the impurities are:

  1. Reverse Osmosis
  2. Distillation

And even using these two ways, you’ll probably still end up with some trace elements, the weird taste and smell of wee.

 

Healthwise, is urine any good for me?

Regardless of all the articles, information and people on the internet claiming to drink a glass a day of the yellow stuff did amazing things; I didn’t find one scientific document, report or study that said drinking urine was good for you.

Some articles mentioned urea is used in skincare products and good for your skin.

“Lots of topical creams use synthetically manufactured urea in skincare because it dissolves excess skin build-up caused by keratin overproduction.”

http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/news/beauty-news/drinking-urine-urotherapy-21425#xjZCZp5UIczXwoTJ.99

Regarding urine ingestion – it was negative on this question.

 

What do the experts say about drinking urine to survive?

Again, there is fairly consistent advice and recommendations here.

Most survival experts say that it should only be done once or twice if you are in a very extreme situation.  Preferably, though, if you know good bushcraft and survival skills you will have a good chance of finding water from another natural source, negating the need to drink the golden liquid.

 

So, how do I drink urine safely?

The answer to this depends on a few things, from what I can gather.

Firstly, the urine has to be as clear as possible, and preferably the first time you’ve attempted it.  As mentioned, the more times you drink it, the more concentrated it becomes (assuming you’re not drinking anything else).  So the more chance after the first time of your body starting to react to the build-up of toxins.

It also has to be as fresh as possible, so within 24hrs of it leaving your body.

Realistically, you should only do it as a very last resort, and only once, maybe twice if you are very lucky and started with very clear and hydrated urine.

 

References:

I probably looked at a whole load more, but these are the ones that I tracked and make some kind of reference to.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/05/the_yellow_liquid_diet.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/is-it-safe-to-drink-your-own-urine-we-answer-the-question-all-you-survivalists-want-to-know-10460403.html

https://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/yearning-drink-my-urine-%E2%80%93-safe

http://gizmodo.com/why-you-definitely-shouldnt-drink-your-own-pee-1648474064

http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/drink-urine/

https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100124191409AAx9mRS

https://www.healthtap.com/topics/drinking-someone-else-s-urine

http://www.justanswer.com/urology/2agvi-please-settle-discussion-us-read-safe.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2016-09-13/is-urine-sterile/7835934

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3032615/

http://www.nejm.org/medical-research/uti-pyelonephritis

http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Urine_therapy

http://www.amjmed.com/article/0002-9343(56)90175-9/abstract

http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/545729

https://medlineplus.gov/urineandurination.html

http://thesummitregister.com/is-it-safe-to-drink-your-urine/

tonyburke
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37 years young, living and working in Sydney Australia. Been into outdoor activities and adventure since I can remember.

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