Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What’s behind animal-derived nutritional supplements

It's best to make informed decisions before picking up a nutritional supplement

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Times Wellness on Wednesday, March 23, 2011   

Gone are the days when supplementing your diet meant popping a multivitamin pill. The shelves of health stores are now stacked with a wide range of nutritional supplements that offer relief for all kinds of aches and ailments – from Aloe vera juice to oxygen-releasing phytochemicals sourced from seaweed that grows along the New Zealand coast to the rare yarsagumba herb that grows only in the 3,500m-Himalayan meadows. And not all of them are ‘herbal’. Animal-derived nutritional supplements are making inroads into India’s Rs 5000 crore-plus nutraceutical market. We take a look at some of these rare (and even bizarre) ‘drugs’:

Urine turns elixir!

Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai may have enjoyed the quirky practice of drinking his own urine to maintain his health but a 2007 study cited in the International Journal of Green Pharmacy suggests the use of cow urine therapy help a wide range of patients including those who suffer from cancer. Researchers of the Department of Pharmacology at the B R Nahata College of Pharmacy in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh studied 68 cancer patients who were asked to drink cow urine (Gomuthra) daily. The patients showed a significant degree of reduction of severe symptoms (pain, inflammation, burning sensation, difficulty in swallowing, irritation, etc) by the eighth day of therapy.

The therapeutic aspects of cow urine are often attributed to the anti-bacterial urea and uric acid and vitamins A, B, C, D and E it contains, along with bioactive growth factors and enzymes such as urokinase.

Available forms: While the idea of drinking urine straight from the cow is repulsive, you can opt for cow urine tablets (Ghanavati) and filtered urine in bottles. The ISKCON-run Bhaktivedanta Swami Goshala and Gardens at Vrindavan near Mathura has even come up with a brand of distilled cow urine called Go-Ark that claims to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce body fat!

Side-effects: Cow’s urine can also be a source of infectious diseases, especially leptospirosis that can spread through oral mucosa

Milking the benefits

Bovine colostrum, the pre-milk fluid produced by cow mammary glands during the first few days after giving birth delivers growth, nutrient, and immune factors to newborn calves. While humans have traditionally used it to treat eye conditions and improve oral health, it became popular as ‘Muscle Milk’ for bodybuilders because it is believed to increase lean muscle mass. It is now more commonly used as an immunity-booster.

“I have been taking four colostrum capsules daily for the past three months and I have seen a spike in my energy levels,” Vadodara-based Jyoti Modi. She says the tablets contain 90 ingredients including proteins, enzymes, vitamins, interferons, immunoglobulins, insulin-like growth factors and nerve growth factors that provide protection against viral, bacterial and fungal infections, alleviate aches and pains and accelerates healing. “Initially, I was skeptical of the benefits they claim to offer. So I got them tested for steroids and harmful chemicals. When the tests came negative, I decided to try them out.” It is often recommended for conditions such as rheumatism and cancer. Manoj Kanabra, a distributor of the Immurich cow colostrum capsules, that are manufactured in California and marketed in India by Satara-based Dhanwantari Distributors, narrates how his bedridden father, who was not expected to live for more than a few months, walked out of the ICU after being administered cow colostrum capsules. “This is better than any medicine. It does not contain any steroids and is purer than milk,” he says.

Available forms: While the liquid natural form may be a fuller option, it is not always readily available. Bovine colostrum is also available in the form of tablets, capsules and lozenges. The dosage could vary from three tablets for a normal person to up to 12 tablets for a cancer patient.

Side-effects: While it appears to be safe, long term use of colostrum may induce anxiety, logorrhea (pathologically incoherent, repetitive speech), constipation and insomnia. Further studies are required before strong recommendations for colostrum can be made for pharmacological purposes. People who are allergic to dairy products should avoid colostrum supplements.

Sea shells for bone health

In order to combat the threat of post-menopausal osteoporosis, many middle-aged women start supplementing their diet with calcium. The most common form of calcium available in the market is calcium carbonate, derived from dolomite (limestone), oyster shells, bone meal (mixture of crushed and coarsely ground bones) or corals.

Calcium carbonate provides 40 per cent elemental calcium, meaning that a 1,250mg of calcium carbonate yields 500mg of elemental calcium. It is best taken with meals to be properly absorbed.

Available forms: Pills, capsules and syrups

Side-effects: Nainja Kapoor, senior nutritionist and wellness manager at DietWell Diet and Nutrition Centre, New Delhi, warns, “Oyster shell calcium supplements can contain some traces of heavy metal or lead. Also, it is basically calcium carbonate, which requires the stomach to produce extra acid for better absorption. Patients who are taking stomach acid-blocking medicines should not take this supplement as it can cause heartburn, nausea, loss of appetite, constipation, weakness, headache and fainting. Calcium citrate is the best form of calcium as it is easily absorbed into the body with no side effects. But very few people are aware of this fact.”


Collagen is the most abundant form of natural protein found in cartilage, muscle, ligaments, tendons, and bones. Collagen gives the skin its structure, making it look youthful and healthy. Little wonder, collagen supplements have now become a staple of India’s growing cosmetic industry.

Available forms: Pills, creams and injections

Side-effects: Oral collagen supplements pose a danger to those who have food sensitivities. Collagen injections may also cause allergic reactions. People with autoimmune disorders (such as herpes simplex) can expect a flare-up as the body reacts to the foreign substance. Kapoor notes, “Hydrolysed collagen is usually derived from the cattle. If the collagen is derived from cows with Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, then humans who use it may suffer from the rare and fatal neurological disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.”

While many nutritional supplements can be bought over-the-counter at a chemist’s, consult a doctor/nutritionist before you take any of them. Different people react differently to different drugs.

And the old favourite...

One of the oldest and most popular animal-derived nutritional supplements, cod liver oil is used widely to ease the symptoms of arthritis and prevent rickets caused due to deficiency of vitamin D. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease the risk of cardiovascular disorders and help increase high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, improve blood circulation and increase immunity.

Traditionally manufactured by filling a wooden barrel with fresh cod livers and seawater and allowing the mixture to ferment for up to a year before removing the oil, modern cod liver oil is made by cooking the whole cod body tissues of fatty fish during the manufacture of fish meal.

While it has many benefits, cod liver oil can induce side-effects such as vitamin poisoning, heart burn, indigestion, nose bleeds and bloating. Over dosage can lead to blurred vision, softening of the skull bone and double vision in children, impotence and gynaecomastia (abnormal development of large mammary glands in males).


Anonymous said...

Interesting article, thanks! I take pig thyroid, thymic protein from a cloned calf, and bovine adrenal supplement... all this because of health conditions--I don't even eat red meat!

Aashessh Gupta said...

nice blog !! i was looking for blogs related of animal supplements . then i found this blog, this is really nice and interested to read. thanks to author for sharing this type of information.