Apart from the obvious undrinkable fluids like chemical substances, and unfiltered and untreated water, there are other fluids that are not advisable to drink should you find yourself in a survival situation, i.e. unable to procure safe drinking water. There are, however, some schools of thought that recommend drinking these fluids in certain extreme cases.
In this article, we tell you which fluids you shouldn’t drink and why, and what you may be able to do with them in the absence of potable water.
By “blood” we mean from human and animal sources. Drinking human or animal blood for long periods and in large quantities is not advised during any emergency, as it can lead to more serious ailments. By drinking blood, you’ll only create more problems for yourself other than trying to stave off dehydration.
Should you choose to do this, you will most certainly succumb to diseases like:
- Hemochromatosis – literally an overload of Iron in your blood, which can be fatal. Unlike, say, vampire bats which suck the blood of animals as part of their diet, the human body is simply ill-equipped to rid itself of, or metabolize, excess Iron. Hemochromatosis or “Iron overload” can lead to fatigue, weight loss, weakness, fluid buildup in the lungs, low blood pressure, joint pain and irregular menstrual cycles for women. If untreated, this will lead to organ damage and death.
- Pathogens – one can never be sure if the blood is contaminated by a virus or diseases like Hepatitis A, B or C or other blood-borne illnesses.
- Heart disease – you also run the risk of developing heart disease, again thanks to the excessive amount of iron you’re ingesting.
- Liver disease – as your liver tries to filter out all that excess iron in your blood-supplemented diet, your liver can become overworked and get seriously damaged. Symptoms of this include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), chronic fatigue, itchy skin and swelling in the legs, ankles and abdominal area. You’ll also experience nausea and will bruise easily. In serious cases, you may need a liver transplant to avoid dying.
So when can you drink blood? Only if you’re sure that the blood isn’t contaminated, isn’t from another human and isn’t your sole source of hydration. Small amounts of blood are fine for consumption if you’re properly hydrated and are doing this to supplement your survival diet with more protein and nutrients. This is why many African tribes like the Maasai still consume blood from cows, (albeit in small amounts and in ritual fashion) to boost their sometimes-meager diets with protein.
Also, you must never consider drinking blood from any source when your body is in “starvation mode”. When you aren’t getting enough nutrients, your body goes into a state of ketoacidosis, making you nauseous and thirstier than usual. In this mode, your kidneys may already be too stressed and could be damaged after ingesting raw blood. However, if the small “boost” you could get from ingesting blood will give you the strength to get water or get to safety, then have a drink; just be sure to limit your blood intake to no more than a cup.
“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” is what Samuel Taylor Coleridge, writer of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” made famous. This of course aptly describes the dilemma that people on a lifeboat or raft floating at sea find themselves in. Saltwater is just too salty to drink in its raw form, and drinking it will cause you to become even more dehydrated. While your body’s cells do in fact depend on salt to function and thrive, the amount of salt in seawater is simply too much for your body to process.
When you take in saltwater, your body has to produce more urine to purge the excess salt and thereby draw more water from your body’s reserves—this is how saltwater actually exacerbates your dehydration problem.
If you’re stranded at sea and have the right materials, you can create a solar still with which to make saltwater evaporate into a more drinkable form. In the absence of a still, you can try what one young Indonesian man who accidentally set adrift at sea for 49 days did; he “filtered” out somewhat-drinkable water by immersing his clothes, letting the cloth absorb some of the salt, then squeezing out water to drink.
If you’re caught out in the wilderness during winter, you may think that you’ll be fine and avoid dehydration by simply “eating” snow or melting it. “Eating” snow isn’t advised as this doesn’t have or yield as much water as you think. Any amount of snow will give you 9 to 10 times less water than its original weight, and the rest of it will be plain air. Should you want to get a quart of water into your belly, you’d have to consume at least 10 quarts of snow. Hydrating this way is a no-no, since it will only cause your body’s core temperature to plummet. You won’t actually be staving off dehydration very much, and you’ll leave yourself vulnerable to a more serious problem – hypothermia.
If it’s winter and you’re in real need of getting water to drink, get a fire going and gather some ice, not snow, and put it in a container to melt. If you can’t start a fire, place snow and ice in a dark-colored container and let the sun work to melt it.
This is probably the most controversial and persistently-featured “survival liquid”. You’ll see that this method of drinking your own pee got a lot of airtime on “survival shows” made even more noteworthy by Bear Grylls.
If you’re ever caught in a situation where you’re desperate enough to even think of drinking your own urine, don’t. Urine contains a lot of what your body is already trying to get rid of, such as excess salt and toxins, so drinking it won’t slake your thirst. As with drinking saltwater or blood, drinking your (or anyone else’s) urine will only give you a host of other problems, while not addressing your problem of thirst.
Urine is good for other applications like evaporative cooling – if you’re in an arid location and need to cool off, you can douse urine on your clothes, and it’ll cool you off as it evaporates from the heat. While urine does contain a small amount of water, don’t dare drink it in its raw form. The best thing to do with urine is to find a way to filter out all the unneeded substances from it and distill or extract the water. You can do this through a solar still.
While you may stumble across conflicting information about what you can or can’t drink in a SHTF situation, the best strategy is to gain as much scientific info as you can. It’s not advised to ingest any of the fluids we mentioned. Before you even consider drinking blood, saltwater, snow or urine, find the means to filter and extract the water that’s in them. In extreme cases where water is impossible to procure, use your best judgment and use these fluids only as a last resort and always exhaust all possible means to filter out the water and gain enough energy to procure the actual stuff.