From Abracadabra to Zombies
8 Oct 2004
A recent column by sex columnist Dan Savage carried a health warning from a doctor that urine therapy might be dangerous to those with gout or even maybe cause it in the first place.
Yes, the question came for very different reasons but it does apply to your recently updated article.
No one really knows what causes gout,' says my doctor friend, Barak Gaster of the University of Washington's Department of Medicine. 'The higher that uric acid levels are in the blood, the higher the chance that someone will have gout, but we don't really understand why one person with a slightly high uric acid level gets gout but another with the same slightly elevated uric acid level does not.' Doctors believe that there must be some genetic factor because gout is much more common in men than women, MOUSE, so you may not be entirely to blame. It's possible that your boyfriend would have developed gout even if he wasn't drinking your stanky piss. Still, all that piss couldn't have helped. 'People who have had a gout attack can reduce their chances of future attacks by lowering their uric acid levels,' says Barak, 'by taking medications and avoiding triggers.' Such as? 'Common triggers are alcohol and dehydration or eating large quantities of meat such as liver.' And? 'Drinking large amounts of urine also could bring on an attack. Since urine is made up of stuff the body wants to get rid of, drinking very large quantities could be bad for you and should definitely be avoided in people who have gout.'
I found it amusing anyway.
5 Oct 2004
I'm a university educated, critical thinker who doesn't take kindly to fads. For the first time in my adult life, I've found full relief from asthma. I've been using inhalers and anti-allergy drugs for decades.
I was moaning about my asthma one day, when a friend of mine admitted that he'd cured his asthma by drinking his own urine every morning. Needless to say, I was shocked and skeptical about the possibility that this could work. I've discovered that it works and it works better than any drug I've ever used.
I'm off drugs fully and now I can enjoy athletic activities as I only did when I was a child. It's terrific. The piss doesn't taste that good, but it's not as awful as you would think. I haven't gotten sick from it, and the relief from asthma is sort of baffling. I really never thought anything would get rid of my asthma after 20 years of struggling with it.
If this is a placebo effect, I'm surprised. I'd like to see some clinical trials to investigate the effect of urine therapy on asthma and chronic allergies.
As to the other health effects of urine, I remain a skeptic. I'm waiting to see them proven before I embrace the notion that urine is a panacea of sorts.
Yours in skepticism,
Jesse (age 32)
reply: According to WholeHealthMD.com, proponents of urine therapy claim it can "help" treat asthma and strengthen the immune system (among many other things), but
Despite these claims, no controlled scientific studies have yet proved the effectiveness of urine therapy for any of these ailments. Indeed most Western doctors are particularly dubious about the immune-building argument, because stomach acid will destroy antibodies taken by mouth. Others suggest that any benefits reported are due to placebo responses activated by breaking the powerful psychological taboo of drinking one's own urine.
You may also have been misdiagnosed in the first place and whatever disease you had has run its course.* Perhaps the medicines you were taking were aggravating your condition. The urine therapy may not be responsible for your newfound health.
Don't take this as medical advice, but why not experiment with yourself? Keep up the urine therapy for several months and see if you continue to experience relief from your asthma symptoms. Then stop the urine therapy and see if the asthma symptoms return. In any case, write to me in a few months and let me know how you're feeling.
14 Mar 2003
I wanted to call your attention to the quote from Proverbs on the page on urine therapy. With the quote on its own, it would seem to imply that the particular proverb is suggesting one drink one's own urine. However, while this passage is clearly a metaphor and not talking about literal cisterns, it appears in the midst of a lengthy passage elaborating on exactly why "thou shalt not commit adultery." Given the context, it seems far more likely that this passage's intent is closer to, "Don't dip your wick in your neighbor's well." There are, however, some passages in the Bible that clearly and unequivocally refer to drinking urine. This generally seems to be an act of desperation due to a shortage of water, as often happened during sieges. For example, in Isaiah 36:12, an Assyrian officer yells at the people of Jerusalem that he will force them to drink their own piss (that's really the word used in the King James Version) if they do not surrender.
06 Mar 2003
One minor little, but rather common, mistake in your presentation: human urine as produced by the kidneys and freshly voided does not contain ammonia (the urine of some other species does). However, if human urine is exposed to air for any length of time, airborne bacteria will break down some of the urea into ammonia. So it's only "stale" urine that contains ammonia.
28 May 2002
Although this comment comes late, I feel I must point out that there are in fact scientific studies supporting the efficacy of urine therapy. I have included a link, with the conclusion of the paper excerpted (in case the link does not work). I have been in the field of immunotherapy for the past eight years, and prior to that I was pursuing a Master’s degree in Molecular Biology and Immunology. The company that currently employs me manufactures a biologic for the immunotherapy of solid tumors. I manage the manufacturing department. I am also enrolled in a natural healing school, and urine therapy is one of the healing methods I am being taught. With my scientific background, I am reluctant to take anyone’s good word as proof. I have turned up several studies supporting the use of urine therapy for autoimmune disorders, cancer, and AIDS. As disgusting as it initially appears, there is some evidence to support urine therapy. And with a whole new generation of uncharacterized biologic drugs appearing on the horizon, it seems “science” is coming to believe the same. An excerpt, if the link doesn’t work: “Conclusion: Urotherapy is suggested as a new kind of immunotherapy for cancer patients. Unlike the clonal immunotherapy the urine of the cancer patients contain the many tumor antigens which constitute the tumor. Oral auto-urotherapy will provide the intestinal lymphatic system the tumor antigens against which they may produce antibodies due to non-self recognition. These antibodies may be transpierced through the bloodstream and attack the tumor and its cells.” [emphasis added]
Sincerely, Anna Lloyd
If the reader is wondering about the missing link, it wasn't included by Ms. Lloyd. For those who are interested, I have found the article: UROTHERAPY FOR PATIENTS WITH CANCER by Joseph Eldor, MD, of the Theoretical Medicine Institute P.O.Box 12142, Jerusalem, 91120,Israel. Eldor publishes a journal "devoted to the evaluation of the 'philosophy of medical explanation'." Eldor is apparently an anesthesiologist who runs the CSEN Web site devoted to his products, such as a spinal-epidural needle.
25 May 2000
When I read the article in the Skeptics Dictionary regarding urine therapy, I was uncomfortable when you mentioned the potential salvation by urine in extreme situations. Then I read the March 31, 1998, commenter, and agreed with what he had to say. If one is lost at sea, the LAST thing you want to do is drink seawater. Seawater is about 97% water by weight, and closer to 99% by volume. You suggested urine might not be so bad, seeing as how it's 95% water. You can see my alarm here.
reply: I'm sure some lethal concoctions are 99.9% water. My sources tell me that seawater is 3.5% salt and that some of the other things in seawater are animal waste, plant cells, pollutants, rust, etc. How much of urine is water is not as important as how much other stuff is in urine that might be harmful.
18 Feb 2000
I read with interest you article on urine therapy. Many of the points you made are indeed true. I would urge you however to have an open mind.
The next time you cut or burn your hand, try putting some of your own urine on it as soon as possible. Don't just put one drop on but rather soak it for about 15 min. You will find that the pain disappears almost at once, and it heals in about half the time. I don't know why this is, but I strongly suspect that the urea plays an important role. Urea is now used in many high priced skin care products.
From there you take a leap of faith and assume that what works on the outside, works on the inside as well. Is it the placebo effect? Hard to say, except that the placebo effect only works 30% of the time based on FDA studies. If you are still concerned about the placebo effect, try it on a dog or cat when they have an exterior injury, is this the placebo effect?
Bottom line, the wild claims notwithstanding, if it works and will not hurt you, use it.
Keep an open mind.
reply: I'll keep an open mind but consider that urine contains ammonia and ammonia reacts with the skin to cause ammoniacal dermatitis, which, when it occurs on a baby's bottom is known as diaper rash.
29 Jun 1999
I have not participated in any form of urine therapy as yet but have researched it extensively via medical reference materials and periodical articles written by doctors dating back as far as 1947.
Are you a medical doctor or trained homeopath/naturopath? As a self-proclaimed Skeptic, have you tried urine therapy in any form? If so, what were the results, if any? If not, why; since it is clear that there is little or no risk of side effects in healthy individuals? What is your healthy Skeptisim based on? Is there any medical evidence by documented research study or your personal experience that this 5000 year old Practice has little or no therapeutic value? There seems to be a tremendous amount of research on whole human urine and its constituents and their apparent medicinal value. Is your opinion based on simple "good sense"? If so, "good sense" would seem to be more inclined to support the value of this particular therapy in some cases rather than not. It (urine) appears to be a truly spectacular healing agent whose value had been forgotten once medical technology developed more appealing and far more lucrative drug products.
reply: No I have not tried urine therapy, nor have I tried trepanation. That's ancient, too, and advocated by a medical doctor. You might like it. Seriously, what is this medical evidence you speak so highly of? I hope you aren't referring to the testimonials of an Indian premier who lived to be a hundred and drank a cup of his own pee every morning or the fellow whose foot got better after two weeks of wrapping in a cloth soaked in his own urine?
You mentioned the placebo effect. If it is true that the placebo effect really exists and is the reason for some patients seemingly miraculous and "non-scientifically verifiable" recovery, would not the converse be true as well? A patient treated by conventional, scientifically tested and approved methods could very well not respond because that particular patient decided that the prescribed therapy simply would not work? How the do you explain all those patients that have been cured by unwanted medical procedures? And if that is true, would not all therapies, conventional and alternative, be effective in direct proportion to the patient's own belief as to the effectiveness of that therapy? If medical doctors have rediscovered the use of leaches in some situations, is it not possible that medical science may (and already has in some cases) rediscover the medicinal value of the long known but overlooked practice of auto urine therapy?
reply: The placebo effect is well established, but it is clearly not as simple as you have framed it. The placebo effect is not an effect that is in direct proportion to the strength of one's belief. Some suggestible people might feel tipsy when drinking a non-alcoholic beverage they believe to be alcoholic. But it would be a strange person, indeed, who could drink six glasses of vodka with no inebriating effect as long he believed his beverage was non-alcoholic or that it could not affect him. You raise some interesting questions but I don't see what they have to do with urine therapy. By the way, I don't belittle urine therapy because it is ancient. My comment is that it is very unlikely that the ancient Indians had scientific or health reasons for drinking their own golden fluid.
I say all that to say this:
The art of medicine is just that, an art based in scientific theory and procedures. It is a combination of the intrinsic value of self healing and the power of modern technology and scientific theory and I did not find much more than a hurriedly (Internet) researched opinion in the piece I read on your website. Until we know everything about the human body, any medically ethical therapy which demonstrates an ability to heal-especially a natural one-should be pursued to see if it in fact could provide an effective and affordable, in this case-free, treatment available to anyone who needs it!
Can you tell that I am skeptical of those who claim to be "professional" Skeptics?
reply: I can hardly criticize someone for being skeptical. However, I await this "demonstration" of the ability of urine to heal.
31 Mar 1998
Hello. I have been reading and enjoying 'The Skeptic's Dictionary' for some time now. I haven't really felt the urge to comment on anything, but I ran across this statement in your latest entry and I felt I should say something [about the following passage in "Urine Therapy."]
For most people most of the time, one's own urine is not likely to be harmful. However, it is not likely to be healthful or useful except for those rare occasions when one is buried beneath a building or lost at sea for a week or two. In such situations drinking one's own urine might be the difference between life and death. As a daily tonic, there are much tastier ways to introduce healthful products into one's blood stream.
To establish my credentials, I am a biochemistry graduate student. I am in no way an expert on metabolism or nutrition (I actually do enzyme kinetics), nor do I have a textbook handy that addresses this particular subject. However, I believe that drinking one's own urine out of desperation when no source of clean water is available is a serious mistake. Urea, as well as other salts, are diuretics as you mentioned, and cause the body to excrete more water to remove them from the bloodstream. Drinking urine (or sea water, for that matter), does not help you conserve water, it just forces your body to give up more of its water to get rid of the contaminants present in the urine, as well as any other metabolic wastes produced since that earlier urination. In other words, drinking urine only causes you to become dehydrated faster.
I just felt that I should mention this, in case any loyal readers happen to become
lost at sea or trapped in a collapsed building, and decide that drinking urine might be an
acceptable survival practice because they read it on your web page.
reply: I used the examples of being buried beneath rubble or lost at sea because those examples are used by the advocates of urine therapy (quoting news stories) to indicate how useful drinking urine can be. My understanding is that the urine is 95% water and the average amount of urea from a healthy person would be about 25 mg a day. Such an amount of urea might be of some assistance in stimulating urination, but as a diuretic it would hardly dehydrate a person, especially if one continues to reuptake the urine. I also understand that most of us could survive for only three to five days without water. Any urologists out there with a third opinion?
* AmeriCares *