How Long Does it Take to Die From Starvation and Dehydration: Surprising Life & Death Findings

Contemplating your own mortality is never fun. The only way you can really be prepared to save your own life is if you stop to think about the ways you are likely to lose it. Most things are avoidable or at least manageable if you have a decent plan and you’re prepared. Food and water are among your most basic needs. Without both, you cannot survive.

How long does it take to die from starvation and dehydration? These are two very different questions. First, you will die of dehydration much faster than you will starve. Without water, most people can only survive 1-3 days if it’s hot and not more than about 6 days at best. For most people, it takes 35-40 days before the really serious symptoms of starvation set in. After 60-70 days without food, most people will die.


Average adults need no less than 2 liters of water per day, and that’s with no strenuous activity or extreme weather. You will need a lot more if you need to be active. In summer heat or snow you can lose a shocking amount of fluid much faster than you might think.

The old wives tale says we are 90% water. This number isn’t quite accurate, however, we are more than half made of water. Additionally, every cell in your body needs water to survive. Running out of water on a planet covered with so much is nightmarish, but it can happen. Lack of clean and clear water sources will kill you quickly.

Being prepared for water emergencies is one of the most basic skills that everyone needs to learn. There are dozens of ways to make clean water from solar stills, which make drinking water out of almost nothing, to collecting rainwater and even carrying a Lifestraw or water purification tabs. The importance of this can never be overstated. (Click here for the latest pricing for Lifestraw on Amazon).


Dehydration in the first stage just makes you thirsty. In fact, any time you feel thirst, unless it is related to an illness, you are nearly always beginning to get dehydrated. This does not mean you should panic every time you want a glass of water. It simply means your body is telling you it used up most of the available water you put in.

Having dry skin, and dry or “cotton” mouth is also a symptom of mild dehydration. Headaches and feelings of low energy are also normal side effects from lack-of-water.

As you get toward the more advanced stages of dehydration you will feel ill. Your body tries to warn you that it is shutting down. You will pee very dark and eventually stop being able to pee at all.

Without water, you may overheat and your kidneys, among other organs, will begin to shut down. You may have vertigo, or breathe hard and have a fast pulse as your heart and lungs try to compensate for your blood becoming sluggish with less water content.

Eventually, you will become sleepy, or pass out. Death is the final stage of dehydration if you let it get that far along. Not everyone experiences every effect the same, but there are always warning signs.


These are not in exact order. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye out for any combination of these signs. Naturally, staying hydrated is the best plan, but if there’s a significant risk, keeping aware of yourself and those around you can save lives.

  • Thirst
  • Extremely Dark or No Urine
  • Fever
  • No sweat
  • Dry Skin and Mouth
  • Low Energy
  • Confusion and/or Irritability
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Dizziness and Fainting
  • Sleepiness

What Can I do to Reverse Dehydration

It may seem like the only thing you need to do about dehydration is have some water. If the dehydration is mild enough this may be true. However, in advanced states of dehydration water alone may not be enough to save your life.

If you are in the heat you’ll want to get to some shade as quickly and safely as possible. Wrapping damp clothing around a person who is suffering from dehydration will help bring a fever down and may keep them from overheating dangerously and losing more water.

Most of us know the word “electrolytes,” but we don’t really understand what they are and what they do. Your electrolyte balance, the minerals and salts you need to live, help keep your fluid balance. In addition, they help regulate your blood pressure.

Gatorade is great if you happen to have it on hand, but there are other ways. Salt tabs can be bought for first aid kits, along with magnesium and other essentials. Lemon juice or lemonade is a great way to restore balance. Surprisingly, dairy, bananas and avocado also help a great deal. Without the right electrolyte balance, water won’t absorb correctly.


Diseases like Bulemia and Anorexia are a sign of how truly fortunate we are to live in this era. Voluntarily starving your body of nutrients is virtually unheard of where food shortages are an issue.

What Happens When You Starve

Hunger is the first symptom of starvation. It is usually a mild warning from your body to let you know there is a need for more food. If you go too long without eating, nausea and lightheadedness can follow shortly thereafter.

By the time you have not eaten for a few days your body is in a state of ketosis. It is cannibalizing your fat stores for energy to continue. Acid from your stomach will cause discomfort and damage. You may experience cramping and will not need to poop very often. (Though your body will continue to produce some solid waste even when you do not eat, at least for a while.)

A body can live off of stored fat for quite some time. Most healthy people don’t actually die of starvation in the first one to two months. So long as you have water, starvation is much slower. The discomfort is said to pass long before you can actually starve. The young, elderly, sick and thin will of course starve faster.

It may surprise you to learn that extensive hard scientific data on starvation is actually quite hard to come by. This is doubtless a result of the fact that it’s incredibly unethical and inhumane to starve people and study them. Unlike most other problems a human body can have, starvation is simply not well understood.

What Do I Need Nutritionally

Doctors have said the body can survive on as few as 500 calories a day if the exercise isn’t strenuous. A normal healthy adult male needs about 1800 calories and a female needs around 1200. This varies by height, weight, activity level, and other factors like age.

Eating too little causes your body to believe it is starving and slow down your metabolism. This can result in weight gain when you eat too little as the body tries desperately to store fat to save you from eventual death.

In addition to simply having enough calories to eat you need vitamins and minerals to maintain your health. Lack of different components of a healthy diet will have different results. A good example would be lack of iron, which can cause a type of anemia.

As previously noted, electrolytes help with blood pressure and water regulation. Vitamin C prevents you from having scurvy. What you should take away from all of this is that every aspect of a normal diet effects your health. Calories alone will keep you alive for a while. Sadly, without proper nutrition, those calories may as well be cardboard because it will do the same amount of good.

In a dangerous survival situation try to remember that any food will help. Acorns, dandelions and pine trees are found almost everywhere. They won’t keep you healthy, and they don’t taste great, but you can survive a little while off of them if you really must.

Final Thoughts

Learning to fend for yourself in a dire situation isn’t quite as simple as reading a single blog post or book, but it’s a start. Try to focus less on how long you can make it without something, and more on how to make certain that is never an issue for you. After all, facts and figures will not keep you alive. Being prepared for a disaster will.

The most basic preparedness factors are air, light, shelter, food and water. As a newbie prepper, you need to begin by learning to have these things at all times. Without the simplest things you cannot survive long enough to worry about the more complicated problems of actually thriving beyond the end of your first difficult situation.

It is my suggestion that you considered always being prepared for the possibility you might get stranded or force to leave at a moments notice. You might consider getting an emergency food and water bag that you either store in your vehicle or easily accessible at home. Click here to get the latest pricing from Amazon on one I highly recommend.

Additional Questions

Can I get enough water just from eating? Under normal circumstances about 80% of your water comes from drinking. The other 20% comes from food. While you cannot survive without drinking some water, it might be possible to push this limit if you ate a whole lot of water heavy foods.

Can you die from eating too much after starving? When you starve your body begins to shut down. If it has been a while then your ability to process things like carbohydrates is lessened. In addition to these complications it is possible to simply burst your stomach. In short, yes, you can die from overeating after starvation.

How much does it hurt to die of starvation and dehydration? Surprisingly, medical professionals say that once the body passes beyond the initial discomfort, neither starving nor dehydration is a horrible way to die. It is most likely less pleasant than dying in your sleep from old age, but certainly far from the worst way to go.

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