Joe Schwarcz: I’ll take a pass on autourine therapy
I’ve often expressed skepticism about the plethora of beverages being promoted these days that claim to energize, calm, heal or detox our chemically ravaged bodies. “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” I’m often told. So, I’ve gamely downed glasses of noni juice, goji juice, acai juice, vitamin water, oxygenated water, angel tea and various homemade concoctions including the “Master Cleanse,” made by mixing lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup — as recommended by that noted nutritional expert, Beyoncé.
But I’ve drawn the line at giving “liquid gold” a shot. When I pee into a cup, it is for sending a sample to a lab to be analyzed for creatinine, blood, proteins, ketones and glucose, all of which can indicate a problem if present in abnormal amounts. But as far as “autourine therapy” goes, I opt to pass.
Mercifully, I was oblivious to this bizarre, albeit intriguing practice until 1989, when I received a letter from a woman about a therapy that “heals all human beings’ illnesses.” She had become persuaded about the effectiveness of this “elixir of life” after reading a document, a copy of which she enclosed for my perusal. Would I please help her, she implored, “to save millions of lives with this product that everybody possesses naturally and which God gave us for a medical purpose?”
Well, with millions of lives at stake, I figured I better at least have a look at the “data” I was sent. It didn’t take long before I got p***ed off.
The introduction went like this: “The human race would benefit immeasurably if the medical profession was ended. The proof will be found by observing in big cities and towns, where with increase in the number of doctors, there has always been an enormous increase in the number of patients suffering from various diseases including cancer, heart disease, tuberculosis and diabetes.”
The document then proceeded to propose a solution to the misery caused by doctors: sorrows that can be drowned with a daily swig of urine!
So why has this magic potion not been more widely publicized? Could it be that, as urophagists (that’s the technical term for urine drinkers) suggest, doctors and Big Pharma have conspired to keep the life-saving information under wraps because “with urine there is no more need for medication or surgery since it kills illnesses in such a short time that doctors are afraid they will lose their jobs?” Well, if this were so, doctors should have been weeded out long ago, because people in India and China have been imbibing from the Golden Fountain for at least 5,000 years.
And lest you think the practice is limited to simpletons, Indian Prime Minister Morarji Bhao Desai claimed in a 1978 interview on the American news program 60 Minutes that drinking urine was the perfect medical solution for the millions of Indians who cannot afford medical treatment. He went on to attribute his own good health to indulging regularly. Apparently he wasn’t harmed by the practice, living to the ripe old age of 99.
In fact, urine is usually quite safe to consume. Bacteria may be present in the urethra, but unless there is an infection, these are generally washed out in the first few seconds of urination, which is why urine samples for analysis should be taken from mid stream. As far as recycling urine in a situation when no drinking water is available, well, that’s not a good idea. Like sea water, urine has a high mineral content and actually can cause further dehydration.
Dehydration is not an issue when urine is consumed for its supposed medical benefits. But can there really be benefits? Attendees at the World Conference on Urine Therapy think so. There have been five such events to date, each one attracting an audience of hundreds, with appropriate autourine pee breaks for participants who come to listen to physicians and scientists give evidence about their supposed clinical work.
Although the speakers’ interpretation of what constitutes evidence is rather imaginative, they do address a broad spectrum of topics. There have been discussions of dosage, with some proponents suggesting that four-day-old pee is more potent, while others claim that a drop placed under the tongue with an eye dropper is just as effective — conjuring up some confused analogy to homoeopathy.
One speaker claimed that urine should be “ionized,” and described a homemade contraption powered by a solar panel to impart the therapeutic properties. Another reported on the use of camel urine for some abdominal problems, and there was talk of pigs reaching market size faster if reared on their own fermented urine.
And there have been anecdotes galore about people being helped in every imaginable condition including AIDS, allergies, asthma, flu, snake bite and menopausal symptoms, which apparently are best treated with subcutaneous injection of 1 mL of urine once a week for four to six weeks.
How is all this supposed to work? We’re informed that traces of substances that cause illness are secreted in the urine, and when reintroduced into the body trigger the production of antibodies that fight disease. They also trigger skepticism.
I was particularly intrigued by a report about Plant Urine, never having considered that plants actually voided, although I can affirm that they have been voided upon. It turns out that “plant urine” is the water that “the plant with its root system filters and lifts from great depths.” I was gratified to learn that “no external water sources or artificially processed water is used, ensuring the water contains no unfavourable memories of artificial processing.”
I sure wouldn’t want to consume psychologically disturbed plant urine.
The next World Conference on Urine Therapy is scheduled for the middle of November in San Diego. I wonder if eyebrows would be raised if I attended in order to satisfy my thirst, only for knowledge of course, and then submitted an expense report. Maybe some administrator would say “urine trouble.”