For millennia, many cultures believed in medicinal uses for human urine. Some societies consumed their urine to cure diseases and conditions physicians deemed otherwise incurable. Over time, urine gained many nicknames including “gold of the blood” and the “elixir of long life” due to these beliefs. Urine therapy experienced a significant increase in popularity in the early 20th century and many individuals throughout the world continue to use urine therapy to treat an array of ailments from athlete’s foot to cancer.
Historians believe urine therapy began in India. An ancient Sanskrit work, the Damar Tantra, contains detailed information about the therapeutic practice of Shivambu, and may be the earliest written record of the medical use of urine. The text recommended drinking urine early in the morning and prior to meditation. Some verses state a person could learn to master their mind, body, and the elements of nature after years of urine therapy. Later texts, such as the Susruta Samhita, expanded on this topic and defined several different types of urine.
Many ancient Jewish and Christian traditions incorporate urine therapy. Some worshippers cite Bible verses to support their belief that urine is the water of life. Proverbs 5:15 states “drink waters from your own cistern, running water from your own well,” and similar phrases appear in Isaiah, as well. Christian and Jewish researchers of this time believed the cistern referred to the bladder and that the Bible is advocating consuming urine for medicinal uses.
Ancient Rome and Greece
Many Roman and Greek physicians and philosophers studied urine and its effects. A Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, recommended using urine to cure burns, skin disease, and inflammation. An ancient Greek historian, Diodorus of Sicily, wrote a universal history titled Bibliotecha Historica wherein he described the use of urine therapy as “common.” The text also references Greeks using urine as toothpaste to preserve the health of teeth. In ancient Rome, physicians told their patients that urine could cure their ulcers.
During the Renaissance
Early in the Renaissance (1300-1600), many Europeans began to use urine as a countermeasure for the Black Plague. The Swiss physician Paracelsus used urine as a diagnostic tool in the early 1500s. Early biologists reported urine from people who ate cabbage could cure skin cancer. During this time, Japanese physicians treated conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma using urine. Many researchers wrote texts about urine’s effects throughout the 16th century.
17th and 18th Centuries
Beginning in the 17th century, many people critical of urine therapy and its effects began to voice their opinions. Writers such as Thomas Bryant and John Collop wrote pamphlets and poems criticizing the practice. Collop believed physicians were cheating their patients by using urine. Despite public criticism, however, the practice grew in popularity around the turn of the 18th century. Many Parisian dentists prescribed urine to treat dental diseases and tooth decay.
John W. Armstrong
Early in the 20th century, a man named John W. Armstrong popularized urine therapy in the modern world. He was a British naturopath who took inspiration from his family’s history of using urine to treat conditions such as toothaches. He also read excerpts from religious historians and used Bible verses as evidence of his beliefs. Armstrong treated his own illness with a 45-day fast, during which he consumed only water and urine. In 1944, he published The Water of Life, a book that became an important document in the field of urine therapy.
Armstrong’s writings were immensely popular in India. A Gandhian social reformer named Raojibhai Manibhai Patel used Armstrong’s book as inspiration for his own writing. Many writers followed in his footsteps and would often cite both The Water of Life and sections of the Damar Tantra. This led to a conference in 1996 to discuss the benefits and effects of urine therapy. Indian physicians and researchers invited other experts from around the world. A similar conference took place in Germany just a few years later.
Many individuals around the world believe in urine therapy due to its composition. Urine is almost 95 percent water. The remaining five percent consists of various by-products of the human body. These by-products are usually urea, uric acid, and creatinine, though urine can also contain various electrolytes and organic acids. In some cases, the urine might even have trace amounts of proteins, hormones, and vitamins. Despite popular belief, urine is typically not sterile when it leaves the body. It is only sterile while in the kidneys.
Because many people believe urine is sterile and contains important nutrients, they assume it is safe to consume. Modern practitioners of urine therapy state the bodily liquid can help cure diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and may even work as a skin treatment. There are even cancer clinics in countries like Mexico that practice urine therapy as treatment. Many individuals believe urine can relieve pain from jellyfish, bee, and wasp stings.
For centuries, scientific studies have attempted to verify the veracity of the benefits of urine therapy. Ultimately, the conclusion is that there is no available scientific evidence that urine therapy is beneficial serious diseases. The American Cancer Society states that urine and urea are not helpful to cancer patients. In the case of insect and animal stings, urine may actually be counterproductive, as it can activate explosive cells called nematocysts and cause more pain. One study suggests urine therapy is popular because medical coverage is rare or expensive in many countries — urine is widely available, and its long history of therapeutic use makes it a potentially viable alternative to other medicines.