An Angus calf on grazing lands.
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Though it may never move into the mainstream, an alternative medicine promoted by a Hindu group in India is getting some attention: cow urine as a treatment for numerous diseases, including cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis.
But not any old cow urine will do, according to the followers of the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sect — only the urine collected from a female virgin cow will suffice, and it's best when collected before dawn.
"Cow urine offers a cure for around 70 to 80 incurable diseases like diabetes," Om Prakash, of the RSS Cow Protection Department, told Reuters. "All are curable by cow urine." [7 Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe]
Cow urine soda?
Though Westerners may find the practice surprising — if not outright disgusting — the therapeutic use of cow urine has a long history in India, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient health care tradition that has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years.
For people who would rather not drink their cow urine straight, the RSS has developed a cow-urine-based soft drink called Gomutra Ark. The drink is promoted as a "healthy" alternative to Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other soft drinks, which are seen as part of a wider problem resulting from corrupt Western influences.
"We refer to gau ark (cow urine) as gau jal (cow water), as it has immense potential to cure various diseases," Prakash told The Telegraph. "We have developed a soft-drink formula with gau jal as the base."
Science weighs in
Health experts, however, are less enthusiastic about the health benefits of drinking cow urine, especially when anti-cancer properties are claimed. "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," Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic told ABC News.
Nonetheless, the product has been studied by a handful of researchers. A 2012 study published in the journal Ancient Science of Life suggested rats with diabetes that were fed Gomutra Ark had significantly lower blood glucose levels than rats in a control group did. "This study supports the traditional use of Gomutra Ark in diabetes," the researchers wrote, noting that it has a "high therapeutic index and is safe for chronic use."
And a 2013 study in the International Brazilian Journal of Urology claimed that distilled cow urine might help to prevent the development of kidney stones in rats.
However, these and other studies may not convince skeptics to start drinking urine anytime soon, even if it is part of a tasty soft drink.
"Just trust me on this — this drink really will require flavoring," Keith-Thomas Ayoob, nutritionist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told ABC News. "If they use sugar or a caloric sweetener, then the world probably doesn't need another drink that's just a source of sugar calories, although this drink will probably have its 15 minutes [of fame] because of its novelty."