Your urine won't save you

Jacob Allred


A survivalist book recently popped up on a Cool Tools site that I follow. This book, written by a celebrity expert, advocates drinking your own urine in an emergency situation. The author says it is completely safe and sterile as long as you drink it right after urinating, and that you can drink the first two passes of urine. So the question becomes, is he right? Will drinking your urine save you?

The answer is simple: no, it won’t. In fact, in an emergency situation where you don’t have access to fresh water, drinking your urine will almost certainly decrease your odds of survival. This is a debated topic, so I’ll present my case and let you decide.

First of all, I’d like to concede the point that urine in and of itself isn’t particularly dangerous. Thousands of people drink their urine on a regular basis without any issues. These individuals are not living on their urine though. They are drinking it as a supplement to their regular food and water intake. In a survival situation where you don’t have fresh water and potentially have a limited food supply, your body won’t be able to get the water it needs to wash the harmful compounds out of your body that you are reintroducing to it by drinking your urine. Comparing the outcomes of the two situations is an apples to oranges comparison; the two situations are not equal. Just because it is safe to drink at home doesn’t mean it is safe to drink if you are trapped in a collapsed building.

But what about all those stories of people surviving by drinking their urine? Doesn’t that prove that it works? Well, no. All that proves is that those people survived despite drinking their urine. This sort of anecdotal evidence is far from scientific and doesn’t prove that drinking urine actually helped. Think of it this way: there is a famous story of a grandma lifting a car off of her son after it fell off a jack, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep an old lady handy when I’m changing my oil.

But if drinking urine in an emergency was dangerous, wouldn’t there be documented cases of people dying from it? I don’t think so. If an emergency crew finds a dead person in a collapsed building, how are they going to know that the person drank urine? It is common to skip an autopsy when the cause of death is traumatic and/or obvious. Even if an autopsy is performed or there is a note left or something to indicate that the person drank urine, it is unlikely that the news is going to print something potentially viewed as derogatory (drinking ones own urine) about an innocent victim of a tragedy.

But don’t the experts say you should drink it if you don’t have water?! If you count Mykel Hawke as an expert, then yup, some experts do say you should. If you count the United States Army, Tom Brown, Jr., and Doug Ritter as experts, then there are experts that say you shouldn’t, too. Personally I find it disturbing that Hawke, a retired Army Special Forces officer, is advocating something that the Army says you shouldn’t do.

So maybe now I’ve at least opened your mind to the possibility that drinking urine in an emergency is bad. What makes it so bad? Here are a few things:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, urine is not sterile once it leaves the body. It picks up bacteria once it hits the urethra. If you drink the urine immediately, the bacteria is generally safe to drink. If you let the urine sit for a while so the bacteria can grow, or you have a urinary tract infection, then drinking the urine is dangerous. Keep in mind that you may not know you have an infection. It can take a while for the symptoms to become noticeable.
  2. In an average well hydrated adult, you can expect your urine to contain about 1.17 g/L of sodium. A person produces about 1-2 liters of urine a day. The recommended daily intake of sodium is 2.4 g per day, which means you are instantly getting about 50% of your daily sodium just from drinking your urine, in addition to whatever sodium you are getting from any food you may have. Your body is going to have to use even more water to wash that sodium out of your body (again), which will cause you to become dehydrated even faster than if you didn’t drink your urine in the first place.
  3. Drinking urine without adequate amounts of water can cause kidney failure. Your body just worked hard to flush a bunch of junk out through your urine. You just took all that junk and swallowed it. Your body now has to work, again, to flush the junk out. Your kidneys aren’t going to like you for this.
  4. If you have a crushing injury (like if you are trapped in a building and something fell on you), then your muscles are going to start leaking potassium and phosphorous. Your body is already going to struggle to deal with this. Dumping a bunch of potassium back into your body via your urine is going to make it even harder for your body to cope.
  5. Similarly, if your only food source is high in potassium (like bananas) then drinking urine is going to be dangerous. Your body will struggle to handle all that potassium.
  6. If you are on medications or vitamins, then some of those medications or vitamins may be reintroduced into your body by drinking urine. The effects of this will vary based on what you’ve taken.

Well that is the end of my rant. Please don’t drink your pee.

Photo courtesy of quinn.anya.