How Long Can You Live Without Water? Facts and Consequences


August 24, 2020

by Andreea Sterea

how long can you live without water

Hold your breath for more than 3 minutes, and you are in serious trouble. Fast for more than 30 days, and you will fully grasp the notion of starvation. However, how long can you live without water? Not as long as you might think. In fact, less than you imagine.

How Long Can You Live Without Water? It’s Complicated

History repeatedly proved that people could live without food for weeks and even months. Mahatma Gandhi survived his 21-days fasting, and so did magician David Blaine after spending 44 days without any bite to eat. In case you gather weird science facts for your trivia night games, note down that one of the most extended hunger strikes in history lasted 116 days. We do not take into consideration the example of Indian activist Irom Sharmila, because her jailors force-fed her throughout her 16-year-long hunger strike.

Today, we are on a quest to find out how long can you live without food and water. So let’s start by discussing how long can you go without water because, as you have seen above, the conversation about living without food is a bit more complicated. Reaching the point of no return in food’s case varies significantly across individuals.

When it comes to water, however, things are more straightforward. In some cases, some people survived (barely) without water for about a week. Nevertheless, if you spend more than three days without water, you will get in the most severe crisis of your life.

Living without Water: The Science

Water is more crucial to survival than food, although we will also discuss how long can you go without food in the next article. Life began in some hot water, and life cannot endure without it. It is a given and the reason why we explore ice fossils and other planets in search of water as we search for extra-terrestrial life. In our paradigm as beings living on Earth, without water, there is no survival, not for us and not for the animal kingdom either.

According to science, the human body consists of 60% water, present in every cell. If you are still wondering how much water you should drink every day to stay healthy, the answer is that it all depends on each individual.

A single formula does not apply to all of us. The “right” amount of water for a person should take into account gender, environment/climate/altitude, overall health, exercise, pregnancy, etc.

Nevertheless, if you are a fan of recommendations and measurements, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends that women get 91 ounces (11.5 cups/2.7 liters) of water per day, and men get 125 ounces (15.5 cups/3.7 liters) of water per day from both drinks and foods. Remember that these quantities represent the averages for adults who are healthy, live in moderate climates, and engage in moderate physical activities.

how long can a person live without water in average conditions

The Curious Case of Andreas Mihavecz

If you want to know how long can a person live without water and food, Andreas Mihavecz may have an answer, although you DO NOT WANT to replicate his experience. He managed to stay alive for 18 days without any food or water back in 1979. Accidentally forgotten in a prison cell by three Austrian police officers, 18 years old Andreas allegedly licked condensation from his prison walls to survive. More than being just an urban legend, the case of Andreas made the subject of a criminal trial and a civil court case.

But his case is singular. A water strike can lead to death in a few days. We will discuss this in a few moments.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Water?

Our bodies need constant maintenance of the fluid balance, as we exhale, sweat, and eliminate bodily waste. It is true that if you stay under a shady tree for about a week without water, you might experience slower dehydration than a scientist researching in the desert, or an athlete engaged in continually strenuous exercise under the hot sun. Nevertheless, all three of you will start experiencing dehydration symptoms in about three days.

The Symptoms of Dehydration

As we said, water accounts for about 60% of your total body weight. Studies have shown that losing a mere 3% of this weight through water loss may start triggering dehydration symptoms. One of the first signs that you are dehydrating is that you urinate less because your brain signaled your body to do everything in its power to conserve water. In turn, it leads to kidney malfunctions. Here are other symptoms of dehydration you might start to feel after a day or two of water deprivation.

  • Headaches;
  • Lack of energy and sluggishness;
  • Raised or oscillating body temperature;
  • Dizziness and confusion;
  • Heat cramps and heat strokes;
  • Progressive weight loss;
  • Stiff, painful joints;
  • Muscular and psychological fatigue;
  • Oscillating blood pressure with sharp changes to the low/high extremes;
  • Brain swelling;
  • Hallucinations, and seizures.

If your body loses up to 3% water, what you experience is mild dehydration you can fix by oral rehydration (water, foods, or rehydration medicine). Doctors usually prescribe the latter to people after severe episodes of vomiting or diarrhea.

What You Should Know about Terminal Dehydration

In the case you lose over 10% of your body water, you are most likely to experience severe thirst, mental and physical deterioration. If your body loses over 10% water, you will experience what science calls terminal dehydration. However, the term refers mostly to terminally ill patients that refuse food or oral fluids voluntarily. It is more an issue related to respecting a patient’s autonomy and has plenty to do with ethics and comfort care.

If we refer to death by water deprivation, the first thing you should know is the damages take place in stages. As the days without water pass, you exprience mild thirst symptoms to severe organ shock and failure. When dehydration goes beyond the point of no return, it results in death. Under particular circumstances, intravenous therapy might save a person’s life if the dehydration is still under 15% of total water weight loss.

how long can a person live without water

Get Your Water from Both Drinks and Foods

While you can get about 20% of your necessary daily water intake from foods, it does not mean you should disregard them. Promoters of healthy nutrition with a focus on Mediterranean diets, and Greek or South Korean diets encourage us to add the following items into our healthy lifestyles:

  • Watery fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupes, watermelon, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, and citrus fruits;
  • Yogurt, milk, and other dairy products like cottage cheese;
  • Fish and seafood like salmon and shrimp;
  • Chicken breast;
  • Leafy greens, etc.

A diet rich in water helps your skin look better, your joints function optimally, and all your internal organs run normally. Nevertheless, consuming foods rich in water is not enough.

Helping our bodies receive enough water means we can engage in some of the most exhausting imaginable activities. Space exploration and astronaut dehydration are issues even NASA takes very seriously. As you know, drinking sodas, alcohol, and even water is a difficult thing to do in space or on the ISS.  Therefore, coming up with a rehydration beverage for astronauts and athletes on Earth is not a crazy idea.

How Long Can a Person Live Without Water: Bottom Line

We cannot experiment on humans with water deprivation for ethical reasons. So the case of Andreas Mihavecz remains an exception we would like to stay as it is. His is the story of an unfortunate event that taught us something about how much people want to survive. On the other hand, if you find yourself wondering how many days can you go without water, don’t let it be more than a couple. Even in the comforts of your cooled apartment. There is no living without water and, as we will soon learn in our next article, it is quite hard to live without food as well.

How do you stand on the topic of hydration? Do you drink enough water for your body mass index and your health needs? Have you ever tried to go a few days without water? How did you feel? Use the comment section below to discuss! Moreover, if you have more information and research on how long can you live without water feel free to share them!

Want more science now?

Check out our news page where we post interesting studies and discussions (sometimes mocking them mercilessly) for more.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This