When the then Indian prime minister Morarji Desai visited the United States in the summer of 1978, he had many important items on his agenda. Desai was the first non-Congress leader of Independent India and was hoping to steer away from the Soviet leaning legacy of his predecessors.
However, his trip was met with little fanfare and headlines from the time less focused on the emerging Janata Party or Desai’s attempted statesmanship and more on his sensational interview on the popular daytime show 60 Minutes. In it, Desai revealed his proclivity for a unique and often controversial practice known as urine therapy.
For nearly half an hour, Morarji Desai extolled the many virtues of consuming one’s own urine as a catchall cure for medical ailments. Once CBS aired the interview, other broadcasters rushed to follow, cementing the defining moment of Desai’s visit, and sparking what was later known as the network urine wars.
For those who may be sceptical about consuming their own waste product, Desai’s political successors have an alternate solution. As Om Prakash of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Cow Protection Department argued, 70 to 80 per cent of incurable diseases like diabetes can be treated with cow urine.
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For best results, Prakash advises using only urine collected before dawn from a female virgin cow. Acknowledging that everyone may not have access to the same, the RSS even contemplated developing a urine-based soft drink called Gomutra Ark, as a healthy alternative to Western-influenced carbonated drinks.
While education therapy remains a medical outlier, the practice dates back thousands of years. Many physicians, authors, and Ayurvedic practitioners recommend urine consumption, positioning it as a natural and cheap alternative to conventional remedies.
History of urine therapy
Religious use of urine therapy can be traced back to the scripts of Damar Tantra, written nearly 5000 years ago. Known in Hindi as Shivambu, which translates roughly to water of Shiva, food was consumed by yogis to enhance meditation and slow down brainwave activity.
The Bible refers to the practice as well, with the Book of Proverbs 5:15 advising, “drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.” Although the verse is contextually believed to refer to monogamy, some interpret it as a reference to urine therapy.
Egyptians, Maoris, and Gypsies are all believed to have practised urine therapy, not only consuming the liquid but also using it as a mouthwash and medicinal balm. Eskimos added urine to shampoo to add extra shine to their hair, and the Chinese used it in the manufacture of gunpowder.
Most famously, in ancient Rome, urine was such a desired commodity that Emperor Vespasianus collected taxes from urine traders who would collect the product from public urinals and sell it for chemical production and other uses. When Vespasianus’ son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father held up a gold coin and asked whether he felt offended by its smell. When Titus responded “no”, Vespasianus pointed out that the coin was not tainted by its origins, giving birth to the now popular phrase, “money doesn’t stink.”
Adding to the popularity of the practice, in 1734, a German publication known as the Healing Dirt Pharmacy concluded that urine can be used to prevent ageing and treat diseases of the lung, and in the 1940s, John W Armstrong released a popular book called Water of Life, which is now considered a seminal text in the history of urine therapy.
It is worth noting that in ancient times, urine was used for lack of better alternatives with some claiming that it no longer holds relevance given the dearth of other, more conventional options. Despite that, the practice is still employed in various shapes and forms.
Modern use of urine therapy
Urine is often used when other substances are either unavailable or impractical. Soldiers stuck in the trenches during World War One consumed their own urine as a substitute for water and adventurers used it as a disinfectant to treat wounds and sepsis. Ironically, the most accepted use of urine—as a treatment for jellyfish stings—is actually not recommended as its effectiveness is contingent on what the person in question consumed over a 48-hour period.
In terms of practicality, Nasa developed a mechanism to convert urine and sweat into drinkable water due to the shortage of resources and storage on the International Space Station (ISS). Belgian scientists devised a similar energy-saving machine that can be used in sports arenas, rural communities, and airports, going as far as to announce that they would also use distilled urine in beer production, an initiative coined, ‘from sewer to brewer. ‘
Importantly, however, in these cases, the urine is all but unrecognisable from its natural form, with most of the toxins being distilled out during the conversion process.
In terms of pure urine consumption, people in Nigeria often use cow urine to treat illnesses and in India, the AAYUSH Ministry recently revealed that it was seriously working on the use of cow urine as a treatment for cancer. However, according to Jagdish Bhurani, the author of many books on milk therapy, cow urine, while sacred, should only be consumed in small quantities. Speaking to indianexpress.com, he stressed that for urine purists, human discharge is still the gold standard.
In an article written for novices curious about how to get started, Coen Van Der Kroon, bestselling author of The Golden Fountain, has a few helpful tips. He recommends starting with a drop of urine, then a sip of urine, before slowly making your way to a glass per day. If the prospect is still unsettling, Kroon suggests mixing urine in fruit juice or in a combination of honey and water.
The best urine is collected first thing in the morning from the middle stream. The amounts at the beginning and end of urination can be ignored. Bhurani adds that a healthy diet is also key, with substances like chilli and garlic tainting the smell and taste of one’s discharge. Once collected the urine can be stored for up to two days in the open and up to a week once refrigerated, although, if possible, it is best consumed fresh.
Both also state that if drinking urine is not your cup of tea, you can also employ it as a balm, mouthwash, eye drop or skin cream. According to Kroon, massaging fresh urine daily into the skin is recommended and is, in fact, the “secret of many a sex symbol and beauty queens.”
Put simply, urine consumed in small quantities will neither help nor hurt you. It consists of 95 per cent water, and 2.5 per cent urea, and the rest is a mixture of minerals, salts, hormones, and enzymes. Urea is poisonous only if it enters the bloodstream directly (which it doesn’t by drinking urine) and in moderation, is known to neutralize the acid that causes tooth decay and swelling from bug bites.
Urine is produced by the kidneys through the blood filtration process. The kidneys remove all superfluous substances from blood and filter out vital minerals and surplus water. It is the latter that forms urine. The contents of that urine change every time the bladder is emptied, and its efficacy is predicated on an individual’s diet.
Proponents for the process claim that a reluctance to drink urine stems from a stigma against human waste while detractors point to the futility of consumption. Leading urine therapy advocate, and author of The Holy Water, Harald Tietze, debunks many of the psychological barriers to the practice.
He argues that urine is perfectly sterile if it is collected properly and is only contaminated when the genital areas are dirty, or the container used for collection is unclean. Furthermore, he states that while some people claim urine stinks, those same people are likely to eat cheese, which to someone who has never been acclimated to it, often smells bad as well. “Some varieties of cheese smell so terrible that you can’t understand how some people can cut it, but the taste buds tell us a story,” he says, adding that people should form their own opinions by consuming urine themselves.
From a medical standpoint, Bhurani claims that he has treated and cured thousands of people with incurable diseases using urine therapy, leaving them with better results than they would find through conventional treatments. From Covid-19 to cancer, Bhurani maintains that urine therapy is the best solution to all of life’s physical ailments.
Many people in Arab countries also actively consume cow urine with one study suggesting that it contains features that could inhibit the proliferation of cancerous cells. There are ample testimonies to be found from people who swear by their own experiences with the practice.
That being said, there is no scientific evidence to corroborate these claims with the American Cancer Society stating that “available scientific evidence does not support claims that urine or urea given in any form is helpful for cancer patients.” The WHO has further advised people against drinking camel urine, noting that they should employ “common sense” measures when it comes to hygiene.
Moreover, in an interview with BBC Three, Dr. Zubair Ahmed warns that in extreme cases, urine consumption could have adverse consequences.
This is because urine contains waste products that have been filtered out of the bloodstream. Drinking urine reintroduces concentrated waste products into your system which forces the kidneys to filter them out again, causing strain. Additionally, drinking your own urine could alter the dose of medicine you’re already taking and drinking someone else’s urine could introduce a foreign medicine into your bloodstream. Improper collection could also contaminate the urine, leading to bacterial infections.
Those risks aside, Ahmed adds that “there is no evidence at all that ingesting these substances has any health benefits. While drinking a small amount of urine is unlikely to be hazardous to your health, there is not enough modern evidence of its efficacy to suggest drinking it is healthy.”
The belief that it could be good for you can be explained in turn by the naturalistic fallacy, which is the argument that something being natural makes it inherently good. This argument is flawed for a number of reasons, not least because diseases are natural as well, as is the body’s own process of waste elimination.
However, given that our late prime minister, Morarji Desai, died at a ripe old age of 99, perhaps the much-coveted secret for longevity and health is in fact found at the bottom of our toilet bowl.