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A travesty of Science - II

Prime Minister Morarji Desai used to drink (and prescribe to others) a glass of his own urine every morning. Minister for Science and Technology Murli Manohar Joshi is enthusiastic about cow urine. However, the only urine of any established medical use is pregnant mare’s, writes Md Zeyaul Haque

M. Zeyaul HaqueSome years ago Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Aushdhalaya prepared a concoction called Amrit Kalash. It was touted as a cure-all, a panacea for a range of diseases, including heart disease. Like Dr Joshi’s "pure cow urine," it had the supposed sanction of the US medical establishment. The drug promoters cited the laudatory remarks of a white doctor who was supposed to be a great expert on such matters. Of course, the support of Dr Deepak Chopra MD, who promotes the brand of medicine in the US Dr Mosaraf Ali does in the UK -- that is, traditional mumbo jumbo mixed with modern medical and diagnostic practices.

Soon the medical fraternity got up and took note. Quite a few doctors warned unsuspecting people using this preparation to "cure" different heart problems to stop digging their own grave (or making their own funeral pyre, as the case may be). They were told that the Maharishi product ran counter to the fundamental principles of cardiology. Saturated fats are poison to people suffering from heart disease, but Amrit Kalash was virtually a halwa made of, among other things, rich "pure ghee," saturated in saturated fats. However, before the cardios could do anything about it, a lot of heart patients in India had consumed a lot of Amrit Kalash. Nobody has bothered to know the consequences.

Happily, the promoters are no longer pushing it as a cure for heart disease. In any case, today’s patients know better. It must be kept in mind before believing the tall claims of alternative medicine peddlers that none of them would go to a vaid or hakim if he has a heart attack or a cerebral stroke (both of them having identical physiological and biochemical bases, the only difference being the sight of the event).

Without a thought the alternative medicine peddlers would rush to the intensive care unit of a modern hospital, where none of the traditional medicines are allowed. If it is the case, then why do they treat others worse than guinea pigs? Go and ask one of them.

The drastic reduction in heart attacks, cerebral strokes and number of deaths in advanced nations has come not from eating ghee, but through avoiding fats. Blood fat reducing drugs have kept the problem within manageable limits. Betablockers and AC blockers have fought back impending health disasters. A range of modern pharmaceutical products have kept blood pressure under control to avert a major problems. None of this array of drugs is the product of traditional medicine.

Ask the peddlers of traditional gimmicks (sometimes only marginally better than witchcraft and faith healing) what role they have played in drastically reducing death rate over the last fifty years and increasing life expectancy by one-third (that is phenomenal in terms of human life, to which even a day’s addition is significant). The plain answer is that they have played no role.

Who eradicated small pox? Who controlled TB? Who nearly wiped out malaria? Who has controlled cholera and plague? Who has drastically reduced number of deaths from cancer? Who has prevented millions of deaths every year from epidemics? Modern medicine, and modern medicine alone. Anyone trying to tamper with modern medicine (like trying to mix cow urine with Taxol and Rifampicine without sufficient research) is doing great disservice to advance of medical knowledge and promotion of human happiness and well being.

Religion and medicine don’t mix. Drinking cow urine as a religious ritual is OK. It could very well have some "therapeutic" effects, too. Already there are millions of plants and minerals, animal derivatives and other curiosities which are supposed to have "healing" effects. We have ayurveda, Unani medicine, Tibetan medicine, Siddha, different kinds of tribal and folk medicine and other healing practices like yoga, acupuncture and acupressure, to name just a few.

There are millions of herbs and bacterial spores with potential pharmaceutical value. It would take thousands of years to develop modern pharmaceuticals from even a tiny fraction of this great untapped source. However, nobody for a moment should have the temerity of mixing any of these millions of potential sources of pharmaceuticals with modern medicinal products (as Dr Joshi and his scientists have done) and tom-tom it as a discovery. Also, nobody practising alternative medicine should delude himself or herself that his or her particular brand of medicine has the scientific validity of modern medicine.

It is interesting to note here that one of our prime ministers, Morarji Desai, believed in the therapeutic and prophylactic qualities of his own urine, which he religiously drank every morning. Being a matter of personal belief, he was entitled to have it. However, he propagated this belief with missionary zeal. One of the high-profile converts was film actor Prem Nath. Another crypto-believer was Morarji’s health minister Raj Narain, according to the media grapevine. The fad seems to have abated with Morarji’s death. However, to his (and Raj Narain’s) credit, the government did not try to peddle it as mainstream medicine.

Unfortunately, Dr Joshi has taken the cow urine to a different plane -- seeking to confer (prematurely, of course) scientific validity on it in a very unconventional manner.

Despite Desai and Joshi’s proclivities, so far there is nothing in modern medicine to suggest that these two types of urine -- human and bovine -- have any confirmed therapeutic value. The only urine of any therapeutic value is pregnant mare’s urine, the source of the most widely prescribed drug in the US, Premarin.

This drug, produced by Wyeth-Ayerst Pharmaceuticals is not only the number one among all prescribed drugs in the US, it is also among the most extensively used drugs worldwide.

It is the estrogen isolated from pregnant mare’s urine and is different from human estrogen. However, its advantage lies in its getting converted into human estrogen after consumption. Taken in tablet form, it relieves the usual distresses of menopausal women like hot flashes (sudden heating of face, neck, back or extremities and sweating), calcium depletion (osteoporosis) and onset of heart disease. It also relieves unexplained anxieties among such women.

Hundreds of millions of women use this drug worldwide after simple scanning for uterus and breast cancer, liver function and heart condition. The drug has radically improved the quality of life of hundreds of millions of women worldwide. And yes, it is not just the "distillate" of urine as Dr Joshi’s scientists’ formula is. The product is far more sophisticated and the amount of money spent on research over the last 60 years on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is astronomical. Premarin (and other similar modern drugs) are part of HRT.

What we need today is real medical science research of Premarin type, not the cheap gimmickry that is being promoted by Dr Joshi. (To be continued) 

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