If drinking urine was your survivalist backup plan, we’ve got some bad news. The rumor that your pee is sterile is, well, a rumor.
Scientists have found that urine in healthy individuals naturally contains bacteria, so urine isn’t quite as “clean” as myths have led us to believe.
Keep reading to find out more about why urine isn’t a sterile substance, and we’ll put some other urine-related health myths to rest.
To imply that urine is sterile would mean that urine does not contain any bacteria or other living organisms. Scientists have proven this to be untrue.
While some urine samples contained very low bacterial levels, the bacterial presence alone indicates that urine isn’t sterile.
Another small 2015 study examined samples from 52 male and female subjects. The study found that bacteria were naturally present, even in low amounts. An average of 5.8 bacterial species were found in females and 7.1 in males.
But don’t worry that your urine has bacteria in it. According to a 2019 research review, your bladder naturally contains a “healthy” amount of bacteria that maintain the integrity of your bladder’s lining.
While too many bacteria could certainly be harmful, a low level of bacteria is likely protective.
Some people say that urine is sterile because they may drink it in survival scenarios, or for its rumored health benefits. If urine were sterile, it would be less likely to make you sick when you drank it or used it to flush a wound.
While urine is composed largely of water — about 95 percent — there are still other components present. They include:
- waste products, including creatinine
- bacteria in varying amounts
Some people can have other components present in their urine that may indicate an underlying infection or medical condition. These include proteins, red blood cells, and glucose.
A 2016 research review with animals showed that if you need to drink urine, you’ll try to drink it immediately after it leaves your body. This is because urine naturally attracts bacteria due to the moist environment.
You’ll likely take in the least amount of bacteria if you drink urine quickly.
The idea that urine is sterile isn’t the only urine-related myth. Here are a few more to put to rest.
Peeing on a jellyfish sting
Movies and television shows have perpetuated the myth that peeing on a jellyfish sting will help reduce painful symptoms. Urine does contain compounds like ammonia and urea that may help soothe a jellyfish sting.
But the same 2016 research review with animals above showed that you have to balance this with the other components of urine that could likely worsen the jellyfish sting.
One of urine’s components includes sodium, which is like rubbing salt in the wound because the urine stream could push the jellyfish stingers further into the wound. That would be a major ouch.
You’re better off treating a jellyfish sting by carefully removing the tentacles, washing it off with seawater, and applying an over-the-counter pain-relieving ointment.
If you have to flush the wound with something, seawater would be a better option than urine, although both contain salt.
Cure athlete’s foot with urine
Here’s another surprising myth about urine: that it can cure athlete’s foot. Also known as tinea pedis, athlete’s foot is a fungus that affects the feet and causes itching, scaling skin, and redness or discoloration.
The rumor that urine can treat athlete’s foot likely arises from the fact that creams containing urea, a component in urine, can be used to treat athlete’s foot.
But the amount of urea in urine is not sufficient to potentially kill the fungus found in athlete’s foot. So, this is another urine-related rumor that should be put to rest.
“Urine therapy” or drinking urine
There are myths that drinking urine can cure everything from hair loss to cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence to support that drinking urine can solve any of these conditions. Stick with plain water instead.
Despite the rumors, urine is not a sterile substance. It naturally contains bacteria that renders it a nonsterile substance.
While the bacterial levels are likely low, it’s important to understand the implications of drinking urine, either for your health or survival.
Hopefully, the situation won’t arise when you need to drink your urine, but now you’ll have all the information to make the best decision possible.