In early morning cup of pee may not sound like the ideal way to start the day, but it has been recommended by Australian researchers as a cure for jet lag. A study at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, found that that urine is rich in melatonin, the hormone involved in producing circadian rhythms. Drunk first thing in the morning, it can, claims a report in the journal Medical Hypotheses, calm and refresh the system, creating for patients the illusion that they have just had a good night's sleep.

Most people would think of drinking their own urine as a disgusting habit indulged in only by New Age types. But Sarah Miles, the actress, swears by it, according to virtually every feature written about her. It is less well known that urine therapy is a cornerstone of Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medical system now rapidly growing in popularity in the West.

Urine consists almost entirely of water, its chief waste product being urea, a substance formed from the breakdown of proteins. How can drinking it purify and cleanse the body systems, as its advocates claim?

Arthur Lincoln Pauls, an osteopath in Hertfordshire, has been drinking his own urine every day for 20 years and, at 63, is convinced it has kept him healthy. He also uses it to wash and to accelerate wound healing.

He recommends the therapy to his patients, particularly children suffering from asthma, eczema, bad eyesight and other chronic problems. They demur at first, but soon discover that, once they get used to it, it is no worse to take than any other medicine.

'As a young man, my health was terrible,' Dr Pauls says. 'I was overweight, tired all the time, and kept breaking out in boils. Also, I was diabetic and had very bad eyesight.'

When he first heard of urine therapy he had to summon up all his courage to try it. 'But eventually I did, and found all my health problems cleared up. My eyesight improved, I lost the excess weight, my blood pressure normalised, and I could run once more.'

He claims that drinking one's own urine can help repair body systems and organs and eliminate heavy metals from them. It is particularly good for correcting eyesight, he believes.

'People often ask me: how can it be right to take something back into the body that the body has discarded? My answer is that, in perfect health, there would be no need. But most people's systems are not working properly.'

Many people's kidneys are liable to malfunction, he says, and this results in them excreting, in their urine, valuable mineral salts and other substances that the body actually requires. Urine consumption can help improve kidney function. 'It has been known by the armed forces for many years that drinking urine can help people to survive - but they've tended to keep it quiet.'

But doesn't it taste awful? 'This again is simply a prejudice,' Dr Pauls says. 'We have been brought up to believe that urine is filthy and germ-laden, and we must wash our hands after going to the toilet. In fact, urine is completely sterile when it leaves the body, and it tends to taste of whatever you have been eating or drinking recently. Early morning urine tastes somewhat salty and bitter, but as the day goes on, it becomes almost tasteless.'

Anyone interested in urine therapy who feels a little timid, he says, should first rub it on their hands to get used to it. Then, once the preliminary distaste has been overcome, they should try washing their face and rinsing their hair with it.

'This all builds up courage,' says Dr Pauls. 'Next, sit in your bath and rub it over your whole body, saying to yourself, 'This is divine nectar, not dirty, filthy urine' as you do it.'

After this, you may be ready to start drinking it, says Dr Pauls. You should start by mixing it with fruit juice and after you've got used to this, you can try a glass of it neat. 'Once the novelty has worn off, you will start to 'recycle' it naturally,' he promises.

But what if your urine looks cloudy? Dr Pauls believes this is nothing to worry about and that it is still all right to drink. Although he adds, 'If you are in good health, your urine should be completely clear. The healthier you become, the clearer it gets.

'Urine contains many important amino acids, vitamins, enzymes and minerals. In fact, it contains so very many useful healing substances that scientists are now trying to isolate them into pill form. But why go to all that trouble and expense when you have your own healing medicine available all the time?'

What about the Australian report that drinking urine can cure jet lag? Judy English, a researcher at Surrey University's School of Biological Sciences, who has been carrying out investigations into melatonin and jet lag, says: 'We are regarding this story with an enormous pinch of salt. Urine does contain melatonin, but in tiny quantities, and in its non- active form. Here, we have found that melatonin helps at least two- thirds of people suffering from jet lag. But our supply comes from industrial sources.'

Urine therapy may be the ultimate in self-sufficiency. But prejudiced or not, most people will need a lot of persuasion before they can be induced to drink it.

If your urine looks or smells unusual, consult a doctor.