How Long Can I Go Without Drinking?

Have you ever wondered how long is the maximum time you can go without drinking fluids? The answer will surely surprise you.
How Long Can I Go Without Drinking?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 13 July, 2023

Drinking is one of the basic physiological needs, along with eating. It’s important to continually replenish fluids to maintain good health. If you go too long without drinking, life-threatening alterations could be generated. In fact, dehydration is especially dangerous in children and the elderly.

First of all, you should know that at least a couple of liters of water are needed per day for the body to function properly. This is provided through beverages, but also through food. Many foods, such as those of plant origin, have a significant concentration of water in their interior, which is why it represents a representative percentage of the daily total.

How many days can you live without water?

The body lasts up to 5 days without ingesting water. Although this will depend a lot on the atmospheric conditions under which it’s found. In hot, humid climates, life will end sooner, as more perspiration and fluid loss will be experienced. Now, in ideal circumstances, this would be the longest you could go without drinking.

The signs of dehydration appear much earlier. Specifically, when 3% of total body water is lost, physiological alterations can already be experienced, such as a significant reduction in sports performance. You’ll also suffer an increase in body temperature, which, little by little, will become really dangerous for your health.

It’s very likely that before 5 days, the person will no longer be able to fend for themself if they have marked symptoms of dehydration. Immediately the functioning of the organs will be altered, producing a situation of fatigue and constant tiredness that makes it impossible to stand.

Water is a fundamental liquid for life

Going without drinking water is bad for your health.
Correct hydration is essential, as all biochemical reactions take place in an aqueous medium. That is, in the presence of water.

It should be noted that water is one of the major components of the body. It’s part of all the tissues of the body, thus allowing their functionality. In addition, it enables the transport of substances and nutrients between the different organs. It even serves as a medium for the development of many chemical reactions that take place daily inside the human being.

In the event that the percentage of water is reduced, changes will immediately begin to manifest at a physiological level. The kidneys would begin to suffer in their filtering and excretion tasks. Likewise, they could suffer irreparable damage if the dehydration continues over time. For this reason, it’s not good to go without drinking for a long time.

However, the human body has a series of mechanisms to protect itself from moments in which the intake of water isn’t enough. It’s capable of saving fluids by reducing the volume of urine and sweat. In this way, toxins will also be concentrated in certain organs, so it’s not a risk-free process.

What happens if the body runs out of the water it needs to function?

It’s estimated that the body needs at least 8 glasses of mineral water a day to function properly. If these needs aren’t met, you could experience urinary infections. In fact, experts suggest that dehydration in some regions is one of the great public health problems, as stated by research published in the Annals of Medicine.

Every year, hundreds of people die from this cause, being the most worrying problem among children and the elderly. The point isn’t that many people don’t drink enough water to meet the body’s requirements, but rather that even access to a drinkable variety is lacking. This increases the risk of developing gastroenteritis, a condition that has been shown to accelerate dehydration processes.

What’s the longest a human has gone without drinking?

To this day, the world record for staying alive without drinking water is held by Mahatma Gandhi, in a protest against human rights. He went on a hunger strike in which he did not eat for 21 days. In fact, he also restricted fluids, consuming only a few small sips of water. However, it’s an extreme situation that shouldn’t be reached.

Although it’s true that you can go a few weeks without eating, the body isn’t capable of surviving that long without fluids. The body’s energy reserves allow the brain’s needs to be satisfied for a significantly long period of time. For its part, water is lost more quickly. There are hardly any fluid reserves, and when you experience dehydration, your blood volume drops rapidly.

Signs of dehydration

Dehydration causes different types of symptoms. For example, according to a study published in the journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility, intestinal discomfort such as cramps can be experienced when it persists over time. An acute dehydration process must be differentiated from chronic situations. Under this last context, health can be damaged little by little, even causing serious diseases.

The first symptoms include fatigue, irritability, dizziness, nausea, and constipation. You can even experience weight loss from reducing fluids. With this, you have to be very careful, as some athletes practice deliberate dehydration processes to enter a certain weight category.

Although there are dietary mechanisms to achieve this by losing the least amount of performance possible, it’s not a risk-free practice. In fact, the scientific literature postulates a series of protocols to achieve success and maximize safety. Even so, throughout recent history, there have been deaths due to poor handling of these situations.

Symptoms of severe dehydration

According to how the dehydration process progresses, slowly manifesting symptoms may be more aggressive, most notably the drop in blood pressure, fever, increased speed of the beating of the heart, sunken eyes, etc… There comes a time when sweat is even eliminated and it becomes impossible to produce tears, all with the aim of saving as much liquid as possible.

Can you drink water to relieve dehydration?

When a severe dehydration process has developed, it may not be appropriate to consume water as such to solve it. The water and electrolyte balance could be upset, leading to an imbalance. A typical example would be hyponatremia (low concentrations of sodium in the blood), as stated by research published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

In these cases, a series of specifically formulated solutions are usually used. It may even be necessary to administer them intravenously to prevent the loss of fluid from continuing to put life at risk. The truth is that you have to be very careful with the administration of fluids in this state and with the concentration of their salts. A mistake here would prove fatal.

Therefore, it’s always best to adopt a series of preventive measures. The best thing to do is to drink water daily, in amounts greater than 50 ounces. Likewise, it’ll be crucial to include foods such as vegetables in the diet, with a significant concentration of liquid inside.

Is it possible to drink juices and soft drinks to prevent dehydration?

Going without drinking water cannot be justified by consuming soda regularly.
Although sugary drinks contain significant amounts of water, added substances (such as sugars) can cause damage in the medium and long term.

It’s important to note that the best tool to ensure a good state of hydration is water. Soft drinks have an excessive amount of simple sugars inside. These elements have not only been shown to be harmful to metabolic health but could also alter the filtering capacity of the kidneys. We’re talking about liquids with a high amount of solutes, which forces the excretory organs to work harder.

Juices aren’t a better option, generally speaking. They contain sugars that are naturally present in fruit. They also provide antioxidants and flavonoids, but this doesn’t compensate for the impact they have on blood glucose. It’s always a better option to consume fruit in its natural state, both for health in general and for water balance in particular.

Of course, alcohol is a liquid that’s capable of exerting the opposite effect of hydration. It increases the expulsion of fluid through urine due to its diuretic capacity. In this regard, it could aggravate the effects of dehydration, in addition to causing other damage to various organs of the human body. It’s best to restrict it from the pattern to improve health in the medium term.

The body doesn’t last long without drinking

As you’ve seen, it’s not possible to go more than a week without drinking water. For this reason, it’ll be necessary to ensure a good state of hydration, as otherwise, the consequences will soon be noticed. The symptoms will increase and can immediately be disabling, so even if the person is alive, their body won’t be completely functional.

Remember that when we talk about a proper diet, we’re not only referring to the foods that are ingested but also to the drinks that are consumed. To avoid problems, you’ll need to ensure at least 8 glasses of fresh mineral water in your daily routine. It’s true that in the context of certain diseases, it may be necessary to restrict fluids, in most cases, it’s better to increase their contribution.

Finally, keep in mind that if you practice sports, your water needs can be drastically increased. In this situation, more fluid is lost through sweat, so it’s necessary to compensate for this excretion. For this, the hydration pattern will have to be adjusted, always ensuring the administration of electrolytes in optimal quantities.

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