Incest. Patricide. Cannibalism. Necrophilia. There are certain cross-cultural taboos that we don’t necessarily question (unless you’re one of those people who spends all day on illegal/pornographic subreddits). And then there’s the matter of human effluence. Over the eons, our attitude toward excrement has shifted many times. Since the germophobic Victorian era, shit and piss have been thought of as disgusting substances unfit to be mentioned in polite company. We sit atop our porcelain thrones, pooping and peeing into potable water that will promptly be flushed down the drain and never to be seen again.
But for a select few, a tall, steaming glass of urine is a golden ticket to renewed health and vitality. We’ve all heard the desperate stories of survival, in which a brave hero is forced to choose between drinking pee and death by dehydration, such as that of Aron Ralston, whose harrowing arm self-amputation in the desert was immortalized by James Franco in the Danny Boyle film 127 Hours. We all know that urine is sterile and nontoxic, making it the best option when there’s water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. But for some devotees, piss-guzzling, known as urophagia, is more than an emergency solution: it’s the cure for what ails ‘em. From the Romans to the Aztecs to current-day China and the UK, “experts” and practitioners alike have claimed that piss-guzzling is a legitimate cure for everything from baldness, impotence, diabetes, to cancer. In the US, notoriously reclusive author J.D. Salinger reportedly preserved and imbibed his own urine as part of a homeopathic regimen.
Such habits might sound outlandish to an American audience, but for thousands of years, Hindu practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have sipped their own pee in order to concentrate life force, in a traditional practice known as Shivambu Shastra. Swilling urine, they claim, allows you to reabsorb valuable hormones and enzymes that help digestion and cell regeneration, at little risk. Last month the Daily Mail in the UK reported on a variation of this “self-therapy,” known as “cowpathy.” An uptick of Hindu devotees near the city of Agra are drinking the urine of virgin cows because of their purported healing qualities, catching bright streams of yellow drink from under the heifer’s lifted tail as if they were beer taps. Do these eager piss-quaffers know something we don’t? Should we all be regularly filling our cups at the golden fountain? I spoke to registered dietitian Andy Bellatt about the facts and fictions of urophagia.
VICE: Are there any documented health benefits to drinking human or cow urine?
Andy Bellatt: There are no documented health benefits to drinking urine (human, cow, or otherwise). While urine is 95 percent water, it is, first and foremost, a metabolic waste product. Everything else in it is excreted by the body for a reason. Our bodies are smart; they do not excrete substances needed for survival on a whim.
Is it ever a good idea to drink your own pee if you are stranded somewhere without fresh water?
Since urine contains some salts, it can actually exacerbate dehydration. Additionally, if you depend exclusively on urine for hydration over the course of several days, it becomes increasingly concentrated with waste products, which can put quite a strain on the kidneys.
But if you’re not in an emergency situation and able to supplement with fresh water, are there any risks to drinking pee?
While you won't keel over from drinking your own urine (there are some toxins in it, but they are present in minimal amounts, and will simply be flushed out the next time you urinate), there is no reason to drink it.