Recently, when the Indian Health Minister proposed using cow urine from the native breeds for the preparation of medicines and to cure diseases like cancer, social media users were in a frenzy : how could they possibly believe that the waste product of an animal can cure degenerative diseases like cancer? On one hand, our space scientists are nearly able to put a vehicle on the moon, and on the other, our government is working towards promoting the use of cow urine as a serious method of treatment! Many dismissed this traditional method as mere pseudoscience with no reliable scientific basis. But, to be truly scientific in our approach, it is necessary to first understand the reasoning and view-point behind the tradition before arriving at a conclusion.
The Ayurvedic view
Gomutra or cow urine has a long history of therapeutic use in India. The tradition has been practiced for more than 5000 years as per Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine and holistic health. A system that has been followed for thousands of years would have to have a certain basis. It might just be that its principles and approach to understanding the working of the human body, diagnosis of diseases and treatment are different from that of modern allopathy. Ayurveda is based on a holistic framework that views the different systems in the body as well as the mind as being interconnected and governed by three fundamental principles, called doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata governs all movement in the body such as air flow, blood flow, lymph flow, gastrointestinal flow, urine flow and energy flow. Pitta governs all transformations in the body such metabolism, digestion, functioning of enzymes, sensory perception and so on. Kapha governs the stable nature of the body such as the overall body structure, the body frame, strength of joints and mental stability. Ayurveda views health as a balance of all doshas, and any disease as a condition of imbalance of one or more of the doshas. Health can be regained by balancing the aggravated dosha.
Classical Ayurvedic texts like Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita describe cow urine or gomutra as an effective medicinal substance of animal origin with several therapeutic uses. Its qualities are described as laghu (light), ushna (hot) and teekshna (piercing). Owing to its hot and piercing nature, it reaches up to the deep tissues of the body. It balances Vata and Kapha and increases Pitta. Since it increases Pitta, cow urine improves digestion, and is useful in the treatment of abdominal colic pain, bloating, constipation and indigestion. It is also used in the treatment of intestinal worms and skin disorders. It aids in the reversal of cardiac and renal diseases and anemia.
Through rectal adminstration, cow urine is used as an enema in the treatment of intestinal obstruction. It is also used to treat hemorrhoids and reduce pain, itching and the size of the pile mass.
Panchagavya, which is made of five ingredients from the cow, namely, milk, ghee, curd, urine and dung, also has potent therapeutic effects and forms an entire branch of medicine by itself, called panchagavya chikitsa (panchagavya therapy).
Prescribed medicine, not a general tonic
Cow urine is composed of 95% water, 5% urea, minerals, salts, hormones and enzymes, which include iron, calcium, phosphorus, carbonic acid, potash, nitrogen, ammonia, manganese, sulphur, phosphates, potassium, amino acids, enzymes, cytokine and lactose. Since it is rich in these essential minerals, it is capable of removing many imbalances in the human body, thus maintaining general health.
However, it is clearly stated that cow urine is a medicine that should only be taken after consultation with an Ayurvedic physician and only in the prescribed quantity and for the prescribed duration. For example, if it is taken to cure indigestion, it should be taken only until the digestive power is restored. Cow urine therapy is not nourishing in nature; it is detoxifying and cleansing in nature. Hence it is not a tonic and must be taken in the prescribed quantity, after consulting a physician.
Ayurvedic physicians recommend drinking distilled cow urine as it is safer. Liquid produced through the process of distillation is called ark. There are also clear and precise instructions on dosage. For instance, one must start with only 3-4 drops of cow urine once or twice a day. After a week, the dose can be increased to 1 spoon twice a day. This is the maximum advisable dose of cow urine distillate. There are contraindications as to who cannot consume cow urine. People who are lean and emaciated, under fatigue, people suffering from lack of sleep, children below 10 years, men suffering from infertility and women who have just delivered should not consume cow urine.
The anti-microbial, bioenhancing, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties of cow urine have been indicated in modern clinical studies.
Anti-microbial properties: Various studies have found that the antimicrobial activity of cows urine is significant and comparable with standard drugs such as ofloxacin, cefpodoxime, and gentamycin and others, which are antibiotics that fight bacterial infection. Cow urine is effective against a vast number of pathogenic bacteria, especially gram-positive bacteria. Antimicrobial activity has also been found against some multidrug- resistance strains such as E-coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae. E-coli is one of the most frequent causes of common bacterial infections such as bacteremia, urinary tract infection, traveler’s diarrhea, neonatal meningitis and pneumonia.
Bio-enhancing properties: Cow urine also functions as a bio-enhancer of some antimicrobial drugs. A bioenhancer is an agent that enhances the bioavailability and efficacy of a drug along which it is administered, without any pharmacological action of its own. This concept is known as Yogvahi in Ayurveda. Cow urine acts as a bioenhancer of antimicrobial, antifungal, and anticancer drugs. Cow urine distillate was found to enhance the transport of antibiotics like rifampicin, tetracycline and ampicillin across the gut wall by 2-7 times. Cow urine also enhances the potency of Taxol, a cancer medication that is used to treat a number of types of cancers, against MCF-7, a human breast cancer cell line. Cow urine’s effects its bio enhancing ability by facilitating the absorption of drugs across the cell membrane. US patents (6896907, 6410059) have been granted for cow urine for its medicinal properties, particularly as a bioenhancer when it is co-administered with antibiotics, anti-fungal and anticancer drugs.
Anti-fungal properties: Cow urine contains phenolic acids which have antifungal characteristics.
Anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties: The anti-cancer effect of cow urine is related to the antioxidant property of uric acid and allantoin present in it. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. The body needs to maintain a balance between free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals are formed as natural byproducts of the body’s processes and play a role in important functions that are essential for health, such as fighting infections. Lifestyle and environmental factors such as exposure to cigarette smoke, pesticides, radiation, pollution and a diet rich in sugar, fat, processed meats and alcohol also contribute to free radical production. Free radicals are highly reactive and can easily react with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation. However, when free radicals are generated in excess of a cell’s antioxidant capacity, it results in severe damage to the DNA and cellular components such as proteins, lipids and cell membrane, eventually leading to cell death. Since DNA, lipids and proteins make up a large part of the human body, the damage caused by the free radicals can lead to a number of diseases over time, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and cancer. Oxidative stress caused by an excess of free radicals also contributes to ageing.
Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals. Cow urine has antioxidant properties and is a free radical scavenger. Hence, it neutralizes oxidative stress. The immune system produces T lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that kill cancer cells and other cells that are infected by pathogens. Cow urine delays the natural cell death in lymphocytes and helps them survive better. This action is due to the free radical scavenging activity of the urine components, and these components may prevent the process of aging. It efficiently repairs the damaged DNA.
T lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell produced by the immune system that kill cancer cells. Cow urine delays the natural cell death of these T cells and helps them survive better. This action is due to the free radical scavenging activity of the urine components (uric acid and allantoin) which neutralize oxidative stress and delay the process of ageing. (Image courtesy : JUAN GARTNER / Getty Images, Artwork of T lymphocytes attacking a cancer cell.)
The anti-cancer potential of cow urine was observed in a study conducted on 70 Swiss albino mice for 16 weeks. After tumors were induced, one group of mice were treated with cow urine and the other group was left untreated. In mice treated with cow urine, the incidence of tumor, tumor yield, and its burden was statistically less than the untreated group. Jain et al. conducted a human study to investigate the effect of cow urine therapy on various types of cancers in the Mandsaur area of Madhya Pradesh. The severity of symptoms such as pain, inflammation, burning sensation, difficulty in swallowing, and irritation decreased from day 1 to day 8 with cow urine therapy. The percentage of patients with severe symptoms decreased from 82% to about 8% on day 8. The severity of symptoms decreased further with continued cow urine therapy.
Need for personalised medical research
The above studies indicate that cow urine can potentially be used as a therapy to treat cancer. However, further research and personalised clinical studies are needed to validate its potency. Ayurveda is personalised medicine. Fundamental to Ayurveda is the understanding of the prakriti or body type of an individual, which is based on the dominant dosha. The precise dosage and time period of adminstration of medicine for each individual is based on the unique body type and lifestyle factors and requires personal consultation with an Ayurvedic expert. Clinical trials involving a large number of people with different body types treated with the same standardized formula would conflict with the basic underlying principles of Ayurveda. Hence, it is important that we recognize the personalised nature of Ayurveda and conduct research studies based on its approach.