The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

By Claude A. Piantadosi | Go to book overview

5
Water and Salt

Water is critical to the ability of plants and animals to acclimatize and survive in extreme environments, whether on the seas, in deserts, or in the high mountains. Dehydration is the most important cause of death from exposure to heat and may contribute to death during other types of extreme exposures. Lack of potable water is much more rapidly dangerous to human survival than lack of food. Furthermore, the popular notion that the human body acclimatizes to water deprivation is unfounded biologically. This misconception, or some twist on it, has caused the deaths of many a hardy but poorly informed explorer.

The misunderstanding about water stems from the fact that the human body adjusts to low water intake by conserving water. Although the body curtails its loss of water and salt in the first few days of exposure to hot climates, no scientific evidence has shown that minimum daily water requirements decrease with acclimatization. A hallmark of heat adaptation is actually an increase in the rate of water loss from sweating. Indeed, the old adage about conserving water by seeking shade in the day and walking only at night in the desert has much to recommend it. Nothing on Earth substitutes for potable water, and without an adequate supply death is inevitable. This chapter discusses how much water is enough under different conditions. It will become evident that obtaining an estimate of sufficient water is easier said than done, because requirements vary not just with environment, but also with behavior.

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The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1: The Human Environment 1
  • 2: Survival and Adaptation 10
  • 3: Cross-Acclimation 21
  • 4: Food for Thought 29
  • 5: Water and Salt 41
  • 6: Water That Makes Men Mad 54
  • 7: Tolerance to Heat 63
  • 8: Endless Oceans of Sand 78
  • 9: Hypothermia 89
  • 10: Life and Death on the Crystal Desert 99
  • 11: Survival in Cold Water 119
  • 12: Air as Good as We Deserve 129
  • 13: Bends and Rapture of the Deep 140
  • 14: Sunken Submarines 152
  • 15: Climbing Higher 164
  • 16: Into the Wild Blue Yonder 181
  • 17: G Whiz 193
  • 18: The Gravity of Microgravity 203
  • 19: Weapons of Mass Destruction 212
  • 20: Human Prospects for Colonizing Space 227
  • Bibliography and Supplemental Reading 247
  • Index 255
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