Robert Todd Carroll
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. (The Book of Proverbs 5:15)
Urine therapy refers to one of several uses of urine to prevent or cure sickness, to enhance beauty or to cleanse one's bowels. Most devotees drink the midstream of their morning urine. Some prefer it straight and steaming hot; others mix it with juice or serve it over fruit. Some prefer a couple of urine drops mixed with a tablespoon of water applied sublingually several times a day. Hip New Agers no doubt prefer to take their dose with their evening salad tossed with Piss & Vinegar dressing, available at alternative specialty shops. Some wash themselves in their own golden fluid to improve their skin quality. Many modern Japanese women are said to engage in urine bathing. The truly daring use their own urine as an enema. Urine is not quite the breakfast of champions, but it is the elixir of choice of a number of holy men in India where drinking urine has been practiced for thousands of years. The drink is also the preferred pick-me-up for a growing number of naturopaths and other advocates of "nature cures." The main attractions of this ultimate home brew are its cost, availability and portability. It is much cheaper than that other "water of life," whisky (uisge beatha), which also has been hailed for its medicinal qualities. Unlike whisky, however, urine is always available, everyone carries a supply at all times, and, for most people, there are no intoxicating side effects. Furthermore, the urge to overindulge is almost absent when drinking urine. The same can't be said for good single malt such as Highland Park or a good whiskey such as Black Bush.
Many advocates claim that urine is a panacea. There is practically nothing it won't cure. Urine is said to be effective against the flu, the common cold, broken bones, toothache, dry skin, psoriasis and all other skin problems. It is said to deter aging and is helpful with AIDS, allergies, animal and snake bites, asthma, heart disease, hypertension, burns, cancer, chemical intoxication, chicken pox, enteritis, constipation, and pneumonia. Urine is said to be effective against dysentery, edema, eczema, eye irritation, fatigue, fever, gonorrhea, gout, bloody urine, small pox, immunological disorders, infections, infertility, baldness, insomnia, jaundice, hepatitis, Kaposi's sarcoma, leprosy, lymphatic disorder, urticaria, morning sickness, hangover, obesity, papilloma virus, parasitoses, gastric ulcer, rheumatism, birth marks, stroke, congestion, lumbago, typhus, gastritis, depression, cold sore, tuberculosis, tetanus, Parkinson's disease, foot fungus, diabetes and other endocrine related diseases. One enthusiastic fellow calls urine therapy "one of the divine manifestations of cosmic intelligence."* He uses urine to unleash his kundalini which he feels springing forth to his third eye, bringing him instant enlightenment.
With such wondrous properties, it is amazing that science bothered developing medicine when it had the key to good health already in the bottle, so to speak. Each of us is a walking pharmacopoeia. Homer Smith (Man and His Gods) once wrote that "man is a machine for turning wine into urine." Little did he know that man is a machine for turning just about anything into a medicinal tonic.
Despite the claims by authors of books on urine therapy, the scientific evidence which would recommend that we all start drinking our own urine is piss poor. According to urninophiles, the medical establishment has conspired to keep us ignorant of the wonder drug we all carry in our bladders. One self-proclaimed expert on the subject claims
...the medical community has already been aware of [urine's] astounding efficacy for decades, and yet none of us has ever been told about it. Why? Maybe they think it's too controversial. Or maybe, more accurately, there wasn't any monetary reward for telling people what scientistsknow about one of the most extraordinary natural healing elements in the world.*
This is a common argument from defenders of alternative therapies: the greed of medical doctors leads them to conspire against chiropractors, chelation therapists, etc. The evidence for this conspiracy wouldn't fill a specimen beaker. Part of the alleged conspiracy to keep us ignorant of the wonders of our own wee wee is the fact that many people think urine is poisonous. Urine is generally not toxic and you will not die of uremic poisoning if you start your day off with a cup of your own golden fluid. However, it hardly seems fair to blame the medical establishment for the general public's ignorance on this matter. In any case, just because something is not toxic does not mean it is good for you. Hair is not toxic, either, and even though it might be a good source of fiber, it is generally not desirable to put hair in food.
Furthermore, while it is true that some of the constituents of urine are being used and tested for their potential or actual therapeutic value, it does not follow that drinking one's urine is therapeutic. It may be discovered that one of the chemicals in human urine is effective for fighting cancer. However, drinking one's own urine is not likely going to supply enough of any cancer fighting substance to do any good. It is also true that some of the substances in urine are good for you. For example, if you are ingesting more vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin) than your body needs or can process, you will excrete it in your urine. It doesn't follow that drinking your urine is a good way to get vitamin C into your body. An orange or a tablet might be preferable. However, if you are urinating excess vitamin C, what do you think your body will do with the vitamin C you ingest with your urine? If you guessed that it would get rid of it, you guessed right. The reason your urine contains vitamins and minerals is because your body didn't need them or couldn't use them. You might as well pour water into a full glass as reuptake your excess vitamins and minerals. Even urea, which can be toxic in very high doses, occurs in such minute quantities in the average person's urine that there is very little chance of poisoning from drinking one's own urine.
The origin of this unusual practice seems to be in certain religious rites among Hindus, where it is called amaroli in tantric religious traditions. The tantric tradition is known for its flouting of conventional behavior as a means of establishing the moral superiority of its practitioners. It is also possible that this practice is related to superstitions based on sympathetic magic. Since urine is emitted from the same bodily organ used in sex, perhaps it was thought that by drinking one's urine one was swallowing some sort of sexual energizer. In any case, the likelihood that Indians some 4,000 years ago had scientific reasons for drinking their own urine is highly unlikely.
Another rather unscientific notion which seems to be accepted by urinophiles is that urine is really blood, since it is the byproduct of blood filtering by the kidneys. It is unlikely that if you need a blood transfusion that urine will work just as well.
Another misleading claim being made by urninophiles is that amniotic fluid is nothing but urine: fetal urine. If it is good for the fetus, it should be good for all of us. Here is what urine expert Martha Christy has to say on the subject:
. . . the amniotic fluid that surrounds human infants in the womb is primarily urine. Actually, the infant "breathes in" urine-filled amniotic fluid continually, and without this fluid, the lungs don't develop. Doctors also believe that the softness of baby skin and the ability of in-utero infants to heal quickly without scarring after pre-birth surgery is due to the therapeutic properties of the urine-filled amniotic fluid.
Some of the chemicals found in amniotic fluid are not going to be
found in most urine samples. It is misleading, to say the least, to
claim that amniotic fluid is "primarily" urine. It would
be more accurate to say that they are both primarily water. I don't
know what doctors she is talking about, but most parents will tell
you that when their babies came out of the womb their skin was
anything but beautiful. Comparisons to wrinkly prunes are quite
common. So is comparison to one's skin after being in the swimming
pool for a long time. The baby's skin becomes soft only after it
has been out of its liquid environment for some time. There is a
reason for that, according to Kim
Kelly, a naturopathic doctor and nurse from Seattle. Newborns
don't produce oil from their sebaceous glands until several weeks
after their birth, which is why they often appear to have dry,
flaky skin. Rather than amniotic fluid contributing to soft skin,
according to Kelly, babies in the womb are protected by vernix, a
creamy substance that serves as a barrier between the baby and the
amniotic fluid. So, unless your urine is full of vernix, using it
as a skin lotion is unlikely to work as a moisturizer.
Being a waste product does not mean that a substance is toxic or harmful. It means that the body cannot absorb the substance at the present time. We might think of many of urine's constituents as if they were leftovers from a meal. We could throw the excess food away or we could eat it later after diluting it substantially with water and putting it in the blender. With urine, unfortunately, we cannot ingest waste products in the form they had when first ingested.
For most people most of the time, one's own urine is not likely to be harmful. However, it is not likely to be healthful or useful except for those rare occasions when one is buried beneath a building or lost at sea for a week or two. In such situations drinking one's own urine might be the difference between life and death. As a daily tonic, there are much tastier ways to introduce healthful products into one's blood stream.
Also, unfortunately not everybody can just jump right in and start drinking their own urine without negative side effects. The Chinese Association of Urine Therapy warns that
Common symptoms include diarrhea, itch, pain, fatigue, soreness of the shoulder, fever, etc. These symptoms appear more frequently in patients suffering long term or more serious illnesses, and symptoms may repeat several times. Each episode may last 3-7 days, but sometimes it may last one month, or even worse over 6 months. It is a pity that many give up urine therapy because of such bad episode [sic]. Recovery reaction is just like the darkness before sunrise. If one persists and overcomes the difficulty, one can enjoy the eventual happiness of healthy life.
These same people advise that "All kinds of throat inflammation can be helped by gargling with urine to which a bit of saffron has been added" and "drinking one ounce of urine . . . is more beneficial to the average person than a fully staffed multi-billion dollar medical center." I was unable to find their evidence for these claims. Perhaps the evidence was produced at the First World Conference on Urine Therapy which took place in India In February 1996. Or maybe it will come up in 1998 the Second World Conference on Urine Therapy to be held in Germany in 1998.
Why do alternative therapies such as urine therapy become popular? Probably the main reason is that they seem to work. For any popular alternative therapy, there will always be a good number of testimonials from people who know they work. They know this because they have tried it and it "helped" or "cured" them of some malady. It does little good to point out to true believers that most of their ailments would have cured themselves and gone away had they done nothing at all to treat themselves. One's tooth pain or facial pimples may have gone away after drinking a cup of one's golden fluid, but that is not strong evidence that there was any causal connection between two events. (See the post hoc fallacy.) Likewise, you are not likely to dissuade a true believer by noting that many diseases go into remission for unknown reasons and that just because the remission occurred after drinking urine for a month, does not mean there is any causal connection. And you waste your breath trying to get a true believer to consider the possibility that to begin with they were misdiagnosed by their alternative practitioner. Thus they were never cured because there was never anything wrong with them.
Probably the most common reason for the "effectiveness" of alternative therapies is the placebo effect. Many maladies have a behavioral component, often connected to the subjective evaluation of one's pain. Belief affects behavior and behavior affects the body. Hence, if one believes in a therapy, it is often the case that one will feel better, or think one feels better and act as if one is better, even though there is no objective evidence in the form of urine or blood tests, x-rays, etc., which would prove that one is better. Furthermore, acting in a healthy way could cause objective, measurable improvements. In such cases, it would be misleading to say that the therapy was useless. However, it was not the therapy as such that led to improvement, but one's belief in the therapy. Some might say, what difference does it make since a cure is a cure? It might make all the difference in the world. First, there may not have been a cure after all. Just because one's mood improves does not mean one has been cured. Secondly, there might be a better therapy one is avoiding by using the "alternative" therapy. Thirdly, the relief might be temporary, while the better therapy might produce permanent or long-term relief. Fourthly, for those who are not helped by the alternative therapy, there might be grave consequences which could have been avoided had they been properly treated in the first place.
Finally, many people who use "alternative" therapies, use them in conjunction with traditional scientific medicine. They give credit to the "alternative" therapy if they improve and blame traditional medicine if they do not.
See related entry on alternative health practices.
Robert Todd Carroll