Just think about what would happen if all the water sources disappeared tomorrow. What if rivers and streams dried up, and the oceans turned into dry valleys? What are you going to do? How long can you survive without water?
The Rule of 3
Estimates usually range from two days to a week, but most people think they can go about three days without water. In wilderness survival, the “rule of 3” says that a person can live without oxygen for three minutes, water for three days, and food for three weeks. In 1979, an Austrian teenager accidentally locked in a government building for 18 days without food or water set a new world record. He was about to die when he was found.
Keep in mind that this is just a rough guess. How long someone can go without water depends on many things, like where they are, how active they are, how old they are, how healthy they are, and several other personal things. Food has water, but each meal’s amount is very different. When people say they can “live without water,” they usually mean that they don’t drink any liquids.
Dehydration happens quickly and can cause severe thirst, tiredness, and, in the end, organ failure and death. Different people show different signs of being dehydrated. People differ in how quickly they get thirsty and how long they can go without drinking water. Without water, a person can start to feel tired and thirsty on the first day, but by the third day, their organs could fail.
How Long Could a Normal Person go Without water?
Water is essential for the body to do important things like keeping its temperature stable and cells alive. We’ve already said that a typical person can go for three days without water. This isn’t always true, though, because of how much water the body needs and how it uses water.
Many things can affect how much water a person needs, such as:
The food we eat.
Eating can make a person drink more water each day. The Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic both say that you should get about 20% of your daily water from food. Foods high in water, like cucumbers, celery, iceberg lettuce, watermelon, and strawberries, can affect how hydrated a person is and how long they can go without drinking fluids directly.
As people get older, their bodies hold less water, which makes them more likely to get dehydrated from sickness and bad drug reactions. A 1993 book by the Institute of Medicine says that older people are more sensitive to heat because they sweat less or have less aerobic fitness. But dehydration is more dangerous for young children and older people than other age groups.
When the body is at rest, it uses less water than when it is working out, when it uses more water. You sweat more when you work out longer or harder, making you feel dehydrated.
The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine say that women should drink 2.75 L per day and men should drink 3.75 L per day (which may vary depending on the other factors listed here). But women who are pregnant or who are nursing need more water.
According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration in young children is most often caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Vomiting and diarrhea can quickly make anyone of any age lose much water. People who have a fever or have to go to the bathroom a lot because of an illness like uncontrolled diabetes are also more likely to get the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that high temperatures make overweight people more likely to get sick. The main reason the body’s temperature is higher is that it is not getting enough water. The Cleveland Clinic also says that bigger people should drink more water. This number gives a simple way to figure out how much water you drink daily.
How much water someone needs to drink may also depend on what they eat. If you consume many foods high in water, like fruits, juices, and vegetables, you might not need as much water as someone who primarily eats grains, bread, and other dry foods.
The environment can also change how much water a person’s body needs. When it’s really hot where you live, you sweat a lot and lose much water. People who work in places with air conditioning sweat less, so they don’t need to drink as much to stay hydrated. If they don’t have access to water, people who have diarrhea or throw up will lose a lot more water than healthy people.
What Are the Consequences of Not Having Water?
Humans can only survive for a short time without water because the body requires it for nearly every process, including:
- Sweating and breathing to regulate body temperature.
- Promoting digestion by producing saliva and breaking down food.
- Mucous membrane moistening.
- Assisting in the body’s pH equilibrium.
- Lubricating the spinal cord and joints.
- Helping the brain in the production and use of particular hormones.
- Assisting in the removal of poisons from cells.
- Removing the waste through urine and breath.
- Distributing oxygen throughout the body.
- Without water, the body cannot operate properly and eventually shut down.
Dehydration symptoms appear quickly, especially in excessively hot conditions when a person sweats. The body produces sweat from water, which evaporates and reduces a person’s body temperature. The body cannot create sweat without water. This can cause a severe rise in body temperature and put pressure on the body’s fluids, especially the blood.
If this causes a decrease in blood volume, less blood circulates throughout the body, significantly reducing blood pressure. This can result in unconsciousness or death. Simultaneously, the mouth dries, and the digestive system slows.
Water assists the body in removing poisons from cells and excreting them through urine and breath. Without water, the body cannot function properly, leading toxins to accumulate. Toxin buildup damages the kidneys, which are responsible for removing toxins from the body. Toxins accumulate significantly more if the kidneys fail, resulting in widespread organ failure and death.
Risks of Dehydration
The mild signs of dehydration, like a dry mouth or a persistent need to drink, are well-known to the general public. Rapid onset of dehydration symptoms is possible. When the body begins dehydrating, it may signal the brain to get its attention.
According to an article published in the journal Nutrients, a lack of water in the body is manifested initially by a sensation of thirst. Most people can get all the water they need by drinking it whenever they feel thirsty.
It is essential to pay attention to these cues and replenish the body’s water supply. Sixty percent of a person’s body weight is water, and dehydration can occur with a loss of just 3 percent of this water, according to a study published in BMC Public Health.
Water conservation and decreased urination are responses the brain sends to the body. A person’s body will react if they ignore these warnings or cannot access water. The kidneys will also be affected, and their performance will decrease.
Other noticeable alterations to the body that dehydration can bring about include:
- Lethargic state.
- Disorientation, lightheadedness, and headaches.
- Heat exhaustion, heat rash, heat cramps, etc.
- Stiff, potentially dysfunctional joints.
- Elevated or uncontrolled internal temperature.
- Brain enlargement
- Blood pressure swings that are too large
- A state of shock can set in, rendering the person unresponsive.
While maintaining healthy cells through regular water intake is essential, fast loss of body water causes cells to shrink.
What Happens If You Don’t Drink Water for a Long Time?
Human bodies are comprised of 60 – 70% water, which changes with age. Our bodies utilize water for various tasks and lose it through sweat, breath, and urine. It’s necessary to replace these lost fluids to avoid dehydration and the death it may cause in extreme conditions.
Here’s what occurs in your body when you’re dehydrated:
- You’re thirsty. The body attempts to protect the remaining fluid content. For example, it pushes water away from the cells and bladder and into the bloodstream. As a result, the cells shrink in size, and the urine darkens.
- Sweating is a method by which your body regulates its temperature. Without it, your body begins to heat up. You sweat less because there are fewer fluids to shed.
- When the residual fluids are depleted, your blood becomes more concentrated and thicker. This makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood. The heart rate increases to ensure that blood reaches all essential organs and receives the oxygen required.
- Dehydration can cause joint pain since there isn’t enough water to keep your joints lubricated.
When all of the aforementioned continues:
- Your body’s temperature rises above the threshold it can withstand. This increase causes heat stress.
- Because of electrolyte imbalance, your blood pressure will drop, and you may faint.
- You urinate seldom.
- Dehydration affects your mood since it receives very little oxygen.
This is when your organs deteriorate because of a lack of oxygen and nutrition. All they’re getting is hazardous waste, which the kidneys were intended to filter and eliminate through urination but couldn’t due to a lack of fluids.
- You may suffer from acute kidney damage or anuria due to decreased urination (no urine produced).
- Dehydration is currently harming your brain. You experience short-term memory with reduced arithmetic and coordination skills.
- The strain on the heart, plus the hardened blood vessels, increases the risk of having a heart attack.
All these things in your body cause dehydration symptoms like thirst, tiredness, lightheadedness, confusion, dry mouth, dry skin, faster breath, and fast heart rate.
What Can Help Increase Your Chances of Surviving Without Water?
Reduced activity, temperature regulation, optimal travel times, eating particular meals, avoiding certain drugs, and strengthening your immune system all enhance your chances of surviving without drinking water:
- Reduce your activity level: Avoid expending more energy than necessary and excessive sweating. Both will assist the body in losing water.
- Maintain a comfortable body temperature by being in a relaxing atmosphere. This includes dressing appropriately for the weather. When it’s cold, stay warm, and when it’s hot, stay cool or seek shade.
- Travel wisely: Prepare for your next move. If you know you’ll be traveling the next day, leave early in the morning when it’s cooler.
- Consume water-rich foods such as: To supplement your overall fluid intake, choose meals that are easy to digest and high in water content.
- Certain drugs should be avoided: Diuretic drugs, popularly known as “water pills,” should be avoided if possible because they cause excessive urination. Other drugs that can cause increased urination include sleeping pills, antidepressants, and blood pressure meds.
- Strengthen your immune system: If you want to improve your odds of surviving without water in the future, it’s a good idea to boost your immune system to reduce your risk of illness and disease. In urgent situations, diarrhea and vomiting from sickness can swiftly reduce your body’s water supply. The diagram below depicts several methods for supporting and strengthening your immune system.
What Can Help Reduce the Chances of Surviving Without Water?
Drinking alcohol, using too much energy, overeating food, eating snow, drinking seawater, or lingering at a high altitude all reduce your chances of survival without drinking water. To elaborate on these points:
- Drinking alcohol increases urine, which can lead to dehydration.
- Excessive energy expenditure: The more energy you expend, the more water you’ll need to refill the water you’ve used up.
- Overeating food: John Wiseman, a survival expert and member of the United Kingdom’s Special Air Service (SAS), advises in his book “SAS Survival Handbook” that if water is absent, a person should not eat or eat as little as possible. This is because the body utilizes water to digest meals, which can exacerbate dehydration.
- Eating snow: According to the Institute of Medicine’s 1996 book “Nutritional Needs in Cold and High-Altitude Environments,” turning snow into water for consumption is an inefficient use of time and energy for military operations. Furthermore, survival preparation books warn that consuming snow can cause dehydration by lowering core body temperature and converting snow into the water using body energy and water.
- Drinking seawater: According to the US National Ocean Service, seawater has a high salt concentration that humans cannot absorb, resulting in increased thirst and dehydration.
- Staying at a high altitude: According to the Wilderness Medical Society and the Mayo Clinic, dehydration is more common at higher altitudes. Because of the dryer atmosphere, high elevations are associated with more urination and faster breathing and sweating rates, resulting in more significant fluid loss.
When a Person Stops Drinking Water, How Long Does it Take Until They Start Feeling Thirsty?
The anteroventral hypothalamus is the brain region with receptors that detect changes in plasma osmolality. Plasma osmolality is a measure of the concentration of electrolytes. When a person stops drinking water, they will experience feelings of thirst when the concentration of electrolytes in their blood climbs by 2% to 3%.
Is Water in Food Beneficial When Drinking Water Is Limited?
Eating water-rich, readily digestible foods helps with fluid intake when drinking water is limited. According to Wiseman, fat digestion is the most difficult and requires the most water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises against consuming salty meals since they can cause thirst.
Cucumbers (95% water), celery (95% water), iceberg lettuce (95% water), tomatoes (95% water), zucchini (almost 95%), spinach (93%), cauliflower (92%), watermelon (91%), yellow melon (e.g. honeydew, 91%), strawberries (91%), and cantaloupe (90%).
What Bodily Functions are Most Harmed by a Lack of Water?
The following processes are the most adversely affected by not drinking water.
- Dehydration can induce confusion, dizziness, and a decreased ability to focus and think effectively.
- Mood: Dehydration can produce agitation, restlessness, fatigue, and even mood swings due to variations in dopamine levels.
- Physical function: Dehydration can lead to fatigue and poor physical performance.
- Waste elimination: Dehydration can result in dark urine, decreased urine volume, and constipation.
- Dehydration can result in a fast heart rate, low blood pressure, and rapid breathing.
- Temperature control: Fever can be caused by dehydration.
- Dehydration impairs the body’s ability to produce saliva.
- Dehydration impairs the body’s capacity to lubricate joints.
- Dehydration impairs the body’s cell growth, reproduction, and survival processes.
So, how long can you go without drinking water? The answer is dependent on several things. For the ordinary person, the time can range from a few hours to ten days. When a person is dehydrated, the body reacts in various ways, making those days challenging for everyone. Several hazards, ranging from thirst to kidney damage, have nearly no advantages.
As a result, you should avoid experimenting with dehydration and ensure that you regularly refill whatever fluids your body loses. Make sure you know what to eat when you’re dehydrated, and have ORS components on hand if you need a refreshing drink.