When an aesthetician at a spa in Bath, England, recommended I drink my own urine to clear up acne on my chin, I was horrified — at first. When the shock wore off, I wondered, “Is this for real?” I couldn’t help myself. My curiosity is a powerful force. I wanted to know more about urine therapy even though part of my brain was screaming, “Yuck!”
Searching the internet, it’s clear that this practice has many loyal followers and that it has been around for centuries. It’s an alternative medicine practice that just won’t fade away, kind of like Madonna. Every few years, the interest spikes and the cycle begins again with believers and non-believers facing off.
Devotees claim that sipping their own “nature’s elixir,” as it has been called, has cured everything from cancer to diabetes, psoriasis to toenail fungus. The testimonials ranged from impressive to downright outrageous and dangerous and they come from all over the world.
International interest in the topic is so robust that there is even a conference centered on the topic, hosted around the world in places like Goa, India, Caracas, Venezuela and San Diego, drawing experts and practitioners. Clearly, urophagia, aka urine therapy, is a thing, much to my surprise.
When you look closer, it’s clear that pee-sippers are more common in India and China than in North America. The China Urine Therapy Association estimated 100,000 people have taken up the habit in hopes that it treats a host of diseases and keeps their eyesight and skin healthy.
However, when BuzzFeed recently posted a video of New Yorkers watching willing volunteers sampling their own brew, it didn’t go well. They were grossed out to the max. Do watch it if you find montages of disgusted faces amusing.
Many sites gave detailed instructions on how to do it (fresh morning pee is the best, apparently) and how much to drink (depends on what ailment is being treated). They also advocated trying urine therapy if traditional medical treatments haven’t worked. It’s natural, organic and free. What’s the harm?
While trying a glass or two won’t likely hurt you — if you can stomach the taste and the smell. But some users reported diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Pee isn’t inert. Though 95 percent of it is water, the remaining 5 percent can contain any combination of 3,000 compounds, from salts (hence, the sea water-like taste), hormones, enzymes and protein. Someone who is ill may secrete sugar, protein and red and white blood cells. I’ve learned through my reading that your pee is very special and unique to you. No two people have the same exact composition because the foods we eat and the way our bodies process them vary so much.
And contrary to popular belief, urine is not sterile, according to a recent study conducted by the Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago. It is chock-full of bacteria. My thinking is that it would be like putting your kitchen sponge in your mouth.
There is no scientific research that backs up the health claims of urine drinking. They have been dismissed by the medical profession and discussed in detail on shows like The Doctors. Yet there might be some merit when it comes to urine being a beauty booster. Not all urine enthusiasts drink it. Some apply it to their skin instead.
One of the elements found in pee is urea, which also happens to be a very popular ingredient used in beauty products, especially moisturizers. It has water-attracting molecules that help skin cells hang on to precious H2O and remain plump and well hydrated.
Urea is also a handy accelerator for cell turnover, making it a fave for giving skin a healthy glow and clearing blemishes. Perhaps that is what my British aesthetician had in mind when she told me to drink mine to clear up acne on my chin.
The thing is, no one has to slather their faces with pee to get the benefits of urea. Just grab a moisturizer from the shelf at the drugstore — one like Eucerin 10% Urea Lotion. You might feel better to know that the urea used by the cosmetic industry is synthetic. No human or animal pee is involved in the process — just good chemistry.
However, if you happen to find yourself in an extreme emergency situation (hopefully not!) when you’re very survival depends on your ability to hydrate yourself in the absence of clean water, then by all means, bottoms up. You can always find a news story about how some guy in the desert survived for eight days by consuming his urine.
Discovery Channel personality Bear Grylls has stunned viewers on more than one occasion by downing a cup of his own pee on air as part of his quest for survival in some remote part of the planet.
He famously asked guest star President Obama if he’d drink his urine during a 2015 episode of Running Wild. POTUS said he would in a life-or-death situation, but “it’s not something I’d make a habit of.” He declined to imbibe.
After looking at the evidence and the lack thereof, I’m with Obama. But if you want to drink your own pee, then cheers to you. Just don’t count on me to join you. My pee is going where it belongs — in a toilet bowl.