We were talking not long ago about the dangers of dehydration and how easily you can succumb to thirst when water isn’t available. Now, if any of you know who Bear Grylls is, you will undoubtedly ask yourselves whether or not you could technically drink your own urine if you were in a life or death situation. Although drinking urine isn’t recommended when dealing with dehydration, the answer is a bit more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Is urine sterile?
For a very long time, people believed urine to be sterile as long as you don’t suffer from an urinary tract infection. This was a commonly held belief until a recent study showed that urine is actually quite dangerous were it to be ingested, due to the fact that human beings are microbial supersystems by nature.
According to the study, subjects with overactive bladders have around 77 different species of bacteria inside their urine, while healthy subjects have less than 33 different species. More precisely, the study involved 84 women, 42 of whom were diagnosed with various symptoms specific to overactive bladders while the other 42 were generally healthy. Following the study, it became clear that although healthy individuals have less bacteria flowing through their urine, their urine isn’t that healthy after all.
Every time healthcare specialists are questioned on the matter, they usually stand against the practice of drinking your own urine, no matter the situation. On a TV show, however, people like Bear Grylls will most likely engage in a variety of borderline dangerous practices, because of the shock value and the high ratings that come with it. Still, we shouldn’t condone such a practice if your actual life depended on it, as you would technically be better off with whatever infection you develop afterwards rather than dying of thirst.
Can you drink it?
Now that we’ve talked about the dangers of drinking your own urine, let us talk a bit about the actual benefits. Although very few, there are actually some benefits to drinking your own urine in a survival situation. Secreted by the kidneys through the urethra, urine is relatively sterile when leaving a person’s bladder, minus the different species of bacteria of course. There might be, however, other contaminants that can enter a person’s urine before it leaves their body.
You see, urine contains a variety of by-products that are rich in potassium, calcium, and nitrogen, but also quite a bit of water and other sterile liquids. In fact, more than 90% of a healthy person’s urine is sterile while less than 5% is made of bacteria and other waste products. In large doses, the potassium, calcium, and nitrogen that can be found in urine will cause various medical afflictions, but only in large enough doses.
The really important thing to remember before drinking urine is that it will always be a reflection of the person who it belongs to. A person who is either sick or severely dehydrated, will have a very unhealthy urine, just like the urine of people who consume large quantities of soda or alcohol. While the kidneys do a good enough job at filtering the urine, they will ultimately fail if the body isn’t well taken care of, like for example, in situations where a person cannot eat or drink regularly.
This being said, scientists believe that a person could technically survive an extra day or two if they absolutely had to drink their own urine in order to survive, although they advise against such a practice. As we already pointed out, more than 90% of a person’s urine is relatively sterile, yet the 5 to 10% that isn’t sterile is extremely dangerous. Therefore, a person who drinks urine will add to the already toxic levels already existing within the urine, making it quite poisonous for the kidneys to even try and filter it.
In situations such as this, where a person has been drinking their own urine for more than a day or so, it is very likely for renal meltdown to occur, resulting in extreme dehydration and death. All things considered, yes, urine is sterile enough to drink were you to do it just once, but is far from healthy in the long run. So if you ever find yourself in a situation in which you have to drink your own urine in order to survive, try to only drink a small quantity and just once.