The practice of drinking one's own urine for good health is a popular one in India, and it may surprise you to know it's not an altogether unheard-of one right here.
Though some say it's toxic, proponents of the make-your-own-medicine school of thought claim pee therapy, known as shivambu in yoga circles, boosts the immune system and can cure a whole whack of illnesses. Enthusiasts say the golden liquid is completely sterile and composed mainly of minerals, hormones, vitamins, enzymes, antibodies, urea, uric acid and water.
Generally, the theory goes, one should drink morning urine, usually midstream, since the beginning could be contaminated with microbes and the end full of sediment from the bladder.
I felt compelled to try a sip for research purposes. Let me tell you, it wasn't exactly the Pinot Noir of the previous evening. On the other hand, it wasn't that bad.
What the experts say
"The Shivambu Kalpa Vidhi is part of a 5,000-year-old document called the Damar Tantra. This is linked to the Vedas, the sacred Hindu texts. Urine is the water of Shiva and is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. You can put it on wounds for healing. It's already structured to your DNA. You have to have a healthy diet. If you have alcohol, tobacco or meat - what I consider toxic substances - then all your systems will be toxic. Don't start urine therapy until you've looked at everything going into your body. You are making your best preventative medicine. It's like a gift to yourself. Face creams contain urea, and that's cow piss. I'd rather [use] my own piss."
TEIG O'MALLEY , yoga instructor
"Under normal circumstances, urine is sterile. It's made in the kidneys, and there are no microbes of any variety in them. When you pee, the urine passes over your skin and mucous membranes at the surface, and loads of bacteria grow there which your urine will pick up. Normally, those are your own bacteria and wouldn't be dangerous. They're also very low in concentration. If you were to store your urine for any period of time, however, bacteria could grow. Mostly this doesn't matter, because when you ingest bacteria the stomach is highly acidic, and that kills it. Functionally, the same things apply to someone else's urine. It depends whose urine it is you're drinking. It's the same as assessing the risk of someone you have sex with."
ALLISON McGEER , FRCPC, director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital
"It's unwise to consume body waste under normal circumstances. The body makes use of the kidneys to eliminate toxic by-products of metabolism, harmful chemicals and excessive minerals it no longer needs in the urine. It makes no sense, then, to just put all this garbage back in the system. Any reported benefit is purely imaginary."
ZOLTAN RONA , MD, MSc
"To my knowledge, shivambu is used as a last resort, after people have tried everything else. It is good for when there is extreme cold [vata] in the body because it increases the fire [pitta], so it can be good for metabolism, the digestive system and skin disorders. It can also be used for gangrenous wounds. It can ease asthma. I don't recommend it often because people come to me for Ayurveda, and if I tell them to drink urine they won't come back. People who do it every day can improve the immune system."
RAMESH MODI , practitioner, Ayurveda & Acupuncture Centre, Toronto
"We know that urine contains anti-bodies. The theory is an allergic reaction is basically a mistaken attempt by our bodies to eliminate substances that our bodies think are harmful but are not, and it develops antibodies against these substances. If you shed [antibodies] in the urine, then by drinking it the body develops anti-antibodies. It's called auto-immunization. It's been useful in animal models, and these experiments show that the theory would work, but there isn't a lot of recent research and no studies that I know of in humans. Just because there's no proof of efficacy doesn't mean it isn't efficacious."
AILEEN BURFORD MASON , immunologist/nutritionist