Andreas Mihavecz, an 18-year-old bricklayer who was imprisoned in a police cell for 18 days when the cops on duty forgot about him in 1979, holds the record for the longest time someone has gone without water. His case was even entered into the Guinness World Records. (1)
But how long can you survive without water? Are 18 days possible? What happens in your body when you don’t drink water for days? Are there any benefits or risks?
Let’s get the answers!
How Long Can The Average Person Live Without Water?
There is no correct answer to this question because how long you can survive without water depends on several factors.
The body uses water differently in different bodies due to varying activity levels. For example, if the person is on a mountain hike without water, he would survive for fewer days than someone like Andreas, who was stuck in a cell without significant physical activity.
It also depends on the age of the person, their health conditions, age, weight, and the food they are consuming.
Additionally, environmental conditions also play a role. If someone lives in a humid environment, they would not find it as difficult to survive without water as someone who’s in a hot desert without water.
Here are some rough numbers:
According to a 2009 study, it’s possible to survive without food and water for 8 to 21 days. (2)
In 1944, two scientists went without water for three days and four days, respectively, but ate dry food as part of their diet. By the end of the experiment, both had difficulty swallowing, and their cheeks were pale. (3)
According to Randall Packer, a biologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., people lose between 1 and 1.5 liters of sweat in an hour under extreme conditions. (4)
Now, if this water doesn’t get replaced, it will only be a few hours for anyone on a hot day before a person’s blood volume drops. Eventually, the sweating will stop and the temperature will rise dangerously high. Further leading to death.
The hours are even less if the person suffers from chronic diseases like diabetes, dementia, or cancer.
Know More: Cold Sweating & How to Treat it
What Happens When You Don’t Consume Water For Long?
Human bodies consist of roughly 60 – 70% water, which varies with age.
Our body uses water for various functions and keeps losing it with 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 happens in your body during dehydration:
- You feel thirsty.
- The body tries to keep the remaining fluid content safe. For instance, it diverts water away from the cells and the bladder and pushes it towards the bloodstream. Consequently, the cells shrink in size, and the urine starts getting darker.
- Due to the lack of fluids to lose, you sweat less. Sweating is a way your body regulates your temperature. Without it, your body starts heating up.
- When the remaining fluids start finishing up, your blood becomes concentrated and thicker. This makes it harder for your heart to pump blood. The heart rate increases to make sure the blood reaches all vital organs, so they get the oxygen they need.
- Dehydration may cause joint pain because there’s little water for your joints to stay cushioned.
When all the above continue to happen:
- Your body’s temperature goes above the limit it can tolerate. This rise leads to heat stress.
- Blood pressure will fall, and you may faint due to electrolyte imbalance.
- You hardly urinate.
- Dehydration affects your mood because there is very little oxygen it receives. (5)
This is when your organs start damaging because they aren’t getting enough oxygen and nutrients.
All they are getting is toxic waste that the kidneys were supposed to filter and throw out with urination but couldn’t because of the lack of fluids.
- Due to reduced urination, you can face acute kidney injury or anuria (no urine produced).
- Dehydration now starts affecting your brain. You experience short-term memory with reduced arithmetic and coordination skills. (6)
- The strain on the heart, plus the hardened blood vessels, increases the risk of having a heart attack. (7)
All these things in your body cause dehydration symptoms like thirst, tiredness, light-headedness, confusion, dry mouth, dry skin, faster breath, and fast heart rate.
What’s The Role Of Food In Dehydration?
Food can help you stay hydrated without drinking water.
One in-depth study in the US shows that your food consumption accounts for 20 percent of your daily water consumption. (8)
Fruits like cantaloupe, strawberries, watermelon, coconuts, and oranges are highly hydrating. Vegetables like celery, bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, and lettuce also have high water content.
When you consume such electrolyte-rich foods regularly, you can increase how long you can survive without water.
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Benefits And Risks Of Not Drinking Water For Long
There are essentially no benefits to stopping your water intake. Our body keeps losing it in some form or other and needs it for various functions.
An experiment to see how long you can survive without water can only help you become more patient. It may help you challenge your body’s limits and be more grateful that you have access to clean and healthy water unlike many others in poor countries.
But the risks that come with such an experiment are many. Especially, because it can take some time to rehydrate after becoming fully dehydrated.
As mentioned before:
- Dehydration may cause damage to body organs like your kidney and skin.
- It may cause pain in the joints.
- It increases the risk of a heart attack.
- It may affect your brain.
- It can lead to heat stress, the extreme of which can further lead to death.
If you are an athlete, you must take these risks seriously as you are more vulnerable to dehydration. You should know exactly how much water you need to drink in a day and follow a good diet.
So, how long can you survive without water? The answer depends on various factors. A rough range can be between a few hours to 10 days for the average person.
When dehydrated, the body reacts in various ways that can make those days difficult for any person. From thirst to kidney damage, there are a lot of risks with almost no benefits.
So, you should avoid experimenting with dehydration and make sure you are replacing any fluids your body loses regularly.