Science

If Cow Urine Contains Gold, Nobody Knows

Despite a study, cows are no alchemists. Extant biological knowledge does not allow for synthesis of inorganic materials like metals in a living, organic body.

Cows. Credit: zedzap/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Credit: zedzap/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

On June 28, The Times of India, and other media outlets, reported that researchers at Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU), Gujarat, had found gold particles in the urine of some cows from the Gir region of the state. This elemental analysis, undertaken with the objective of finding metabolites and toxins, was reported to have found 3-10 mg of gold per litre of cow urine, as well as 5,100 known compounds. Some 338 of these compounds have been claimed to be of ‘immense’ medicinal value, and in line with the ayurvedic descriptions.

Speaking to The Wire, K. Shankar Rao, director of the National Institute of Ayurveda, Jaipur, said that indeed many ayurvedic texts – including Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita – talk about treatment of ailments by ashtavargamutra, or eight types of urine: cow, buffalo, goat, camel, sheep, donkey, horse and human. Of them, according to Rao, cow urine is considered to be the ‘best’. He added however that there have been no classical references to the chemistry of cow urine.

On the other hand, Dr. Virendra Kumar Jain, who owns a cow-urine therapy clinic in Indore, claims otherwise. He holds a patent on formulating an herbal medicine using cow urine, and which lists ‘gold ashes’ as one of the fluid’s constituents. He said, “There is mention of presence of gold in cow products in ancient texts. In fact, the pale yellow colour in the dung, urine or milk of the cow is due to gold particles.” When asked how it was possible for gold to be found in cows, Jain answered that that’s how god intended it.

Be that as it may, cows are no alchemists. Extant biological knowledge does not allow for synthesis of inorganic materials like metals in a living, organic body. Essential metal ions like those of sodium and iron are almost always obtained through food. Suman Preet Singh Khanuja, former director of the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, a CSIR lab in Lucknow, attests to this fact. He holds a patent from 2002 that claims cow-urine distillate contains bioenhancers, which enhance the activity of antibiotics. According to him, “Inorganic compounds like metals are not synthesised in the body. It is however possible that the plants in the fodder might contain these metals, having taken them from the soil which contains inorganic materials. But in gold’s case, it is a very inert metal and is almost never obtained in soluble form in which a plant might absorb it from the soil.”

“However, some plants are known to be hyperaccumulators of metals. Among such metals are aluminium, lead, silver and platinum. Gold is not known to be one of them. If this study leads to discovery of any way in which gold can be sequestered by other compounds into living tissue, that’s great.” About separating and solidifying gold from urine samples, as the JAU study claims to have done, Khanuja said, “Gold is usually separated by precipitating it with cyanides. The process is neither economical nor safe.” Cyanide is a common poison.

These are important aspects of the JAU study that haven’t been reported – not simply by the media but even by the researchers. One of them concerns how and why gold has been found in an organic living body. If it were really through plant intake, would it not be restricted to the region of study, or applicable to all cattle animals which consume the same feed? Without a proper control group to isolate the effect of the variables – type of feed and type of animal – the results can’t be interpreted as unique to the Gir region or even of the cows.

B.A. Golakia, the head of the biotechnology and biochemistry department at JAU and the study’s leader, told The Wire that the controls used were three samples each of buffalo, goat, sheep and camel urine. Such a small set still only leaves the results inconclusive – especially considering Golakia’s team checked 400 cows over four years. He explained, “It may be possible that gold was present in these [non-cow] samples. However, it was not in a traceable quantity. Compared to the large number of samples of cow urine though, this control set is not enough and our study is ongoing in that respect.” He also added that they will be examining the samples of the fluid from multiple other goshalas.

Several researchers have refused to comment on the results of Golakia’s study because it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Until then, the study will hold little significance.