We examine the ‘science’ behind cow urine as a ‘health drink’

 NEW DELHI: Indians are really taken by cows. I get it, it’s a Holy Animal in Hinduism and gives us milk and deserves reverence, but by all accounts — haven’t we taken our obsession with this animal a little too far? From a steady rise in cow lynching incidents to setting up official cow welfare ministries and gauraksha police chowks … to now packaging and selling cow urine as a ‘health drink’ under a official government banner!

You read all of the above right. While the rest of cow-related developments in the country are gravely serious and perhaps better left to another author and article, I would like to bring to your attention a proposal by the Uttar Pradesh government to collect, process and sell packaged bottles of cow urine as a “health giving drink.”

The bottles will be prepared government Ayurvedic pharmacies in Uttar Pradesh, which supply ayurvedic medicines to government centres across the state.

In fact, the government wants to make cow urine a staple part of people’s every day diets. Dr Prakash Chandra Saxena, principal and superintendent of Government Ayurveda College and Hospital in Pilibhit, is quoted in the TOI saying, “Not just for medicinal purpose, we will promote cow urine as a health-giving drink. We have prepared a plan and will discuss it with Ayurveda department in Lucknow for approval. Drinking 10 ml to 20 ml cow urine daily will act as a preventive against seasonal diseases, like fever, cough and stomach-related ailments. Daily consumption of cow urine will also help increase people’s immunity. Our aim is to make cow urine easily available to common public.”

The several government run gaushalas also are part of the plan, as revealed by Dr. Saxena, when questioned about how such a large volume of cow urine will be sourced. “We are considering to contact dairies and gaushalas (cow shelters) run by the government or NGOs. We will soon discuss with experts and director of the Ayurveda department to chalk out details of the project,” he tells TOI. FYI, the Adityanath government has cleared setting up 1000-capacity gaushalas in seven districts and 16 urban locations in Uttar Pradesh as phase one of what could be a giant project to inundate the state with cow safe-havens.

In addition to cow urine to drink, other products using the supposedly miracle health giving excrement are also in the pipeline. “The state government has placed the order and we will start making medicines using cow urine by this month. These drugs will be used in curing several ailments, including fever, jaundice, piles and stomach- and liver-related diseases. Several researches have shown that cow urine, which is an integral part of ayurveda, is beneficial for health,” Dr Naresh Chandra Gangwar, incharge of the pharmacy, told TOI. “At a later stage, we may plan to prepare medicines using cow urine for other diseases, including cancer and skin-related problems. As ayurvedic medicines have no side-effects, its demand is increasing in the country,” he adds.

The move to sell cow urine as a health drink comes after the government, in 2017, put together a panel to conduct “scientific research” into the health benefits of cow urine. The panel goes by the name SVAROP –Scientific Validation and Research on Panchagavya.

The obsession with cow urine almost makes sense given India’s increasing obsession with cows — and given the nature of other versions of this obsession (such as lynchings) — it’s perhaps the better recourse. But is cow urine actually healthy?

There’s been little solid research into the matter, and where it does exist, the results are pretty worrying. A 1975 study on mice found that Jersey cow urine causes death in high doses. A similar 1976 study on dogs showed that repeated administration of Jersey cow urine concoction as used in Nigerian folk medicine, resulted in hypotension and tachypnea, and also death. A 2001 study found prions in detectable amount in the urine of Jersey cows suffering from bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Of course, there are several Indian “studies” that state that cow urine has benefits, but a closer link will reveal that the evidence is purely anecdotal and doesn’t match scientific rigour.

All said and done, I guess when it comes to the right-wing’s obsession with cows in the country, I rather politely decline a misleading “health drink” than fight off a mob of gau rakshaks… so let’s leave it at that.