Cowabunga! Can Cow Therapy Cure Cancer?

A hospital in India offers to cure cancer in 11 days with Ayurveda and cow therapy, giving patients a drink of desi cow milk, yogurt, ghee, urine, and dung. It’s very unlikely that cow therapy can cure cancer; but in another sense, the author of the book Holy Cancer says it “healed” him.

Desi cows

Desi cows

You have probably heard of urine therapy and pet therapy. You may even have heard of train track therapy. But have you ever heard of cow therapy for cancer? You can read about it in this book: Holy Cancer: How a Cow Saved My Life, by Amit Vaidya.

Vaidya was living in the US when he developed cancer, gastric adenocarcinoma. Chemotherapy put him into remission, but it recurred. Despite more chemotherapy, radiation, and a clinical trial, he had metastases to the lungs, liver, and spine and was given 6 months to live. He returned to India to visit his relatives and to “perhaps have other treatment options.”

Although he got the best conventional cancer treatments, he was open to natural and alternative treatments to help with side effects. He had already tried acupuncture and supplements (neem, tulsi) with some success. Once back in India, he adopted the practice ofkunjal kriya, drinking a quart and a half of warm water in the morning on an empty stomach and vomiting it all out. He says, “The science behind the act was to remove all the old mucus and waste from the bottom of the stomach to cleanse the stomach, esophagus, and lungs.” He thought it was helping.

A relative showed him an article about a cancer hospital that claimed to cure cancer in 11 days with Ayurveda and “cowpathy” for one rupee (equivalent to less than 2 cents). It was the Laxmiprasad Cancer Hospital, a Jain institution. Patients were required to bring their own caregiver, but Vaidya managed to get around that requirement.

The hospital kept desi cows, an Indian variety, on its grounds. The main component of cow therapy was Panchgavya, a drink composed of five ingredients:

  1. Desi cow milk
  2. Desi cow yogurt
  3. Desi cow ghee
  4. Desi cow urine
  5. Desi cow dung

After drinking this in the morning and struggling to keep it down, he was given 12 Ayurvedic pills and two syrup solutions. The Panchgavya drink was repeated in the afternoon. At mid-morning he was given a drink with neem, holy basil, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon, along with other undisclosed ingredients.

The hospital provided a strict Jain diet, vegetarian with no root vegetables such as potatoes, garlic, and onions. The food was organic, macrobiotic and gluten-free; only seasonal fruits were permitted. He thought he detected the smell of medicine mixed into the food.

Twice daily, he coated all his tumor areas with fresh cow dung and stood in the sun until it dried. There was meditation, spiritual instruction, yoga, breathing exercises, assemblies with singing, and medicated massage. A staff member offered additional office hours for energy healing, one-on-one meditation, crystal therapy, and conversational spiritual counselling. The final treatment of the day was a glass of desi cow milk with ghee. The day’s activities and treatments were regulated with military precision.

Patients were encouraged to purchase coupons for food to feed the cows. The personal interaction with cows was said to provide blessings. When a cow licked his palm, the previously numb palm “felt alive again.” He really liked the cows and felt a connection to them.

He developed relationships with other patients and felt a sense of comfort and love. There were no side effects except that some patients developed diarrhea. After the 11-day course, he felt some improvement in his neuropathy and he had more energy. He went back for a second 11-day course.

After the hospital stay, patients were encouraged to stay in the area and continue the treatment on their own for two years. He ended up moving into a rudimentary shack in a tiny village where he had access to desi cows and where the community embraced him and became his family. They gave him far more love and support than his own relatives had. He had been very overweight, but on the restricted diet he lost all the excess weight. His level of physical activity increased to where he was jogging regularly. He visited the desi cows daily; he massaged them and talked to them, one in particular. He kept in touch with patients he had met in the hospital; most of them died. He continued to get scans to monitor his metastases: some of them vanished and other shrank.

Eventually he left the village and returned to a big city, where he found “an organic path of sharing knowledge and becoming a fulltime wellness empowerer.” He founded the Healing Vaidya Foundation. He doesn’t recommend any specific treatment to others, but encourages them to find their own path. He says, “I’m alive because of faith, routine, discipline, humanity money, chemotherapy, cow therapy, radiation, friends, family, strangers, villages, cows…the list is endless”.

What really happened?

He doesn’t provide enough medical details to understand the course of his cancer. He doesn’t claim that the cows cured him, and there are other possible explanations. Early in the book he mentions taking cancer medications every three weeks and continuing to take a trial drug that he was committed to for life. It’s not clear when he stopped those drugs. It would be fascinating to read a detailed case history from his American oncologists and to hear what they thought. Was the regression of his metastases spontaneous? Was it due to the earlier chemotherapy and the clinical trial? Was his sense of wellbeing largely due to his diet, exercise, and weight loss? There is no way to know. It seems very unlikely that the cows had any direct therapeutic effect. The hospital’s promise to cure cancer is clearly false, since most of its patients died.

We can laugh and/or learn

Some of the things he tried were laugh-out-loud funny. Imagine a hospital that makes patients drink cow dung and coat themselves with it in the belief that it will cure cancer! What will alternative medicine come up with next? We can laugh at the treatments, but we mustn’t laugh at the patients. They were grasping at the last straw of hope. They were desperate and vulnerable and believed that the “experts” at the hospital knew what they were doing.

The subject cries out for cow jokes and puns. Calf you heifer herd such udder bull? What do you call a cow who has recently lost a lot of weight? De-calf-inated.

We can laugh at the silliness, but we can also learn much from Vaidya’s experience. His story is not about cows curing cancer. It is:

…a memoir about a journey of letting go, finding peace, facing realities and developing the grace to accept love, whoever it comes from. The book is about my discovery of an organic way of life in which treatment becomes secondary to a continuous process of healing in a physical as well as emotional sense.

He says,

As much as desi cows were integral to saving my life, so too was the land, the trees, the plants, the soil, the air, the water and the entire eco-system that relies on this preservation. There were people too who I met along this journey. And it was my own discovery of who I am and who I can be in engaging with these varieties in nature and not limited to a hospital or a doctor.

Conclusion: Wisdom, not cows

Conventional oncology has three main goals:

  1. Eliminate cancer
  2. Prevent recurrence
  3. Manage symptoms

Sometimes we lose sight of another important goal: to maximize quality of life. It makes sense to think in terms of health, rather than just to fixate on disease. Vaidya doesn’t claim cows cured his cancer; he says they saved his life in quite another sense. They helped him re-orient his thinking, adopt a healthier life style, and appreciate life. There is a kind of healing that doesn’t involve curing the disease.

Vaidya’s mother taught him:

…no matter what adversity we face in life, end the day living it to the fullest, going to sleep at night thankful for that day and literally being at peace if that were to be the last day of my life.

There is wisdom in those words.

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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