We know, we're wrinkling our noses too, but the whispers about urotherapy in the wellness world have gotten too loud for us to ignore. A number of socialites, Hollywood actresses, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and top beauty names have mentioned the practice (although, because of its taboo nature, they shy away from publicly associating themselves with it). Even biohacker extraordinaire Tim Ferriss recently dabbled in it. "I met a few different folks over a relatively short period of time [who mentioned it]," said Ferriss on his recent podcast. "One said his aunt drank it for medicinal purposes. Of all the things I'd done in my life—and I've done some really odd stuff—I realized I'd never had a sip of my own urine...it wasn't that bad." Others concur, with one 20-something who tried it to see if it helped with his long-distance running (he noticed no real results), describing it as "similar to a salty, slightly sour beer."
So what is urotherapy exactly?
And does it have any merit? "Urotherapy is a traditional therapy of using one's urine to massage into skin, gums or drinking the urine," explains Dr. Terry Wahls, a functional medicine practitioner.
It seems to have originated in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. "Urine therapy has been used in ancient times as a healing tonic for infections and an antidote to poison," says Dr. Amy Shah, a functional medicine doctor trained in Ayurvedic medicine, which she often employs as a complement to Western therapies. "It has also been described as a spiritual practice in Ayurveda."
"In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), there is a theory that eating a similar substance in which you are looking to heal is good for you," explains Simone Wan, a licensed acupuncturist. "For instance, eating liver is good for your liver, eating meat is good for your muscles, eating tripe is good for your stomach, etc. In fact, a popular thyroid medication is made of desiccated porcine (pig) thyroid. So in theory, urine, a substance that is stored in the kidneys and excreted through the urinary tract, may help the kidneys if they are lacking certain nutrients. According to some TCM practitioners, small amounts of urine can be purifying, clear up excess mucus, and can act as an antiseptic."
Dr. Will Cole isn't surprised by urotherapy's recent surge in the wellness world. "Urine is comprised of 95 percent water, 2.5 percent urea and 2.5 percent a mix of salt, enzymes, hormones, and minerals," he says. "Because of these properties found in urine it makes sense why one would assume there would be benefits to reusing these nutrients and chemicals in the body for antiviral and antibacterial purposes as well as helping to balance hormones. In fact, studies have actually shown that urine can be a cancer fighter by helping to boost antibody production!"
So does it have merit in the modern world?
The answer is—a resounding maybe. "I think that small amounts of urine therapy may not be harmful because, if you don't have an infection, urine is largely sterile," says Dr. Shah. "It can contain hormones such as DHEA and urea and theoretically may help with infections." She doesn't, however, recommend the practice to her patients. "In my opinion," she says, "there is not enough modern evidence of its efficacy."
Dr. Taz, a Western doctor who uses Traditional Chinese Medicine in her practice, doesn't prescribe drinking urine now, but she does see its potential in the future. "While most of urine is water, waste, and urea, I still cannot recommend this as a viable alternative to the many diseases it is touted to cure," she says. "We have more waste in our systems today than we did thousands of years ago. Because urine may still have some antiviral or antibacterial properties, or beneficial nutrients or chemicals that may be helpful in healing disease, I can see a future for urotherapy, where the waste is filtered and we're left with just the positive properties. This is very similar to what we're doing with fecal transplants today."
Perhaps most importantly, many of the positive elements of urine can be found more easily, safely, and deliciously elsewhere, in foods like bone broth and mineral salts. If you're going to partake in a questionably beneficial wellness trend, there are plenty of other (decidedly tastier) ones to choose from.