What are the risks and benefits of drinking urine?
Drinking urine is not only hygienic but it helps us to maintain good body fluids. It keeps our skin healthy, prevents dehydration, improves digestion and regulates blood pressure. Drinking urine can help us fight infections such as colds, flu or AIDS. It may even prevent cancer and other diseases. However, there are some potential risks associated with drinking urine.
The main risk is that it contains harmful bacteria which can cause urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are common among young children and teenagers. They can lead to kidney damage if left untreated. There have been cases where people have died from them.
Another possible risk is that it can contain dangerous viruses like Hepatitis B, HIV and HPV. These types of viruses can cause cancers and other diseases. If these viruses get into your system, they could make you sick and possibly die.
There are also other risks involved when using urine as medicine. For example, there is no way to test for harmful bacteria or viruses in urine without expensive laboratory equipment. If you had a harmful infection in your body before you ingested the urine, drinking it could make you very sick or even kill you.
It is best to get a medical opinion before drinking urine, even if it comes from your own body.
What is urine?
Urine is a mixture of water (90%), urea, creatinine, various ions, enzymes, protein, hormones, and dead cells. Urea and creatinine are mainly what makes urine the color that it is. Urine comes out of the body in two places: the bladder and the kidneys. The bladder stores urine until it is full and then releases it when we go to the bathroom. The kidneys filter blood to produce urine.
The kidneys produce about one to two pints of urine a day. Our bodies then get rid of the excess water and solutes in urine as “waste.”
Urine begins as blood, which passes through the kidneys, where waste products are filtered out into a funnel-shaped organ, the bladder. The bladder temporarily stores the urine until it is released via the urethra.
Urine contains water, salt, and urea. Urea is a colorless substance that is mostly made up of nitrogen. Urine also contains many other trace elements such as zinc and magnesium. After it leaves the body, urine quickly deteriorates.
Does urine have other uses?
Drinking one’s own urine (known as autothelism) has been used for centuries as a survival technique, due to its content of water, salt, and urea.
The Bible (Old Testament) records that one of the Israelite’s methods of surviving in the desert was to “drink the water of their baths.” The book of Jeremiah also contains several references to people enduring abstinence by swallowing their own urine.
In World War II, some people used their own urine to quench their thirst during times of drought or other situations where clean water was unavailable or hard to obtain.
Is drinking your own urine safe?
While some people believe that drinking their own urine is an effective method of staying hydrated, there are several potential drawbacks to doing so.
For one thing, the urea and other waste products that your body filters out of your blood can possibly be toxic if ingested.
Also, urine can easily be contaminated with bacteria or other disease-causing microorganisms when it leaves the body.
While it’s generally okay to consume one’s own urine within a short period of time after it leaves the body (as is the case with a bladder release), drinking urine that has been stored for any appreciable length of time is not recommended.
As much as some people may insist that urine is perfectly safe to consume, there are just too many health and safety risks involved in doing so.
Is it likely to blow up if you put too much explosive in it?
Yes. If too concentrated, it will probably explode with even the smallest spark.
Is it water soluble?
While many of the constituents of urine are soluble, the urea itself is not. Urea is a very common chemical used in a lot of manufactured products, and as such, has been researched thoroughly. It is not water-soluble. However, the pH level of urine can vary greatly depending on what you have eaten or drunk recently, so there may be circumstances where it could be made to be more water-soluble.
How does it smell?
It smells strongly of ammonia, as you might expect.
Does it contain any alcohol?
No. Urine contains a small amount of a chemical known as hippuric acid. While this chemical can be transformed into alcohol, the quantity present in urine is too small to have any effect on you if you drink it.
Can it be used to start a fire?
Yes, but not as a direct fuel. Urine has been used many times as a ‘mordant’ in the tanning of leather. A mordant is a substance that helps strengthen the fibres of the material being tanned. The ammonium salts in urine help do this. You will also find it in some dyes.
One common use is to collect urine in a bag made from the membrane of an animal’s stomach (usually a sheep). The bag is known as a ‘meconium’. This bag is then placed next to the skin of the animal, and the ammonium salts seep into the fibres of the skin and help to strengthen them for tanning.
If you are in an emergency situation, and need to start a fire quickly, this could be useful. Urine has also been used as a ‘smoke screen’ in many historical battle situations, when things like gunpowder were in short supply (or not available at all).
Does it contain any useful chemicals?
It is often claimed that urine contains a lot of useful chemical compounds such as nitrogen, potassium, and even gold! Unfortunately, these claims are unfounded. While it may be true that you can find useful chemicals in urine if you do a little chemistry experiment with it, there is no reason to drink someone else’s urine when you could just collect the chemicals after they have passed. Also, these experiments require special equipment and training that you probably don’t have.
Is it flammable?
Yes, but again, there are safer and easier ways to start a fire.
What else is it good for?
Urine contains several nutrients (electrolytes, etc.) which are lost when you go to the bathroom. It is very good for ‘replenishing’ these. If nothing else is available, it would be better to drink someone else’s urine rather than your own.
Is it sterile?
No, not even close.
I have to drink someone else’s urine!
If you really need to, then go ahead. Try to remember that they will have just passed it, so it should be relatively free from bacteria and viruses. Also, it has been shown that urine is a good way of ‘rinsing out’ a wound in an emergency situation (1). This may help to prevent infection. Just make sure that you are not drinking too much, as this may lead to a serious loss of important minerals and electrolytes.
How do I collect it?
Okay so you aren’t going to drink it neat! That’s fine. Remember that collecting it is going to take time and effort, so you need to decide how you intend to use it. If you are going to take the time to urinate into a container, then you need to make sure that you are only catching the urine and not any other waste products. You definitely do NOT want to pass feces, or even vaginal secretions if you are a female (2).
Any container will do, but make sure that it can seal tightly, and is relatively clean.
Where can I store it?
You can store your urine anywhere that you have room, but try to keep it away from anything you might later use as food. Keeping it above ground is probably best, unless you have a lot of it, then you may want to find a cool, dark place underground. It can be used as a good way of keeping things ‘refrigerated’, and out of the sun.
Can I drink it right away?
If you are going to drink it straight, or as is, then yes. Urine, even the first bit that comes out, is sterile until it enters the rectum. If you are going to store it for later, then you should probably dilute it with as much water as you can before sealing it up and storing it somewhere cool.
Why all the complicated stuff?
Well, if you are using it as a wound cleaner, or as drinking water, then it needs to be sterile. Remember that this is an emergency situation. You can’t exactly run out and buy more water, and you don’t want unhealthy bacteria or parasites interfering with your plans. Using it as a wound cleaner is going to introduce more bacteria into the wound, but in this case, you would be applying it directly to the wound.
How do I dispose of it?
Diluting it or using it is not going to be enough for many of you. If you really need to, then you can safely dispose of the urine by spreading it out on the ground and letting the sun evaporate it. This should decrease the amount of waste in the area, and allow you to spread life giving moisture throughout your community.
Sources & references used in this article:
What do consumers think about recycling human urine as fertiliser? Perceptions and attitudes of a university community in South India by P Simha, C Lalander, A Ramanathan, C Vijayalakshmi… – Water research, 2018 – Elsevier
What is the best biomarker to assess arsenic exposure via drinking water? by N Marchiset-Ferlay, C Savanovitch… – Environment …, 2012 – Elsevier
From dogs’ testicles to mares’ urine: the origins and contemporary use of hormonal therapy for the menopause by E Banks – Feminist review, 2002 – journals.sagepub.com
Risks and Benefits of Pool Chlorination, with Manolis Kogevinas by A Ahearn – Environmental Health Perspectives, 2010 – national-toxic-encephalopathy …
Polyphenols and health: what compounds are involved? by D Del Rio, LG Costa, MEJ Lean, A Crozier – Nutrition, Metabolism and …, 2010 – Elsevier