cow licks her lips off with her tongue far out and a blue sky background

Clara Bastian/ShutterStock (Licensed)

Cow pee drinkers are becoming social media stars in India—and pushing dangerous claims

The science is thin, but the hype is real.

 

Shweta Desai

Tech

Sanjay Singh proudly claims to be one of the only athletes in the world to build his muscular frame on a rigorous diet of cow excreta. Two liters of fresh gaumutra (cow urine), four liters of milk, and a concoction of panchagavya consisting of cow derivatives: milk, curd, ghee, urine, and a generous dose of dung extract.

The national bodybuilding champion, from Haryana in northern India, claimed he gave up on the regular meal of bread, vegetables, and rice in favor of a liquid-based dairy diet and cow urine—that he supplements with fruit—at the age of eight when he embraced the lifestyle of a celibate to become a wrestler. 

“My food and steadfast strength come from the blessings of our holy cow. If you inject my veins, my body will ooze gaumutra instead of blood,” the 25-year-old jokingly said in an interview to Daily Dot. 

Singh’s Facebook is a window into the unique but bizarre diet for his 150,000 followers. One such clip posted last August, showed him lapping a mouthful of the freshly streamed cow urine.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2125188304309789

If Americans are obsessed with fermented kombucha for its purported health benefits, a vast segment of Hindus unflinchingly believe in gaumutra as a cure for all ailments. Despite scientific evidence showing cow urine to be unfit for direct human consumption, a growing number of bovine devotees like Singh are taking to social media platforms to promote waste as an organic, cheap, and effective elixir.

Hindus have religiously consumed cow urine for millennia. Ancient Indian texts including the natural medicine system of Ayurveda mention cow urine as a medicinal substance for curing diseases like leprosy, asthma, liver and kidney disorders, and a variety of infections. 

But in ancient wisdom, some see a social media gold mine. 

Among the most popular faces promoting gaumutra is Baba Ramdev, India’s biggest yoga guru and co-founder of Patanjali Ayurved, a $460 million herbal wellness and food brand with a somewhat dubious reputation

Ramdev has been called out on numerous occasions for making misleading claims, but that has not deterred him from pushing gaumutra to his 11 million Facebook fans and 9.83 million YouTube subscribers.

“Distilled cow urine purifies the entire body … it can even treat cancer,” he said in a Facebook video listing 10 “miraculous” benefits of consuming cow urine. “Drink four spoonfuls daily, if you can’t then just start with a drop to detoxify your body,” he confidently told followers in another video.  

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2708804135921266

Other influencers with massive followings have also been preaching about cow urine. Acharya Kaushik ji Maharaj, who has close to 695,000 subscribers on YouTube and 438,000 on Facebook, recommended pregnant women take a weekly dose of distilled cow urine from the second to third trimester to deliver a healthy child. 

The Facebook page of Asharam Bapu, who was convicted in January for raping a disciple, encourages his 79,000 followers to drink cow urine for dental health, sharp memory, and smooth hair. 

The videos received millions of views, with many users expressing gratitude in the comments section. But a surge in medical-related misinformation laced with religious themes has the potential to be lethal to public health, experts say.

“Health misinformation can be particularly harmful if it reduces trust in science and vaccines and increases trust in non-scientific and alternative medicine,” said Sumitra Badrinathan, an assistant professor of political science at American University who studies misinformation in developing countries.

According to her, people fall prey to such misinformation easily due to psychological factors like confirmation bias.

“We are wired to believe information that confirms what we already know.”

And in India, the blind obsession of Indians in religious gurus who promise miraculous solutions for their sufferings has increased in the past decade, alongside the rise of the Hindu Nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) party.

The religious seal of Hinduism lends further legitimacy to and brings mass acceptance of treatments touted as natural and derived from ancient knowledge, said Dr. Sunil Kumar, a gastro-physician from Delhi. 

Kumar routinely shares his no-nonsense, scientific takes on his YouTube channel, “Dr. Kumar’s Education Clinic” where he has nearly 529,000 subscribers and debunks popular beliefs and myths.

“Those selling cow urine as holy medicine either want to make quick money, misguide people, or become famous,” he surmised.

But as BJP revived pride in ancient Indian history and traditions like yoga and pushed for the restoration of temples as essential parts of the Hindu religion, it’s also helped increase faith in cows as medical healers.

Among the sea of wild claims is a viral “experiment” that causes a dark red solution of water and an antiseptic to turn colorless when mixed with gaumutra, demonstrating the power of cow urine in purifying “poisons” from the body. 

BJP lawmakers themselves believe. One credited her cancer remission to regular consumption of cow urine; another claimed massaging cows can cure breathing troubles. 

During COVID-19, several leaders held gaumutra drinking parties to boost immunity.  

“Urine is a liquid waste discharged by the body. No urine is holy, whether it is of cow, buffalo, dog or human,” epidemiologist Dr. Bhoj Raj Singh, at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), told Daily Dot. He insisted the clean bowel movement that can be induced after consuming cow urine, which routine drinkers praise, is a toxic effect that can be harmful in certain cases. 

His latest study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Infectious Diseases Research in November. It revealed the presence of at least 14 types of harmful bacteria in cow urine samples, which can cause nausea, gastroenteritis, vomiting, and debilitating diarrhea. 

These facts have hardly changed the mind of Ekram Singh, 46, who began drinking gaumutra, influenced by wrestler Sanjay Singh’s antics. 

“One has to see the miracle to believe in it, and after seeing Singh live perform 30,000 push-ups, I am convinced in the power of gaumutra,” the shopkeeper in Rajasthan’s Bhiwadi city told the Daily Dot. Singh said that since he started to drink cow urine, his skin allergies and sinus issues disappeared.

The IVRI study has divided Hindus. Believers accused the scientists of botching the results of the study by including foreign-bred Jersey cows and buffaloes in the sample size. Others charged that they are slaves to the western pharmaceutical-industrial complex.  

Those claims have helped build an industry of alternative medicine and dubious claims online.

“Everyone knows the urine of foreign Jersey cows is poisonous and harmful. Only the urine of bos indicus breeds, which is indigenous to India and identified by the trademark humpback, is sacred like amrit (divine nectar),” Dr. Rakesh Chandra Agarwal, an alternate medicine practitioner from Rajasthan, explained in an interview to Daily Dot. 

Agarwal, whose video on YouTube describes the advantages of gaumutra and clocked over 1.9 million views, advised drinking 30 milliliters of fresh urine of country-reared cows within 15 minutes after its excretion. He and his family members are regular consumers of gaumutra, but confessed that its overpowering smell and bitter taste is not for everyone.

For the reluctant, he has patented an odorless and flavored distillate, called Sanjeevani cowpathy, which he says offers the goodness of gaumutra without the unpleasant aftertaste.  

A laboratory test conducted by Agarwal on the urine of bos indicus cows, shared with Daily Dot, claims pee to be enriched with immunity-boosting minerals, the anti-cancer enzyme urokinase (found in all kinds of urine), and even gold and silver particles.

The controversial findings on golden liquid have been concurred by several Indian researchers, findings that may be biased given the government’s push for proof of cow urine’s validity as a cure-all.  

Dr. Riddhi Shukla, a pharmaceutical scientist at Saurashtra University, Gujarat, believes it is because the genetic build of bos indicus is different from other breeds. 

“The filters in its kidney prevents the passing of harmful and heavy elements, which is why the urine has medicinal values,” she explained.

Shukla, at least, accepts that fresh cow urine is harmful for human consumption but also believes processing the “high anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory components” in the urine can aid in the treatment of diabetes. Her formula of the indigenous breed of Gir cow’s urine and a secret herb, has, she said, shown encouraging results in pre-clinical studies conducted of patients with Type 2 diabetes.

But this information on cow urine is entirely being spread by “doctors,” who despite credentials, are practicing alternative medicines, not clinical physicians with a medical degree, said Dr. Kumar. All urine is acidic, and consuming it especially when the body is diseased can be extremely dangerous, he added.

“It acts as a slow poison.”

The hysteria around cow urine has caused a steep rise in the price of a product that otherwise would be discharged into the grass. On average, a bottle of fresh gaumutra sells for between $2-3 a liter, whereas fresh milk, which contains actual nutrients, is available for less than a dollar a liter.

But in the poorly regulated Ayurveda industry, there is no way to ascertain if the urine has pathogens or is from a diseased cow, making something that’s already bad for a person potentially profoundly worse.

“We are rearing cows not for milk or meat but for political votes, to bamboozle people in the name of religion,” the IVRI’s Dr. Singh said.

But comments like that don’t deter most influencers. 

Wrestler Singh is preparing for a nationwide campaign in November to demand cow be declared as a national animal of the country, alongside the endangered tiger.

“Gaumutra’s glory is greater than even biological mother. A human mother provides milk for her newborn baby for a year, but a cow gives milk and urine for all of us our entire lifetime.”

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