Doctors scoff at Hindu 'health drink' containing cow urine

Production ramps up for nationwide sales in India as backers tout the juice as a tonic against cancer, diabetes and more.

KOLKATA // A Hindu supremacist group's "health drink" that contains traces of cow urine is expected to be available across India within weeks. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) announced the launch of Gauloka Peya in February, claiming the drink helps to fight diabetes and cancer and delay the ageing of skin. However, doctors have dismissed the group's claims over the medical benefits of urine from the animals that are revered by Hindus.

The drink - the name of which translates to "drink from the land of cow" - is already available in some RSS shops for 120 rupees (Dh9) per litre. Om Prakash, manager of Gau Seva Sangh (GSS), RSS's cow protection organisation that runs the main plant in Hardwar, said last week commercial-level production of the drink has already begun. He said the drink, which also contains aloe vera and gooseberries, does not smell like urine and would be "tasty".

"One bottle of the drink is going to contain about five to six millilitres of cow urine. Some other medicinal herbs have been added to it. This soft drink not only has cooling properties, but also cures a variety of diseases," Ramanuj Mishra, the officer in charge of the project's Kanpur office, said during the February launch. "Unlike other soft drinks it will have some medicinal properties and many will call it a health drink, in fact.

"It won't be like carbonated drinks and will be devoid of any toxins ... Cow urine offers a cure for around 70 to 80 incurable diseases like diabetes. All are curable by cow urine," said Mr Mishra. While his claims appear farfetched, many doctors seemed reluctant to pass judgement on the drink. The National asked three for a comment and all refused, fearing reprisals from Hindu extremists. Outside India, medical opinion appears unequivocal. Dr Donald Hensrud, chairman of the division of preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, told ABC News last year: "I think I'm perfectly comfortable in saying that I'm aware of no data that cow's urine - or any other species' urine - holds any promise ... in treating or preventing cancer."

RSS is behind many cow products or "Goratna" that are already on sale across the country. The soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, skin-care creams and aftershave lotion are made from cow urine and dung and are also claimed to have medicinal qualities. In a statement at the February announcement, the Hindu nationalist organisation said Gauloka Peya will be sold nationwide through shops and supermarkets.

"Gauloka Peya is beneficial for everybody ... Our soft drink has only benefits to offer, and we are sure people will buy it. "People in other countries may like it for its medicinal properties and so we are even thinking to export the drink," said Purushottam Toshniwal, a GSS activist in Kanpur. Only urine from Indian-bred cows will be used for the drink, and the urine will be supplied from some of the country's 1,000 or so GSS-run shelters for rescued cows, activists said.

RSS claims that ancient Hindu texts mention healing properties of cow's urine. GSS-sponsored advertisments also claim that research conducted by its scientists found that urine can cure skin diseases, kidney, liver and heart ailments, obesity and cancer and can even boost one's intelligence. GSS activists announced in June that the Gau Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra or Cow Science Research Centre, another RSS-sponsored organisation, in Nagupur received a US patent for its use of cow urine to make some antibiotics, anti-fungal agents and anti-cancer drugs more effective.

"The same extract, developed by ... Kendra had earlier got the US patent [twice] as a bio-enhancer with antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs," the Hindu right-wing weekly Organiser reported this week. Sunil Mansinghka, a Kendra scientist, told the Organiser that "the research found that Re-distilled Cow Urine Distillate (RCUD) was useful for protecting and repairing DNA from oxidative damage". RCUD works against genotoxicity, a harmful action on a cell's genetic material, Mr Mansinghka said, adding that the oxidative DNA damage is a leading cause of ageing, cancer and other diseases.

Patanjali Yogpeeth, an organisation of Indian yoga guru Baba Ramdev, is also planning a joint venture to produce a cow urine drink, newspapers reported last month. The drinks would join other urine-laced products in the Indian market. In 2002, GSS launched a range of cow urine-based cosmetics. Then at least five leading Bollywood actresses disappointed the Hindu groups by refusing to try the cosmetics.

"It's true that the cow is sacred to Hindus but that doesn't alter the fact that urine is a dirty excretion," Aishwarya Rai Bacchan, a former Miss World, said then. "The very thought of having to apply cow urine on my face or taking a urine-based medicine down my throat gives me the shivers. It is certainly not my idea of beauty and health care." Sayantan Dey, a 21-year-old medical student from Kolkata, said he did not believe the drink would be acceptable to ordinary people.

"Hindu leaders are making a terrible miscalculation if they are hoping that the cow urine drink would sell as much as Coke or Pepsi sells. I cannot take even one drop of this drink even if it is offered free to me," he said.