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Do you believe in Ayurveda?

Ayurveda may be the worlds most ancient system of medicine and healing, but its revival in the 21st century will depend on whether the system can have state-of-the-art research and development facilities. With multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies giving Ayurveda tough competition, Ayurvedic drugs will have to meet stringent quality standards to gain acceptance

In an editorial published in The Times of India (September 20, 2008 edition), it was stated, "India has an unsavoury reputation as manufacturer of spurious drugs. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry has said that as much as 20 to 25 per cent of drugs available in the market could be spurious. The spurious drugs market is supposed to be worth Rs 15000 crore". Ayurveda—the most popular treatment system in India today is sick as is evident from the above statement. Drugs are a problem not just in India but other countries too. It is said that the fourth major cause of death in the United States of America is the adverse drug reaction and people are in search of either an alternate therapy or foods that can cure or prevent a disease. Some people believe that empiricism and intuitional concepts in science like Ayurveda are not scientific. Critics of Allopathy, however, say that unlike Ayurveda, Allopathy does not have any concept of origin of life on earth and it has multinational drug companies and sophisticated machinery as its lifeline. Processes like by-pass surgeries and knee-replacement procedures are a very expensive way of treatment that not everybody can afford. Another thing that goes against Allopathy is that natural drug products are largely substituted by synthetic ones and are considered more adverse in side effects. The drug delivery systems are also undergoing a big change.

The hoary science that is Ayurveda

The traditional system that is Ayurveda was at its most popular in the 3rd and 4th century BC and then from 5th BC to 5th AD and thereafter suffered a setback under the Islamic and the British rule who tried to promote their own systems (Unani and Allopathic). There are several examples in the scriptures of Yajurveda about advanced surgical performances and also in the period of Mahabharata, about the surgical fete of a female surgeon Jara who had given life to Jarasandha by joining two halves of a child. All the surgical equipments used in Ayurvedic surgery have got place in the modern system of surgery. Even the use of leeches, snake poison and other such Ayurvedic techniques are attracting the attention of modern medical researches.

The Ayurvedic system has a philosophical concept of origin of life on earth and intuitional science laid the foundation of basic factors that govern health and disease and a happy mental condition. These were the pancha bhutas (ether, air, fire, water, earth), the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) and the seven dhatus (Rasa, Rakta, Maans, Majja, Asthi, Shukra and Oja). The three bodies—sthula, suksma and causal are yogic secrets of life and then the mind also has different layers of functioning. Throughout the long years of its neglect in India, the Ayurvedic system still managed to retain its popularity and influence in the rural areas, where seventy percent of the population uses medicinal herbs as food and as a cure for various ailments. Ayurveda is a way of preventive as well as curative medicine for them. It becomes especially important as a majority of Indias rural population who cannot afford costly Allopathy treatment.

Bringing Ayurveda to the fore

If there is one man who has brought yoga and Ayurved back into popular fashion, it is Swami Ramdev who has his headquarters in Hardwar, Uttarakhand. It is said that over 85 million people follow his yoga camps via TV channels, and video. Apart from yoga, Swami Ramdevs Divya Yog Mandir (Trust) also manufactures Ayurvedic drugs. The Trusts Department of Drug Development and Clinical Research seeks to standardize Ayurvedic products and exercise quality control. Swami Ramdevs Department of Drug Development aims to do “extensive research in new traditional drug development and their safety and efficacy trials on animals and human subjects”. Swami Ramdevs online shop offers various kinds of Ayurvedic drugs that are categorized as “bhasmas”, “choorna”, “guggulu”, “ras”, “vati”, and patented medicines.

Despite Ayurveda being one of the most ancient forms of healing, not enough research and development has been done to keep the system alive. If one looks at the problem, one can see that there are multiple reasons for this. One is that the education system in India has not blended Ayurveda education with knowledge of other streams of treatment. If modern surgery, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and pharmacognosy are included in Ayurveda courses, Ayurved practitioners would have much more well-rounded professional education. The Ayurvedic drug industry also has not kept pace with modern-day research and development. In todays time when strict drug manufacturing standards are prevalent, Ayurvedic drugs sometimes fail to measure up to the benchmark. This problem includes unscientific harvest, handling and storage of drugs. Natural drug resources have been exploited negatively and this has affected the Ayurvedic drug quality over the years.

We often hear news of Ayurvedic drugs being adulterated. This has shown Ayurveda in very poor light. For instance, Viabringa is a commercial drug constituent of many drugs, and is obtained from Embelia ribes but it is frequently adulterated with Embelia robusta, Myrsine Africana, Mallotus philippinensis and so on.

What is health?

Health is a state of body and mind where three doshas—vata, pitta and kapha, are in a balanced state, there is a balanced energy system in digestion and else where in the body there is a balanced development of all the seven dhatus (Rasa, Rakta, Mansa, Majja, Asthi, Shukra and Ojas) and proper excretions at appropriate times, and where sense organs, the mind and the soul have a sense of happiness and satiation.

  • Mental health is based on three factors - Satva, Raja and Tama where the satvic state of mind is considered best and the tamsic state is full of dullness and highly disturbed.
    The three basic principles of health are Ahar (Food), Achar (disciplined life) and Vihar (the moderate interactions with the environment).

Ahar (Food): should be balanced in nutrition, saatvic: consisting of whole grains, fruits vegetables and cow milk and milk products in moderate quantities, tasty with some spices and in accordance to senses and in moderate quantities.

Achar: The entire conduct of humanbeings in daily life must be disciplined and regulated according to the natural laws.

Vihar: It refers to the interactions with the surroundings constituted of human society, animal world, air, water, earth and plant life. These must be respected and in no case be abused. Excessive use would have fatal consequences.

Unique Rasayan therapy and Rasayanas: A Rasayan is that which keeps the bodys immune system strong and acts as an antioxidant so as to delay the aging process. A number of herbal products such as Amla, Harar, Giloy, Ashwangandha are actually rasayan drugs. Non-herbal products such as gold, silver, iron etc. are also considered rasayan drugs.

Use of poisonous drugs: There are several poisonous drugs in use in the Ayurvedic system but before they are put to use, these are detoxified with a prescribed system.

Use of Bhasmas (metallic ashes): The metals are treated with various herbal drugs to convert them into oxidized form for use as medicine. The metal molecules are bio-coated in this system and have higher bioavailability and activity.

Ashava and Arista drugs: These are the drugs which have been given alcoholic base through the process of fermentation but without distillation.

Plant drugs have to be identified correctly. In ancient times, the education was imparted in the Gurukulas which were located in forest lands, away from habitation. Here, teachers had ample opportunity to provide practical education. In due course, teachers, students and practitioners lost track of practical experience and all their subsequent writings were confused. The old system of nadivigyan was intuitional and is least used now. It could do with electronically developed software support so that it can be used easily.

Also, the empirical knowledge on the use of various diets and ethno-botanical information on plant drugs is being lost at a fast pace because of non-use and so must be collected and preserved on a priority basis.

Dr BD Sharma

The author is ex-Principal S cientist of National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBGPR). He has published 130 research papers and has authored the book “Plant Genetic Resources of Western Himalaya”

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