Ayurveda is also referred to as Ayurvedic medicine. It is one of the oldest holistic healing systems. Ayurveda was originated in ancient India, at least 3000 years old and it is a natural system of medicine. Except in India Ayurveda is not yet recognized as modern medicine based on its theory and practice, but it is considered as alternative medicine. This is because the principle of Ayurveda is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on maintaining a balance between the mind, body, and spirit. To some extent, it had a religious context that is slowly becoming irrelevant in modern times.
Interestingly, Ayurveda is completely different from homeopathy which was conceived in Germany and is often controversially thought of as a psychological effect or placebo effect. The impact of low concentration of medicine used in the traditional homeopathy practice is scientifically frequently debated. Many scientists think the amount of substance used in traditional homeopathy is very low in concentration, therefore, technically it has no positive or negative effects on health.
This issue is also further become more controversial as higher dilution is considered a higher dose in homeopathy. Few scientific studies based on modern medicine and practices have argued the non-scientific nature of homeopathy as per experimental observations, which are not accepted in the homeopathy community.
However, homeopathy indeed has a very strong belief component that often encourages people to use it for the benefit of their health, especially in developing countries. The success of it is still debated, however, for serious life-threatening diseases there are no clinical data and rarely any major success is reported. On the other hand, Ayurveda is not completely based on belief. There are many components in Ayurveda which can still be measurable based on modern medicine and its tools.
A large part of Ayurvedic medicine use plant extracts such as roots, leaves, fruits, bark, or seeds, and sometimes animal extracts. Thus, Ayurveda includes the principles of natural and sustainable living. The amount and concentration used in Ayurvedic medicine have scientific significance. Hence, today when the emphasis is given on sustainable living all across the world, Ayurveda can play an important role in medicine.
As an excellent global initiative, Ayurveda Day is being celebrated around the world on November 13, 2020, to promote and preserve the health science of Ayurveda. This is a good move to go back and rediscover ancient knowledge and wisdom of India to apply in modern medicine and get benefit from it. The best possible way to achieve this would be to integrate Ayurveda with modern medicine.
However, one of the major difficulties is despite known since ancient times, not much research is being carried out to understand the effect of Ayurvedic medicine in total and collect data from modern clinical trials. Of course, one of the major reasons for not having clinical data is that Western countries rarely take interest in Ayurveda and its benefits, whereas a country like India spends a little amount of money in research to understand the molecular-level chemistry of Ayurveda and carry out a clinical assessment as needed in modern medicine.
For example, modern medicine is designed based on properties of molecules in the pure form, where both positive (cure) and negative (side effects) effects of pure component/molecule are evaluated in the clinical trials. These molecules/components are later on prescribed as a medicine to the patients. On the other hand, Ayurveda largely depends on mixtures of plant and animal extracts.
Sometimes Ayurvedic medicine is prepared as a mixture using the extract of many different plants. So, their effect on human health is considered in total. It is not known how individual components/molecules of these mixtures impact individual human organs and overall human health. This is important because there are few reports of heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead, which are known to have harmful effects on human health, found in the preparation of a few Ayurvedic medicines.
Unfortunately, so far, no extensive evaluation or database on clinical trials has been made to study the molecular characteristics of Ayurvedic medicine. It is necessary that each component or kinds of molecules present in Ayurvedic medicine should be identified and their both positive and negative effects on a particular disease should be comparatively studied.
Similarly, the mechanism of interaction of these molecules on different parts of human organs and their effect on a particular disease should be understood. Afterward, the prepared Ayurvedic mixture should be investigated as prescribed medicine and their molecular mechanism of interactions with different parts of the organs to cure the disease should be unearthed.
Though there are few reports on the positive effect (cure) of Ayurvedic medicine on human health, the only positive effect is not sufficient. Most of the Ayurvedic medicines do not report the negative effect (side effects) which is very important to understand modern medicines while prescribing it. For example, there are non-scientific reports of kidney or other organ failures by consuming Ayurvedic or herbal (Kabiraji) medicines in the countryside of India.
Heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead are linked with organ failures in modern medicine, but there is no clinical data in India. Report of the presence of arsenic, mercury, and lead more than the acceptable level in Ayurvedic medicine is based on analysis by custom or other officials in the USA and Europe for commercial consumption.
Therefore, a detailed clinical trial using modern tools and technology is needed for all Ayurvedic medicines to understand its impact better for the benefit of overall human health. Today in modern medicine lots of efforts are being given on investigating plant extract and spices towards sustainable products and for the benefit of human health, therefore, there is lots of scope in integrating Ayurveda and modern sciences and popularizing it for the benefit of human civilization.
Instead of getting emotional about Indian ancient wisdom, it is more important to understand it in the context of modern science to take the benefit from it in the best possible way for a better and healthier life.
Happy Ayurveda Day!
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Digambara Patra, M.Phil, PhD
Professor Department of Chemistry
American University of Beirut
( Images from the net )