We know, we're wrinkling our noses too, but the whispers about drinking urine (aka, urotherapy) 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).
Here, five health professionals demystify the purported benefits and risks of urotherapy, and whether or not this practice has merit in the modern world. In other words, could drinking pee be healthy?
So what is urotherapy exactly?
"Urotherapy is a traditional therapy of using one's urine to massage into skin, gums or drinking the urine," explains Terry Wahls, M.D., 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 Amy Shah, M.D., a functional medicine doctor trained in Ayurvedic medicine. "It has also been described as a spiritual practice in Ayurveda."
"In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), 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."
While the practice dates back to Ayurvedic and TCM traditions, there are some people who have tried urotherapy as of late.
Take biohacker extraordinaire Tim Ferriss, for example: "I met a few different folks over a relatively short period of time [who mentioned it]," said Ferriss on his 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."
Functional medicine practitioner Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, isn't too shocked about urotherapy's (albeit, hushed) popularity. "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."
But 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 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."
Taz Bhatia, M.D., an integrative medicine 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."
The bottom line about urotherapy? It has the potential to hold some merit in the future, but there is no scientific evidence to back up any of the purported benefits. Much more clinical research is needed before we can consider it a safe option in the future. Additionally, urotherapy might not be safe until we can find a way to filter it so we're left with just the positive properties of urine (rather than the bacteria and waste).
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 health trend, there are plenty of other (decidedly tastier) ones to choose from.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.