Is It Time to Stop Believing That Urine Is Sterile?

You might have heard someone say that urine is sterile. You might have even heard someone say it, being 95 percent water, is safe to drink in an emergency situation. But it’s high time to stop taking these ideas at face value.

A recent study, building on previous research, discredited the idea that urine is sterile.

Photo credit: Shutterstock
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Researchers at Loyola University in Chicago found live bacteria in the bladders of healthy women. The presence of such bacteria negates any sterility, which scientifically requires something to be free from any living organisms.

“Doctors have been trained to believe that urine is germ-free,” Dr. Linda Brubaker, dean of the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, said in a statement. “These findings challenge this notion, so this research opens the door to exciting new possibilities for patient treatment.”

Previous research from the university established that bacteria was present in the bladders of healthy women, but more recent research showed how the bacteria differed between healthy women and those with overactive bladder. Doctors believe certain bacteria might be to blame for the condition.

Lack of sterility aside, what if you were desperate and without any source of fresh water? Should urine be an option?

Popular Science points out that there’s a reason you’re expelling it and you should therefore consider a few things before taking a sip:

It carries excess electrolytes, such as chloride, sodium and potassium (urine also carries small traces of excess toxins in the form of acids from your kidney, but you’d need to drink a lot for that to do damage). Electrolytes enable some of our cells to conduct electricity, but too much sodium draws water out of our cells, dehydrating us, and too much potassium leads to a heart attack. “Think about it like drinking ocean water,” says Jeff Giullian, a nephrologist (kidney doctor) at South Denver Nephrology Associates in Colorado. “It’s going to dehydrate you and do significantly more harm than good.”

Still, there are those who would maintain that drinking urine is a helpful survival tool. Bear Grylls, host of the Discovery channel’s Man vs. Wild, is known for drinking his own pee. And Dan Woolley, a man who was trapped in a collapsed hotel for days after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, used this trick, he says, to stay alive.

Watch this clip with Grylls, if you can stomach it:

The U.S. Army Survival Manual FM 21-76 says to not drink urine, but it does mention using urine to clean some wounds if fresh water is not available.

In addition to bacteria being present in the bladders of women — no word in the study about the bladders of men — bacteria can contaminate urine through other infections as well.

(H/T: Science Daily)

Front page image via Shutterstock.