I’m seated at my kitchen table. Facing me is a glass of what appears to be apple juice. It isn’t.
"Are you seriously going to drink that?" my flatmate shrieks with horror. She thinks I’ve finally cracked up.
"Yes," I tell her coolly. "It’s completely fine. It’s the new health thing — in fact I think Gwyneth does it."
For the record, she doesn’t. Even Ms. Paltrow would draw the line with this debased health fad. Because what I’m faced with isn’t a pleasant glass of sun-ripened, hand-distilled Braeburn nectar. It’s my pee.
To backtrack a little, this is my first cup of a week-long challenge embracing the ancient health practice of urotherapy. Just so we’re clear — and you’re sufficiently grossed out (it gets worse) — that’s drinking your own urine or applying it topically for the perceived benefits of clearer skin, increased energy and general vitality.
But, here and now, confronted by a cup of my warm piss, my only thoughts are how the hell am I actually going to do this?
I either neck it like a flaming Goldschläger or copy the experts I’ve seen on YouTube, swishing it in my mouth for a minute to activate the digestive enzymes. Knowing the latter will cause me to forcibly hurl across the room, I bolt it down like a shot
of liquid hell.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t taste horrific. It’s a little bit sweet, a tad salty. Think a margarita that’s been left in the sun for too long and is on the cusp of turning rancid. Anyone fancy a Marga-wee-ta? (Sorry, not sorry.) But I expected it to be, well, strong-tasting. It’s a morning wee — the internet tells me they’re the most nutrient-dense, but also the most concentrated.
"Dude, that’s completely vile," my flatmate says before bolting out of the door so fast I’m sure she’ll never come back.
Who the Hell Does It?
Urotherapy is the latest buzz-word among the self-styled health elites. Just type it into Google and see how many blogs, videos and endorsements appear. And it’s not just celebrities like Madonna who revel in the joys of a number one (she wards off athlete’s foot by peeing on her feet in the shower). Boxer Juan Manuel Márquez urinates straight after his fights — and then drinks the entire thing. Likewise, baseball player Moisés Alou says that he pees on his hands to maintain their game-worthy condition. Even winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize and notable holy man Swami Agnivesh is a seasoned urotherapy fan.
My thoughts? There has to be something in this madness. (Or at least I hope there is.)
There isn’t a straightforward scientific answer, though. When it comes to ingesting your own urine, there are resolutely no studies proving its efficacy. "It’s a bizarre concept," says Zaki Almallah, consultant urologist at BMI Priory Hospital in Birmingham. "The kidneys filter the blood and any excess fluid, and salts and minerals are expelled. The point of urination is to rid the body of excess. Why would you want to re-absorb that?" he asks, pertinently. "The only time it’s medically recommended to ingest urine is if you’re stranded without food or water for many days."
So why are people putting themselves through this drinkable cruelty? Well, the so-called ‘golden elixir’ is said to be ‘biodynamically available’. That means it’s been through your system once, so it’s easy to reabsorb again without expending energy to do so. The theory? You get a big hit of vitamins and minerals that you’ve already refined and processed. In essence, it’s like a multi-vit, on crack.
What About Toxicity?
The big question, though, looms like a low-flying seagull. Isn’t wee toxic?
"Urine is approximately 95 percent water and 5 percent nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc," explains Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at NutriCentre. In fact, far from being toxic, urine is filtered twice — once by the liver and again by the kidneys. Anything toxic leaves our bodies via feces, which is why urine is sterile. That’s why the ancient Aztecs used it to disinfect wounds, and why it’s used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines. Grim it might be, and hard to collect, too (I did wee on my hands several times as I wielded a plastic cup to catch the waterfall), but toxic it is not.
After my week of urotherapy — drinking two to three cups a day — I felt nothing. Truthfully, I really wanted it to work and for there to be some discernible benefits to drinking my own wizzle. After all, when doing my research, I watched an hour-long documentary about Dr. Ryoichi Nakao, a seemingly 170-year-old doctor who credited urotherapy with ridding him of gonorrhea. He looked very well-preserved and sprightly — and I wanted in. And while I don’t have any STDs to cure, I did have a fervent cold. After a week? It was still bloody there and I still looked like a festering zombie. Maybe I should have left my urine to ferment for two weeks before sipping it, as one YouTube urotherapy devotee recommended. Then again, maybe not. Even I have my gross limits — and fermented piss is it.
How Can It Help Your Skin?
But it does work topically, and that’s scientifically assured and far less grim. Dr. Adam Friedmann, consultant dermatologist at The Harley Street Dermatology Clinic, is a big fan of urea (a chemical compound in urine) as an ingredient in skincare. "Lots of topical creams use synthetically manufactured urea in skincare because it dissolves excess skin build-up caused by keratin overproduction."
Urea is a winner for those with eczema and psoriasis especially. Both conditions cause keratin overproduction and hardened skin, which urea is adept at moisturising. That keratin overproduction can also cause keratosis pilaris — those annoying bumps on your arms. Anything that can get rid of that is entirely welcome.
But I wanted to see what my own magic wee could potentially do to benefit my skin. Topical urea creams are often used to treat acne, endorsed by the medical community. But from what I’d read, it was most effective directly from the, er, source. Luckily (or not), I had one such vehement blemish between my brows that needed something, anything, to quell its rage. Like an irritable Mount Vesuvius, it just kept erupting without warning. I collected a tiny amount of my urine, dipped a cotton bud in, and applied it directly to the blemish for two days.
The result? It was undeniably smaller and it didn’t come back. Granted, the same would have happened if I’d used Eve Lom’s Dynaspot, but wee is free, which is a bonus, obvs. Another welcome surprise is it didn’t smell at all. Phew.
Should You Try It?
In the end, life is about choices — and after a week of swilling my own tinkle, I chose not to carry on drinking any more of it. I know it’s not toxic, but I also know that I didn’t see enough benefits to keep doing it. But I can see why you would try it: if your health was persistently under par, or if you were suffering from a serious illness. In those situations, you give everything a shot to see if it will help.
But what’s true is that I also didn’t want to end up like one urotherapy fan whose videos I became obsessed with. She seemed, inexplicably, to be high on her own pee. "Drinking my own urine has made me so honest and truthful," she slurs into the camera. Truthfully, I think she’s been the most terrifying part of this whole experiment, and part of the reason that no wee shall ever touch these lips again. Urine is most definitely off the menu.