Is It Safe to Drink Urine?

Urine samples
Getty Images/MAURO FERMARIELLO

You might be surprised at all the reasons someone might drink their own or another person's urine. But is it safe? That depends on a few factors.

Reasons People Drink Urine

Ingesting urine or urophagia is a practice dating back to ancient man. Reasons for drinking urine include attempted survival, ceremonial purposes, sexual practices, and alternative medicine. Medical reasons include teeth whitening, fertility treatments, hormone therapy, and to prevent or treat cancer, arthritis, allergies, and other diseases.

Is Drinking Urine Safe?

Drinking a small amount of urine, particularly your own, isn't likely to be significantly hazardous to your health, but there are risks associated with drinking urine:

  • Bacterial Contamination
    While it's unlikely you could catch a disease you didn't already have from your own urine, pathogens in urine or from the lining of the urethra could pose a health risk to others.
     
  • High Mineral Content
    Urine is excreted from the body, so it makes sense the salt and minerals aren't necessarily something you need to put right back into your system. Urine is high in urea, sodium, potassium, and creatinine. If you are hydrated, these minerals won't harm you, but they put stress on your kidneys if you don't have enough water in your blood to filter out the excess.
     
  • Potential Drug Exposure
    Some drugs and their metabolites are excreted in urine, so drinking the urine from someone on a medication could purposely or inadvertently dose the recipient. In some cultures, drinking the urine of a person who has ingested a drug is a way for others to experience the effects. Otherwise, urophagia could medicate a person who does not want or possibly cannot tolerate the drug or metabolite. In addition to drugs, trace amounts of hormones also are found in urine.

    Is Urine Sterile?

    Many people, including doctors and nurses, erroneously believe urine is sterile. This is because the "negative" test for bacteria in urine, developed by Edward Cass in the 1950s, set a limit of allowable bacteria to help health professionals distinguish between normal flora and an infection.

    The test involves capturing midstream urine, which is urine that is collected after a small amount of urination has flushed the urethra. A negative bacteria test for urine is any number less than 100,000 colony-forming bacteria per milliliter of urine, which is very far from sterile. While all urine contains bacteria, the number and types of bacteria are different in a person with an infection. One argument against drinking urine is that bacteria from a healthy person may be fine in the urinary tract, yet infectious if ingested.

    Don't Drink Urine When You're Dehydrated

    So, if you were dying of thirst, would it be okay to drink your own urine? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

    Drinking any liquid, including urine, may relieve the immediate sensation of thirst, but the sodium and other minerals in urine would actually make you more dehydrated, in much the same way as drinking sea water. Some people did drink their own urine in extreme survival situations and lived to tell the tale, but even the U.S. military advises personnel against it.

    In a survival situation, you can use your urine as a source of water, by distilling it. The same technique can be used to purify water from perspiration or sea water.

    Reference: Water Procurement, U.S. Army Field Manual (retrieved August 17, 2014)

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    Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Is It Safe to Drink Urine?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/is-it-safe-to-drink-urine-609446. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, December 20). Is It Safe to Drink Urine? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/is-it-safe-to-drink-urine-609446 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Is It Safe to Drink Urine?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/is-it-safe-to-drink-urine-609446 (accessed January 19, 2018).