There was even an episode of the TV series My Strange Addiction that highlighted a "medical" practice that caused many viewers to turn away in revulsion. The feature described drinking one's own urine and using it to massage, irrigate, or coat body parts, as an attempt to fight off cancer.
Urine therapy, urotherapy or urinotherapy, are terms that have been used to refer to the use of one's own urine as a medicinal aid. There are no medical or scientific data to support this dubious practice, but it has roots in history and in some religious and spiritual traditions. In certain cultures, urine has been used as a skin protectant, an anti-infectious agent, and a tooth whitener, among many other uses, but none of these claims have ever been substantiated by medical research. Even the popular folk remedy of urinating on jellyfish stings has no medical basis and may actually worsen the injury. There have been rare reports of people drinking their urine as a way to prevent dehydration in catastrophic situations when there was no water supply, such as being lost at sea.
In the TV series, a cancer patient opted for urine therapy to treat her cancer. She not only drank her own urine, she used it to irrigate her eyes and sinuses, brush her teeth and applied it to her skin. The idea of this treatment as a cancer therapy probably comes from the fact that certain tumor proteins are present in the urine of cancer patients. By introducing urine into the digestive tract and other sites in the body, the erroneous belief is that the body will begin making antibodies against the tumor proteins to try to destroy the cancer.
While it is true that urine can contain tumor antigens, there is no evidence to show that drinking, massaging with, bathing in, or any other application of urine will stimulate antibody production or in any way fight off a cancer. The quantities of substances, including tumor antigens, present in urine are typically minuscule compared with those already present in the blood and elsewhere in the body. The bottom line is that drinking your own urine isn't likely to be harmful, but it has no known medical benefit.
That's not to say that urine is worthless. Looking back in history urine has been used to whiten teeth. Ancient Romans used urine to brighten their teeth. The Roman poet Catullus wrote, "Egnatius, because he has snow-white teeth, smiles all the time...in the country of Spain what each man pisses, he’s used to brushing his teeth and red gums with, every morning, so the fact that your teeth are so polished just shows you're the more full of piss."
Before scientists were able to synthesize chemicals, urine was a rich source of urnitrogen-based compound that when set aside for long periods decays into ammonia. Ammonia acts as a weak base when in water, making it the perfect substance for the ancients to use when softening and tanning animal hides to make leather. Soaking the animal skins in urine also made the process of removing hair and bits of unwanted flesh from the skin.
Ammonia is a prominent ingredient in many household cleaners as it is is a powerful cleansing agent and helps fight dirt and grease. Ammonia is also found in urine and the early Europeans often used it clean their homes. In ancient Rome, vessels were placed on streets as urine collectors. After the buckets were full from people passing by to relieve themselves, the vats were taken to a laundry and used to wash dirty clothes.
During the 1500's, families dedicated chamber pots to collecting their pee to be used in developing brighter colors when dying fabric. Urine was so important to the textile industry in England that an "estimated amount equivalent to the urine steam of 1,000 people for an entire year were shipped across the country to Yorkshire" to be used in dying fabric according to the Smithsonian.
Urine can be used to make gunpowder. The main ingredient, potassium nitrate was only made available on a large-scale in the early 1900's. Until then, gunpowder manufacturers used the nitrogen found in urine to make their product.
Recently a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio University has developed a technology to generate hydrogen fuel from urine.
Urine contains proteins and other substances that are useful for medical therapy and are ingredients in many prescription drugs (e.g., Ureacin, Urecholine, Urowave). Urine from postmenopausal women is rich in gonadotropins that can yield follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone for fertility therapy. One such commercial product is Pergonal.
Urine from pregnant women contains enough human chorionic gonadotropins for commercial extraction and purification to produce medication. Pregnant mare urine is the source of estrogens, namely Premarin. Urine also contains antibodies, which can be used in diagnostic antibody tests for a range of pathogens, including HIV.
Urine is very high in nitrogen, low in phosphorus and moderate in potassium, so if urine is to be separated and collected for use as a fertilizer in agriculture, then the easiest method of doing so is with sanitation systems that utilize waterless urinals, urine-diverting dry toilets or urine diversion flush toilets.
Undiluted urine can chemically burn the leaves or roots of some plants, particularly if the soil moisture content is low. For this reason, urine fertilizer is usually applied diluted with water.