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Drinking Pee

19th Century.  GermanRight up there with choking down roasted human flesh, pee drinking makes the top ten list of things most people would only do if forced by extreme circumstances. To such persons, sipping the salty nectar is merely the last wretched resort of the desperately dehydrated -- i.e. shipwrecked sailors adrift at sea and desert travelers lost amidst the burning sands.

Although inaccurate, the popularity of this image is understandable. After all, here in the U.S. we rarely hear of urine drinking outside the context of survival tales -- prisoners of war, villagers beset by drought, residents of besieged cities. Equally compelling are the stories of those too squeamish to drink the "waters of their own cistern". Too principled (or foolish)to sip their own nectar, they found their end swiftly, usually in two or three days. If a person was unusually strong and in excellent health (and hydration), they might live as long as a week. For children, the survival time was even shorter.

Not surprisingly, in such circumstances our notions about what is and is not appropriate behavior can change abruptly. In the face of pain and suffering, or the death of our loved ones, we find ourselves ready to do whatever is necessary. And regardless of whether the necessary deed is drinking urine or eating bugs (or our own dead friends and relatives), this sudden shift of priorities has the power to transform our deepest held beliefs -- sometimes permanently. That is, once we've crossed the threshold of our inhibitions, we may find there is little reason to return to our previous standards of behavior.

Which may go to explain why, in some cultures, urine drinking is considered perfectly acceptable. At some point in these cultures' development need led to acceptance, and acceptance opened the door to popularization and, ultimately, to ritualization. Thus it was that the indigenous Siberians used their own urine for washing and bathing (see Practical Uses of Pee), native Alaskans used urine as an antiseptic for wounds, and in India and East Africa, tradition-minded people washed (and still do wash) themselves in cow urine (which can be more sterile than some water supplies). Among the 19th century Zuni, the consumption of urine and feces was, at times, elevated to the rank of religious ceremony (see Religious Pee).

Clearly the kinds of "need" that have caused people to tap their own stream is far more varied than our popular image would suggest. In fact, even among those who drink their urine, avoiding death from dehydration is not always the motive. For example, in a diversity of harsh climates, both very hot and very cold, people have historically turned to urine drinking to recoup not only moisture, but also other nutrients that the body depends on for vital functioning (such as salt, magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and various B vitamins). And so basic is this behavior that the body will sometimes signal a distinct craving for substances rich in that nutrient. (Meaning that in some circumstances your pee might taste rather yummy.)

If this sounds a little too bizarre to believe, consider that animals too will turn to urine to satisfy similar cravings. Domesticated reindeer, subsisting in the harsh habitat of the artic circle, happily permit their keepers to urinate directly into their mouths, appreciatively guzzling down the warm, mineral and vitamin-rich moisture. And butterflies, those graceful beauties of park and garden, sip a great deal more than flower nectar. Urine (human and non-human) is actually an important part of their nutritional intake.

Because certain nutrients are so vital to the body's healthy functioning, their lack unavoidably leads to disease and even death. But since these same nutrients can also be found (squandered) in our urine (the body can only take in so much at any one time), it should not suprise us that human beings eventually made the connection between urine drinking (running the nutrient back through the system until all had been absorbed) and recovery from certain ailments. We can only wonder at ancient peoples hit upon this discovery, but we do know that in modern China, India, Southeast Asia, and various other parts of the world, many people loudly praise the curative powers of urine.

While some urine drinkers use it only as an occasional tonic -- to correct temporary imbalances or diseases -- there are actually many others who down a glassful of urine every day as part of their daily health regimin. Just how wide spread is this practice? Hard figures for most nations are, understandably not available. However, in June 2001, Chinese news feeds reported that more than 3 million Chinese drink their own urine to stay healthier. That's 3 million cups of pee a day, every day -- just in mainland China alone. If you can figure out how many gallons that is, you win a prize. (No, not really.)

Meanwhile in India, pee drinking has a long and noble lineage. It dates back at least 5,000 years to an ancient spiritual text known as the Damar Tantra. Part of the teachings of Yoga and ayurvedic medicine, the practice of drinking ones own urine (a.k.a. Amaroli or Shivambu) is believed to accelerate one's progress toward samadhi, or spiritual enlightenment. Naturally, the spiritual aspirant must do more than drink his own piddle every day. He must also follow a regimin of daily yoga and meditation practice, he must eat healthy foods (preferably vegetarian), and he must follow the whole Ayurvedic lifestyle (a complex system of knowledge that dictates what and how individuals should eat, drink, exercise, and etc, based on their temperament and physical type). But in addition to all these practices, when the devoted aspirant arises each morning to meditate, he must also collect his first morning urine and drink it down, steaming fresh, follwing it with a chaser of plain water. (It is also prescribed that he must collect the urine midstream, after the first flow of pee clears away the bacteria and etc. lurking in the urethra and external genital area).

This tonic of first morning urine is prized not only in India, but in a variety of pee-drinking cultures, many of which believe that because the deeply resting body (during its routine nightly sleep) uses a lesser quantity of vital nutrients than during the daytime, it therefore releases the unused excess into the morning urine. It is further hypothesized that if the body is experiencing a deficit of these nutrients on the whole, then drinking the morning urine (so rich in the unused excess) will plug these nutrients back into the system, making them available for the bodies use during the rigors of the day.

Amanita muscaria.Just what are these alleged nutrients? Certainly there are the vitamins and mineral alluded to above. But in some more esoteric versions of the theory, what is being released and recaptured is not so much a physical substance as it is an etheric substance -- life force (a.k.a. prana or chi). In fact, in both India and China there have historically been those individuals (including emperors and alleged magicians or sorcerers) who sought to obtain immortality through drinking their own urine. Urine has even be claimed to be the mysterious soma alluded to in the great Hindu spiritual texts known as the Vedas -- which, when drunk by the spiritual adept, would confer godlike levels of awareness and vitality. (Some modern supporters of this theory add the idea that the urine was spiked with a psychedelic, similar to the mushroom amanita muscaria.

But more conventionally minded supporters of urine therapy, focus more on the biochemical make-up of human urine, describing its vital ingredients as:

    vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and amino acids -- estimated to be thousands of compounds in all. For example, urine, which is also the primary component of amniotic fluid, contains DHEA (the wonder steroid heralded with anti-aging, anti-cancer, and other benefits), allantoin (added to creams and ointments to promote wound healing), factor S (used to naturally induce sleep), gastric secretory depressants (combats ulcer growth), urokinase (an enzyme known to dissolve blood clots), and of course, urea (a key constituent in many antibacterial substances). Some scientists even suggest that uric acid, the most touted property of urine, may be one of the things allowing humans to live longer than most other mammals. (Blake More, "Drink To Your Health", Yoga Journal)

Such claims rest easy with inhabitants of oriental East, where urine has long been viewed as the body's own pharmacy or medicine chest. But in the occidental West, urine therapy is currently in vogue only with the more adventuresome followers of yoga and with a smattering of others seeking alternative ways to prolong life and improve health. Some of these individuals came to urine therapy as an eventual extension of their adopted Eastern philosophies (Hindu, Taoist, etc.), while others came out of sheer desperation -- seeking the "urine cure" purely on its own reputed merits, with little or no interest in exotic Eastern belief systems.

Popularized in the works of John W. Armstrong (The Water of Life: A Treatise on Urine Therapy ) and Dr. Beatrice Bartnett (Urine-Therapy: It May Save Your Life), the urine cure has attracted a broad spectrum of individuals seeking relief from illnesses that failed to respond adequately to conventional medicine. Sufferers with everything from HIV to cancer, gout, Brights disease, gangrene, heart disease, malaria, bladder ailments, and asthma have found themselves willing to try anything that might help -- no matter how seemingly absurd or repugnant. And to their astonishment, many of them have found incredible success.

But despite the mounting anecdotal evidence, such claims still receive extreme skepticism and ridicule by the general public. The standard response runs: "We already know urine is a waste product and nothing more. If it were actually good for something we would have heard about it from our doctors." The funny part here is that plenty of doctors and pharmaceutical companies do know that urine is good for something. It's just that they don't talk about it with their patients.

In fact, even as skeptics laugh themselves silly at the expense of pee drinkers everywhere, urokinase, an enzyme extracted from human urine, is being used to treat victims of heart attacks. So as the blood clots quietly dissolve all over America, it is worth pondering the fact that our glorious medical establishment sees fit to hand us a pill and keep fairly silent about the source of this useful little enzyme. Of course in all fairness, it could just be that they know we'd all be more than a little disgusted if we knew what was in that particular pill -- and possibly even resistant to taking our medicine.

Still this curious silence over the scientifically proven merits of urine has prompted pissed off UT enthusiasts to declare an all out pee conspiracy. Drug companies, they claim, are afraid of the money they would lose if people sipped their own nectar rather than popping their pricey pills. But is this the true?

Well certainly nothing has been proven (i.e. no smoking memos have been uncovered), but it has already been established that certain pharmaceutical companies have a rather dirty reputation when it comes to ensuring that their products both reach and stay on the market. For example, Eli Lili, maker of Prozac, conveniently forgot to mention that certain test subjects were throwing themselves out windows. How surprised should we be then that they might prefer to sell us back our own pee rather than educate us on the value of swallowing it, au natural, for free?

Of course most of us would agree that if we have to swallow our pee, we really would rather do so in a convenient, easy to swallow (and hopefully tasteless) pill form. And pills after all can deliver urokinase (or anything else we choose to derive) in a much more concentrated form. Which could definitely save us one heck of a lot of wee swilling (and the accompanying potty breath that goes with it). When one considers that it takes about 14 million gallons of pee to yield a mere 4.5 pounds of urokinase, this seems an especially important point.

Yet at the same time there is a certain irony here that must be pointed out. That is, as we consider issues of repugnance, and the idea that a pill would be relatively more appealing to swallow, we must ask ourselves one critical question -- just where is all this medical pee coming from? According to an old article in Hippocrates magazine (May/June 1988), it is being quietly collected by a company called Enzymes of America, in association with Porta-John. That's right, pill pee is collected from those reeking, filthy portable toilets that we all hate to use. When you hold your nose and take a porta-pee at your favorite concert or neighborhood festival, you may actually be making a donation. The Porta-john features a special filtering system that collects the pee proteins (which are what actually make a urinal stink so bad) ultimately manufactured into pharmaceutical grade urokinase.

But once it's processed it's sterile, right? Right? Can someone please get Porta-john on the phone?

At this point it might be worth considering the relative merits of skipping the pill and simply quaffing one's own urine. After all, it's fresh, it's relatively sterile, and you know exactly where, and whom, it came from. But before you belly up to the bar, or more accurately the bathroom, you'll probably want just a little more information about taste and hygiene.

Urine.  Full flavor, less filling? Anyone who's accidentally taken a swig from a beer or soda can filled with somebody else's urine can readily testify that the taste of pee ranges from disgusting to simply odd. And while some pee is highly alkali (akin to soap), most is mild and somewhat salty. Additionally, fresh pee tastes better than stale pee. One's own pee tends to taste better than someone else's. And of course a person's diet also plays a huge role in flavor. Certainly garlic, asparagus, and certain other foods (beans and peanuts, animal flesh, dairy products, eggs) can give the pee a strongly unpleasant taste and aroma. Finally, drinking too little water will concentrate the urine, intensifying the odor and flavor, usually unpleasantly -- which is but one reason why urine drinkers should drink plenty of fresh water. (The other being that no one can survive indefinitely on urine alone.)

Regarding hygiene, let's return to the phrase "relatively sterile". While many sources will tell you urine is "sterile", end of story, this is not entirely accurate. Urine can actually pick a variety of bacteria as it exits the body through unwashed or infected genitalia. While this probably won't hurt you, it is rather icky, so the solution is to wash the area thoroughly and then collect the urine mid-stream. If you've ever had to give your doctor a urine sample, you've already practiced this technique. The moist towelette provided was to remove external bacteria, while the first flow of pee that you let go uncollected was to clean away anything lurking in the urethra itself or at it's opening. As long as the pee you are drinking is your own, this is probably as much as you need to concern yourself with. However, if the urine belongs to your sexual partner or another person, consider that there are certain viruses and bacteria that can be carried in and transmitted through the urine (such as Cytomegalovirus [CMV] or Hepatitis B Virus). In essence then, if you drink someone else's golden shower, you may be guzzling down a great deal more than you bargained for. More importantly, do remember that even tiny abrasions or tears on the inside of your mouth or on your lips (or on any external part of your body) could allow the virus or bacteria to enter your blood stream and thereby infect you.

The bottom line? Know your donor well or stick to your own pee. (Note that if you enjoy golden showers and other watersports you may want to ask your doctor for a list of illnesses that can be contracted from urine.)

Finally, despite the positive buzz over urine therapy among Eastern traditionalists and Western adventurers, it is important to note that urine's ability to concentrate substances is not always a beneficial one. The concentration of salt which may be a blessing to the individual with a salt-poor diet can be a curse to the average American glomming down his daily fare of salty fries, sodium rich soda pop, canned veggies, and frozen entrees. The problem here is that a diet high in salt leads in turn to urine output that is high in salt. And slurping down urine that is high in salt leads to diarrhea.

In a similar but more deadly vein, arsenic and other toxins can become harmfully concentrated in the urine. In fact, urine drinkers with arsenic creeping into their diet (either through environmental contamination or intentional poisoning) will soon find themselves on a much faster track toward illness and death if they reingest this same arsenic through drinking their own urine.

Be aware also that consumption of illegal drugs or birth control pills will leave traces in the urine, traces which can affect the person drinking it in potentially harmful ways. That is, taking a drug test after drinking the urine of someone taking illegal drugs could cost you your job, while there is some concern that drinking the urine of a woman on the pill could impact your body's hormonal chemistry -- especially problematic if you are male.

Clearly there are both risks and benefits to urine drinking. For true urine aficionados, careful navigation of these risks is well worth it and should provide little barrier to their pursuit of health and pleasure. But for most of us however, urine drinking will likely remain at the top of our list of icky things we would only do if we really had to. After all, it's hard to embrace a practice that runs counter to our already ingrained ideas of cleanliness and reasonable behavior -- even if it might be good for us. And even if those ingrained ideas are just made up bullshit passed down from one generation to the next.

But our inherited bullshit is powerful. Which is why it might be worth considering that, but for a few cultural detours our inheritance might have been rather different indeed. After all, urine drinking has had its champions even among our Occidental forbearers.

In point of fact, the Greek physician Hippocrates (for whom the Hippocratic oath is named) actually encouraged a variety of natural remedies and preventative practices, including urine therapy. Fast-forwarding about 2300 years, we find that in the 18th century a revered medical reference book, Lamery's Dictionnaire Universelle des Drogues , recommended drinking two or three glasses of morning urine each day to cure gout, hysterical vapors, and obstructions of the bowels. A French dentist practicing within this same century, touted the value of urine as an antiseptic mouthwash. Which although not specifically touting urine drinking, comes close enough.

In the 19th century, the popular reference, One Thousand Notable Things described the use of urine to cure scurvy, relieve skin itching, cleanse wounds, and for many other treatments. In England in particular drinking of one's own urine was a common cure for jaundice. And in France, chemist Antoine de Fourcroy, after investigating deeply into the chemical properties of urea and other compounds wrote that the "urine of man...has furnished the most singular discovery to chemistry,...as well as to the art of healing."

And in our modern era, urine therapy has been embraced by the likes of Jim Morrison, Keith Richards, and John Lennon (the latter of which may have been emulating fellow pee drinker Mahatma Gandhi). Of course most people were way more familiar with the LSD and marijuana these guys were taking. Which leaves us to ponder whether -- if these icons of pop culture been more forthcoming about the virtues of their golden libation -- young people might have been hosting pee parties in the 70s rather than dropping acid and listening to the Beatle's Revolution Number Nine backwards. Unlikely perhaps. But it would certainly have added a new twist to the concept of pissing on the establishment.

Related Trivia

  • Inhabitants of the Kamchitka Peninsula, in Northeastern Siberia, traditionally drank the urine of individuals who had ingested the psychedelic mushroom amanita muscaria. It is believed to be the only hallucinogenic substance that does not alter it's chemical structure upon being passed through the human body. Only well-to-do individuals could afford to purchase and consume the potent fungus. But they generously shared the prized intoxicant with poorer friends and relations by letting them drink bowls of their drug-laced urine. These individuals then shared their urine, and so on, and so on -- ensuring that everyone shared in the high. The intoxicant would also drink his own urine, thus keeping his high going for a few days at a time, without any additional expense.

  • In a 1978 interview with 60 Minutes reporter Dan Rather, India's former Prime Minister Morarji Desai stunned Rather and the American public by openly praising the benefits of drinking urine. Desai went on to explain how pee drinking could help bridge the health care gap that afflicts India's poor.

  • A prime source for the estrogen used in post-menopause hormone replacement therapy is horse urine.

Timeline

Feb 1996 More than 600 delegates from 17 nations gather in Panjim, India for the first World Conference on Auto-Urine Therapy.
Feb 2000 Dermatologist Dr. Bruce O'Dell is charged with pederasty and drinking the urine samples of teenage boys in Show Low, Arizona.
2001 Holly Jones pleads guilty to urinating in the coffee pot at her workplace, Robinson Aviation in Whitestown, New York. She receives a 30-days jail sentence.
13 Mar 2003 Urbain Olanguena Awono, the minister of health in Cameroon, warns his countrymen to stop drinking piss: "Given the risks of toxicity associated in the short, medium and long term with ingesting urine, the health ministry advises against the consumption of urine and invites those who promote the practice to cease doing so forthwith or risk prosecution."
Jul 2003 David Shippentower beats his friend Leonard Strong to death on the Umatilla Indian Reservation after Strong hands him a beer can filled with urine. Shippentower later pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
21 Aug 2003 Indonesian maid Yuliana Tukiran pleads guilty to mixing her urine into her employers' coffee and tea. She receives a 10-week jail sentence.


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