If the infamously bitter taste of Chinese traditional medicine is already bad enough to turn you off, just imagine that there are 100,000 people practising urine therapy in mainland China - at least according to claims by members of the China Urine Therapy Association.
For many of these urine drinking practitioners, what the unitiated may see as a strange practice actually holds many curative effects.
For 79-year-old Bao Yafu, urine therapy is just another daily routine: he drinks three cups of his own urine every day, and even washes his eyes and wipes his face with it.
“In these 22 years [of urine therapy], I never caught a cold. My eyesight has become clearer and I don’t have any age pigment,” Bao told local newspaper Wuhan Evening News, also revealing that a medical check conducted by a local hospital recently showed that he has the bone density of a 30-year-old.
Bao, the chairman of the China Urine Therapy Association, said that the group has over 1,000 members from almost everywhere in China except for Tibet and Ningxia provinces. The organisation claims that it is “a non-profit non-governmental organisation for the common wealth recognised by the Hong Kong SAR government”.
One of the requirements of joining is to consume urine and promote its healing effects. The groups' membership fee is 20 RMB (HK$ 25) per year, and around 100 members gather once a year to share their experiences.
According to the China Urine Therapy Association's website , the "theory" behind drinking urine lies in the fact that the fluid differs from excrement, and comes from the circulation of blood which absorbs nutrients in food and is therefore a “genuine metabolic product”.
“Urine comes from blood. Its chemical components come from blood and equal those of blood. The urine from a healthy person is sterile,” the website reads.
The site claims that urine has both antigens and antibodies, and by drinking urine, one can reabsorb these substances and improve the body’s ability to fight diseases. It also argues that because the components of urine come from the body itself, urine “works better than synthetic medicine and has no side effects”.
Chairman Bao is far from the only member of the China Urine Therapy Association to claim that drinking urine has improved his health.
According to Wuhan Evening News, a 21-year-old man named Xiaoliu told the newspaper that urine therapy cured his hyperthyroidism.
Xiaoliu was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2010, and took subscribed medication for a year and a half but stopped because he felt it “had no effect”. After learning about urine therapy on the internet, he decided to give it a try.
In his first two attempts to drink urine, Xiaoliu threw up due to its strong smell. But gradually, he became used to it and began consuming anywhere from 100 to 150 millilitres per drink.
After a year, he went for a medical examination and the results showed that his thyroid figures had all returned to normal.
Xiaoliu’s doctor refuted these alleged curative effects, insisting that Xiaoliu's recovery should be attributed to his medication.
“He was treated here by me for almost two years, and had been taking medicine for hyperthyroidism and liver protection," the physician reportedly said. "Every month he came back for a medical check and got better so [I] reduced the amount of medicine until he was cured.”
Despite this refutation, Xiaoliu's story of urine therapy went viral on the Chinese internet, leading to further investigations by local newspapers into the practice.
One paper, Chongqing Evening News, interviewed three other members of the China Urine Therapy Association in their 70s and 80s.
Two of them supported urine therapy, saying that the taste of urine was “definitely better than that of bitter Chinese traditional medicine”, and after getting used to it, “was almost like drinking water or tea”.
They also stressed the correct way of drinking urine: “Firstly, you need to leave out the first and the last parts of the urine and only take the middle part because it’s the purest. Secondly, you need to use a glass instead of a plastic or metal cup to better preserve the original flavours.”
However, the other interviewee, 88-year-old Zhou Linhui, said he had been an advocate of urine therapy for 24 years until he fell seriously ill and was diagnosed with renal failure and diabetes.
“When [I] fell ill I found it useless... Why couldn’t it cure me?” Zhou was quoted as saying.
This heated discussion of the merits of urine therapy eventually drew the attention of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, which published an investigative report on the China Urine Therapy Association on June 27 - showing that the group is perhaps not all that it appears to be.
The report revealed that the China Urine Therapy Association is in fact only an unlimited partnership company registered in Hong Kong in 2008, with no corporate capacity.
It is also found that the address of the association shown on its website only leads to an old residence in northern China's Tianjin, where an elderly man with no knowledge of urine therapy lives.
Doctors interviewed by People’s Daily said urine is metabolic waste discharged by the kidneys which the human body no longer needs, and that drinking this waste may only add to the burden of the liver, intestines, stomach and blood circulation.
“Five per cent of urine is nitrogenous waste, which is mainly urea, while the other 95 per cent is all water. If the person is ill, there will also be sugar, protein, red and white blood cells and ketone bodies in the urine. Because the toxin dispelled by the body may end up in metabolite products like urine, there is no good in drinking it,” nephrology doctor Chen Wenli explained in the report.
According to Chinese medicine experts, although urine was recorded in several ancient Chinese medicine books as an ingredient for its ability to stop bleeding and cure bruises, there were strict requirements for using it, and it was mainly reserved for minor traumatic injuries.
There is no medical evidence to support using urine as a long-term dietary therapy.