India’s Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Choubey, on Sunday said that the country is seriously working on using cow urine for preparation of medicines and to cure cancer. This sent Indian Twitter users in a frenzy. Additionally, he claimed on Sunday, that one of the country’s ex-Prime Ministers used to consume cow urine too as alternative medicine (discussed later).
Cure for cancer?
"Cow urine is powerful in its own. It is considered unique and it has a quality to treat various health issues. The Ayush (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) Ministry is also working on using cow urine for preparing medicines and for treatment of cancer. Discussions and efforts are on how to make medicines for cancer," Choubey was quoted as saying in a report by Indian TV news channel, NDTV.
"Cow urine is used in the preparation of several types of medicines. It is used even for the treatment of incurable disease like cancer. The urine of the indigenous variety of cow is often used. The Ministry of AYUSH is seriously working on it," he added.
The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) deals with alternative medicine.
Choubey also said that the government is working on the protection and conservation of cows for this purpose.
He also said that the government of India has set a goal to minimize diseases like diabetes and cancer. “Non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cancer are a challenge all over the world. We cannot claim to eliminate the diseases completely but we can control it and for it, the government of India has set a deadline 2030 under a sustainable development goal,” he said. He added that the Health Ministry is studying a proposal to include cancer treatment under the national health protection scheme, Jana Arogya Yojana (JAY) started in 2018 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Social media users were left confused over Choubey’s announcement.
Referring to India’s second lunar space mission Chandrayaan-2, tweep @enelayy: “Yesterday our scientists nearly put a vehicle on the moon. Today Union Minister of State for Health Ashwini Choubey says that the government is working on using cow urine as a cure for cancer.”
And, Twitter user @TweetOfCrow called it an act of “ignorance”: “According to Ashwini Choubey, cow urine can cure diseases like cancer. It seems that cow urine cannot cure ignorance.”
@RiyazSharief4 questioned the benefits of using cow urine in medicine: “Urine is the waste that comes out of the body of every living being by waste nothing can be cured. What a foolish statement by Ashwini Choubey, Minister of State for Health...”
Cow urine in Ayurveda
Gomutra or Cow urine apparently has a long history of therapeutic use in India. The tradition has been practiced for more than 5000 years as per Ayurveda (a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent). Over the years, several Hindu believers have proposed that drinking cow urine has divine benefits and having it early morning empty stomach can actually cure a lot of ailments. In 2014, there were some people who attested that ‘gaumutra’ had cured people who suffered from diabetes, tumours, tuberculosis, stomach problems, and even cancer. These claims were backed by spiritual leaders, which resulted in more people crediting this information. According to Dr. Aseem, an Oncologist at Bhagwan Mahaveer Cancer Hospital & Research Centre in Rajasthan: "It's a misconception among people that cow urine can cure cancer and this must be stopped. In spite of the miraculous properties, there has been no such medical proof that cow urine can cure any kind of cancer." According to an article on timesofindia.indiatimes.com Dr Aseem said: " It is only possible [to cure breast cancer] in the early stages and that too with modern medical technologies. After the early stage, it is not possible to cure cancer."
Other than India, cow urine has also been used in folk medicine in Myanmar and Nigeria. While cow urine and cow dung has benefits as fertilizers, researchers debunk any other claim of curing diseases and consider it pseudo-science.
A 1975 Nigerian study on mice found that cow urine causes death in high doses. A similar 1976 study on dogs showed that repeated administration of cow urine concoction as used in Nigerian folk medicine, resulted in hypotension(abnormally low blood pressure) and tachypnea(abnormally rapid breathing), and also death.
‘Morarji Desai ji himself used to consume cow's urine’
On September 8, Choubey said: “There is a need to do research on cow urine," adding that former Indian prime minister Morarji Desai used to consume it for medicinal benefits. He said: "We see that many times, people drink urine to cure their disease. Our former prime minister Morarji Desai ji himself used to consume cow's urine.”
But, did he really?
Tweep @narulaAlka posted: “Wrong , Morarji Desai consumed his own urine .”
In 1978, Morarji Desai, then Indian prime minister, spoke at length on a US television interview 'CBS 60 Minutes' about how he practiced ‘Urophagia’ or urine therapy. According to a 2009 Times of India article, during his visit to the US, he spoke to American Journalist, Dan Rather stating that drinking urine is the perfect medical treatment for those who cannot afford medical treatment.
He claimed drinking his own urine cured his piles. He also believed that if an individual washes eyes with urine, the person can never get cataract.
In the past, another BJP leader, ‘Sadhvi’ Pragya Thakur has advocated for the use of cow urine as medicine. She claimed that she was a cancer patient and was cured after she consumed medicine that contained cow urine.
Other claimed uses
In 1945, John W. Armstrong, a British naturopath, published a popular book about the alleged curative power of drinking one’s own urine. The book, “The Water of Life: A Treatise on Urine Therapy,” claims that urine can cure all major illnesses.
Other claims about urine therapy are anecdotal or stem from ancient texts. Claims have been made that drinking urine may treat allergies, acne, cancer, heart problems, infections, wounds, stuffy nose, rash, stings and other skin ailments
However, there’s no scientific evidence to support any of these claims.
Is it safe?
Those who practice Urophagia may not agree, but, many scientists who have researched on the aspect claim that drinking a small amount of urine, at your own risk, is not much harmful. But there are certain risks associated with it including bacterial contamination, potential drug exposure and high mineral content in it can put stress on kidneys. Scientists, however, advise to avoid drinking urine when you are dehydrated and there is no water around as it may relieve the sensation of thirst but the sodium and minerals in it may make you more dehydrated. In a worst case scenario, individuals can use urine as a source of water by distilling it.
A 2018 BBC Three article talking about the health fad reported: “For one thing, urine is essentially a waste product - meaning it’s made up of a mix of water and stuff your body has already worked hard to get rid of. ‘It is a common belief that urine is sterile - which it normally is if you don't have a problem with your renal tract,’ Dr Zubair Ahmed tells BBC Three. ‘However, once it leaves the body, it can be contaminated with certain bacteria - and ingesting this bacteria can make you feel unwell and can lead to serious complications’.”
Infection risks aside, Dr Ahmed adds there’s actually no medical evidence to show urophagia benefits your health in any way. “Urination is one way where our body gets rid of toxic by-products,” he explained. “There is no evidence at all that ingesting these substances has any health benefits. While drinking a small amount of urine is unlikely to be hazardous to your health, there is not enough modern evidence of its efficacy to suggest drinking it is healthy.”
And Dr Andrew Thornber warned that you risk reintroducing dangerous waste products - such as potassium and nitrogen, back into your system when you drink pee. It can be really harsh on your gut and cause problems with your kidneys. “When you drink urine, it will eventually come back out again and be much more concentrated, which could lead to gut problems.” Dr Thornber added, speaking to BBC Three .
And nutritionist Keri Filtness added: “Some of the waste products excreted via urine, such as nitrogen, sodium and other minerals, may cause issues such as dehydration if they are consumed excessively.”