By the time Sharon Leopardi was in her mid-20s, the acne on her back was so bad she could barely lie down. Because of the discomfort, she had difficulty practicing yoga, and because of the scarring, she was uncomfortable wearing clothing that exposed her upper body. Sharon had begun battling severe acne as a teenager. As with most people, the problem hit when she entered puberty. But, unlike most cases, Sharon’s acute acne outbreaks spread across her body, even affecting her bowels, causing chronic constipation and bad digestion. Despite regularly using prescription antibiotics and medical-strength face and body washes, the problems persisted.
The symptoms continued into her late teens. By then she had moved to Utah to attend the University of Utah, majoring in Geography in Environmental Studies. In her 20s, the acne still showed no sign of abating.
As an adult, she tried natural remedies: diets, weeks of fasting on rice and mung dal, drinking bitter herbal remedies, sweats, neem oil and turmeric rubs, and internal and external ayurvedic treatments. The worst of her symptoms would occasionally recede, but only for a few days. It wasn’t until she took a trip to India that Sharon discovered the key to her health lay literally within her.
In the winter of 2012, Sharon traveled to India to relax after a long season of work—she is the founder and owner of Backyard Urban Gardens (BUG) Farm—to practice yoga and to learn more of the ayurvedic practice, an ancient and traditional medicine of India, which she had discovered at home in her search for cures.
Treating her own inflammation and acne was not at the top of her intentions. But it’s hard not to look for the solution to one’s persistent problems. Before long, Sharon was visiting various ayurvedic practitioners, hoping to find something that helped. But nothing did. To her surprise and dismay, her acne and inflammation only got worse. “At one point,” she recalls, “the rash covered my entire body and was so bad that it shocked even the doctors.”
After months traveling, with two weeks left to her stay, Sharon followed a friend to a mountain retreat center called Snehagiri (snay’-ha-gear’-y), the Mountain of Love.
The center, a retreat surrounded by 20 acres of permaculture forest and medicinal and edible plants, had been started by Acharya A.J. Snehadas (snay’-ha-das), an Indian-raised former Franciscan priest. He led workshops on meditation and self-affirmation for the local community, and practiced naturopathic healing.
Snehadas, it is not too bold to say, changed Sharon’s life. It started when he handed her a single book, John Armstrong’s The Water of Life (1971, with subsequent reprints), the go-to guide on the practice of urine therapy.
Urine therapy is an ancient medicinal, healing and all-around wellness practice by which people use their own urine externally and internally, bathing in, massaging with and even drinking urine, not only in times of sickness but also as a daily practice for healthy living.
Urine has been used in these methods by cultures across the world, most commonly in India but also by European gypsies and Native American peoples.
In ancient Greece, healers recommended using urine externally on wounds, dog and snake bites, for skin diseases, eye infections, burns and scars.
During the 1700s, Europeans were using urine internally to heal gout, jaundice and other diseases. By the 20th century, though the practice had mostly died out due to social stigma, many German physicians practicing alternative medicine continued to use urine therapy for numerous ailments including relief from morning sickness in pregnant women and relief from the symptoms of measles and smallpox for children.
The large storehouse of anecdotal evidence is not followed up with much peer-reviewed medical research. One theory, published in a 1991 Australian journal and copied all over the Internet, suggests that melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, is present in morning urine in significant quantities, but not in an accessible form. The idea is that the comingling of morning urine with low-pH gastric acid may restore the active form of melatonin, re-set the sleep-wake cycle and have other related positive effects. Considering the lack of commercial value and the difficulty in conducting a doubleblind study on participants’ own urine, folk medicine may be where the buck stops on this remedy.
It took Sharon a single night of poring over Armstrong’s book to feel she was ready to try this alternative self-healing practice. Following Snehadas’ recommendation, she started with a full urine fast, only consuming water and urine for as long as she felt willing and was necessary.
“The first time I drank it,” Sharon admits, “I was kind of gaggy. It was weird. But by the second day it was just like drinking warm water.”
Urine is a sterile by-product of the body, specifically of blood. It is composed of extra hormones, chemicals, enzymes and other things that could not be absorbed into the bloodstream and are eliminated from the body. Urine is 95% water, 2% urea, and 2% minerals, salts and hormones.
A report on urine therapy by Vanderbilt University’s Health Psychology Department says that although small amounts of toxins are found in urine, they are not abundant enough to be harmful to the body, and that, in fact, they may be helpful. Ingesting one’s own urine is a type of auto-inoculation or self-vaccination. Reintroducing these expelled substances in small amounts, they suggest, acts like receiving a vaccine. It creates a positive stimulus of the immune system, giving it the chance to act appropriately and strengthening the patient’s blood by increasing the number of white blood cells.
Urea, the main component of urine besides water, is considered particularly useful. The compound is already extracted and used in medical products like creams prescribed for dry, itchy and scaly skin. Urine therapy advocates further support the idea that urea is anti-carcinogenic. By stimulating the body’s immune system and white blood cell generation, they claim, the body is better able to detect and kill tumor cells.
In Sharon’s case, signs of healing began almost immediately. Along with the urine and water fast, she was also applying a urine-based paste—her urine combined with fruit puree, aloe vera and turmeric root—to her body, allowing it to dry in the sun. Within two days, her acne and inflammation began disappearing. Other problems including constipation, bloating and indigestion also went away. She continued the full fast for three days.
Since returning from India, Sharon has continued her treatments every day. She drinks a cup first thing in the morning, and washes her face with it, too. Twice a week she does a full body rubdown with aged urine before bathing. She also washes her hair and even brushes her teeth with urine. She has not experienced a single serious acne outbreak since she started treatment.
Before this interview, Sharon has not spoken openly about urine therapy. But with the acne scarring nearly gone, she says that even her friends who don’t know about her alternative treatments compliment her on her clear skin.
Sharon doesn’t actively encourage others to try urine therapy, though she is occasionally willing to talk about her experience. As for her personal practice, she doesn’t see quitting any time soon.
“I was adventurous and willing to try a lot,” Sharon admits. “But it took real trust in Snehadas to try urine therapy. If I hadn’t had such a severe problem I don’t know if I would have gone to such lengths.”
If you want to try it
Practicing urine therapy is not quite as simple as grabbing a cup and drinking. Although that method may not harm you, there are some instructions that make it more helpful, enjoyable and safer.
• Educate yourself first. See “Books.” Explore the Internet.
• Avoid processed foods and fast food.
• Do not practice urine therapy if you are taking in caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or other drugs, prescribed or otherwise.
• Avoid foods that give your urine a strong color or aroma, such as beets, asparagus and tuna, which may make the process less enjoyable.
• Maintain a diet low in salt and animal proteins.
• It’s recommended to begin the therapy with a fast.
• Hormones are discharged from the body into the urine at night, so collect urine only in midstream first thing in the morning. (The first part of your flow acts as a rinse for the urinary passage, the last may contain sediment. The midstream is best.)
Read these first
Since even most alternative doctors probably won’t give advice on this practice, books are the best source of information if you’re interested in learning more.
It’s always smart to become educated before trying any alternative self-medication. A surprising number of books have been written and published about urine therapy. Here are Sharon’s top recommendations:
The Water of Life, John W. Armstrong, 1971. Serves as a good starting point with lots of case studies from patients healed with guidance from Armstrong after abandoned as lost causes by other traditional doctors. The book is divided into sections by disease: heart disease, malaria, gangrene, cancer, common cold, burns etc.
The Golden Fountain: The Complete Guide to Urine Therapy, Coen van der Kroon, 1993. Gives a history of urine therapy in the West and the East. It explains the many applications of urine therapy and its medical and scientific aspects, with personal testimonies.
Your Own Perfect Medicine, Martha Christy, 1994. A little more preachy than others, but it still holds useful information, focusing on scientific and medical documentation and case studies.
Urine Therapy: Nature’s Elixir for Good Health, Flora Peschek-Bohmer and Gisela Schreiber, 1997. Case histories, protocols for using urine, help for starting this practice and overcoming aversion.