A dramatic surge in the popularity of "urine therapy" in Cameroon has prompted the government to ban its consumption and threaten persistent offenders with jail.
The health minister acted last week after a book about "urinotherapy", published in Switzerland, entered the best-seller list in Cameroon, prompting enthusiastic experimentation by readers.
One newspaper hailed urinotherapy as a universal cure-all which could tackle scores of afflictions, including cancer, snakebites and infertility. Testimonials to the benefits of urine consumption dominated radio phone-ins and the letters pages of newspapers.
"I had haemorrhoids for five years and nothing gave me relief. But six months ago, I started drinking half a glass of my urine every morning and I am practically healed," a shopkeeper from the capital Yaounde wrote to Le Messager newspaper. A magistrate claimed: "For several years I haven’t had a hair on my head, but since I started drinking my urine it’s started growing again – it’s extraordinary."
Omer Otabela telephoned a radio station with the story of his 80-year-old grandmother. "When she was bitten by a snake in the fields, she drank her own urine. This slowed down the progress of the venom to her heart until she got to hospital," he declared.
Urinotherapy is practically as old as man himself. About 95 per cent of urine is water, 2.5 per cent is urea and 2.5 per cent is a mix of minerals, salt, hormones and enzymes. Some practitioners believe that when rubbed on the skin or drunk, it can purify blood and tissues, and provide nutrients.
DHEA, a hormone found in large quantities in urine, is also believed to have anti-ageing, anti-cancer and anti-obesity properties.
The Chinese have treated themselves with urine both externally and internally for centuries; a more recent advocate, the British actress Sarah Miles swears by its health-enhancing properties.
During the First World War, doctors dosed patients with urine to ward off gangrene. Morarji Desai, the Indian prime minister from 1977 to 1979 who lived to the age of 99, drank a pint of his own urine every day.
No independent research has been carried out into urine drinking. But kidney specialists warn that consuming large volumes may cause a build-up of toxic waste similar to that seen in patients who suffer kidney failure.
"Given the risks of toxicity associated with ingesting urine," wrote Urbain Olanguena Awono, Cameroon’s health minister, "the health ministry advises against the consumption of urine and invites those who promote the practice to cease doing so or risk prosecution."
Last night The Sunday Telegraph contacted Dr Christian Tal Schaller, whose book, Amaroli 2, started the health craze in Cameroon, to inform him of the ban.
"What a crazy thing to do," Dr Schaller said from his home in France. "I have had hundreds of letters from followers in Cameroon whose lives have been changed by urine therapy. I will contact the government to explain what this therapy can do."
Via the Telegraph