Ayurveda- Prevailing Myths and Prejudices

" Ayurveda- “The Indian System of Medicine” was developed, polished and enriched by knowledge accrued from centuries. With a rich history filled with highs and lows over the years, Ayurveda, as a medical system, is gaining a lot of ground today in the modern scientific world. However, the myths and prejudices pertaining to the Ayurvedic system of medicine precede the actual facts. Many ideas about Ayurveda in the common man’s mind are far from reality. Let’s flash a light into a few of them. "

Ayurveda – It’s slow and meant for Old age?

mytPeople believe that Ayurvedic treatments are meant for those who have time at their discretion. In Ayurvedic terms, either the medicines directly act on the disease, or it helps support the body to cure the disease by itself by balancing the tridoshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha). Both are needed in the treatment of diseases. The medicines that belong to the first category are usually very potent and fast acting, while the action of the medicines in the latter group depends on the chronicity of the disease. Another important cause for the slow action is the lack of availability of genuine medicines. Many of the herbs, animal products and minerals mentioned in classics are not easily available now. This leads to adulterants and substitutes being used in place of the original raw- materials. Many of the available herbal drugs are either cultivated using chemical fertilizers or procured from contaminated areas. In addition to all these, there are problems associated with the preparation of the medicines as well. In the old days, the vaidyas prepared their own medicines or the patients prepared them on the instruction of the vaidya. The preparation of Ayurvedic medicines, which is analogous to cooking in some respects, has now changed drastically with medicines being manufactured on a commercial scale. Inevitably, the medicines available in the market today differ from those prepared by old school, similar to how tinned food differs from home- made food. Ayurveda classifies diseases into four categories – easily curable (Sukha sadhya), difficult to cure (Krichra sadhya), that can be controlled but not cured (Yapya) and that cannot be cured (Anupakrama). In case of an easilycurable condition, if a medicine prepared using original raw- materials in the right method is administered in the right way, the outcome will never be slow. A compromise on any of these factors compromises the effect of the medicine as well.

Ayurveda –Oh it’s the herbal thing!!

Ayurveda is widely considered as herbal medicine. This is, however, not true since in many cases animalproducts and minerals are also used along with herbs. The animal products include honey, milk and milk products, meat of animals, urine of animals, horns of deer, elephant tusk, gall stones of cow, shells of marine organisms like conch shell etc. The mineral medicine category include metals like mercury, gold, silver, cop-per, iron, lead, tin, zinc and more than thirty minerals. The mineral medicines are required in very small dose, are palatable and more potent when compared to herbal medicine.

Ayurvedic medicines- “safe and secure drugs”

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Ayurvedic medicines are widely misused and problems pertaining to self medication are widespread. The adverse effects and contra-indications of Ayurvedic medicines are very well-explained in the classical literature of Ayurveda. Some medicines used in Ayurveda are highly toxic and its use is advised only for a very short duration and that too in a very small dosage. It include plants like Aconitum ferox and Strychnos nux vomica, animal products like snake venom and minerals like mercury, lead and arsenic compounds. If the preparation and use of the medicine is not done in the correct way, it will result in toxicity. The Ancient Vaidyas were well aware of the toxic nature of these medicines. Toxic effects caused by these medicines, if not used after proper pharmaceutical processing as per Ayurvedic classics (asuddha seva doshas), are also described along with its therapeutic use. These facts are rightly implied in the quote “Matrayaa bhakshitam kshwedam amrutham bhavathi priyae” (toxin taken in the specific dose acts as nectar). Such medicines must be used only under strict medical supervision.

Ayurveda medicines – Oh God it’s full of food restrictions

The dietary restrictions advised by the doctors is a major reason for many people avoiding ayurvedic medicines. The common misconception is that the regulations are for medicines. This leads to instances such as people stopping medicines for 2 or 3 days to eat whatever they like. But in reality a majority of the dietary regulations advised by the doctor are not for the medicine, but for the disease. Only highly- potent drugs that have some sort of toxicity need dietary restrictions for medicines. All of us are familiar with the saying “What we eat is what we are”. As per the concepts of Ayurveda, certain dietary factors that support the manifestation of diseases must be avoided irrespective of medications. Another important aspect of Ayurvedic treatment is protecting the digestive capacity (Jathara agni). The first thing that a physician does while examining a patient is to evaluate digestive capacity. When digestion is weak, which is often the case, consumption of anything that is difficult to digest must be avoided, the failure of which makes the patient weak. If digestion becomes normal, all such dietary regulations can be avoided.

Ayurveda – Become Veggie???

Ayurveda never preaches vegetarianism. The ancient classics of Ayurveda such as Charaka Samhita give detailed explanation about use of non- vegetarian diet. It includes fish, meat of birds and animals, and eggs of different birds. It is considered as the best diet for strengthening the body. Different types of non -vegetarian food are indicated in different conditions. Beef is considered inferior among meat category and among fishes, prawns are considered inferior. But even these two are suggested in certain diseased conditions.

Why go for surgery, go for Ayurveda

There is a common impression that Ayurveda is devoid of surgical procedures and in a few conditions surgery can be avoided by Ayurvedic treatment. But it is not always possible. If an Ayurveda Physician advises the patient to go for a surgery, many people consider it as a failure of Ayurveda treatment. Ayurveda also mentions diseases where surgery is necessary. As of now only a few surgical procedures are practiced by Ayurvedic surgeons. Acharya Susrutha is considered as the father of Surgery and Susrutha Samhitha mainly deals with surgical treatment. Susrutha pioneered cadaveric dissection for the study of anatomy. Shalyatantra is the branch of Ayurveda that deals with surgery and it enjoyed high prestige up to the time of Jeevaka, the personal Physician of Buddha. But surgery lost this prime status within a few centuries after the Buddha. Shortly after the period of Vagbhata, the author of Ashtanga Hridaya, the use of Lancet was discouraged and anatomy and surgery fell into disuse and became lost sciences. During this period the very touch of a corpse was thought to bring contamination to sacred persons. Many surgical procedures disappeared from the mainstream of Ayurvedic practice and survived in the hands of traditional practitioners. Rhinoplasty (nose repair surgery) pioneered by Susrutha, which later won international recognition, is India’s contribution to Plastic surgery. Two British Surgeons James Findlay and Thomas Cruso in 1794 witnessed the nose repair surgery of a Maharashtra bullock- cart driver who served in the English Army. This caught the attention of Joseph Corpue, FRCS, an English Surgeon in London, and inspired him to perform a rhinoplasty for the first time in Europe.

Ayurveda – what’s your say on Alcohol?

Alcohol has been part of human race since time immemorial. Use of alcohol in small quantities is considered beneficial for health like nectar and if in excess quantities it acts like poison. It is thus clear that misuse of alcohol is harmful to health. Three main types of alcoholic preparations are explained in Ayurvedic classics – those prepared from grains, grapes and sugar. The preparations are modified according to the disease condition to benefit the patient. The fermented alcoholic products like arishtas and aasavas are used as medicines. It is prepared out of plants having medicinal properties.

Panchakarma – delivered in packages…

Now-a-days panchakarma therapies are available in many centers. Even the word panchakarma is not understood in the correct sense. Mainly procedures that include oil application and sudation processes are done under the label of panchakarma. In reality, these are only the poorva karmas (preceeding process) of panchakarma. Ayurvedic treatment can be broadly divided into Samana Chikitsa (pacifying therapies) and Sodhana Chikitsa (elimination therapies). The elimination therapies are intended to flush out the toxins from the body. Panchakarma is done for elimination therapy. “Panchakarma” means five processes – Vamana (Emesis), Virechana (Purgation), Nasya (Nasal administration of medicine), Sneha vasthi (Enema with oil), Kashaya Vasthi (Enema with decoction and its add-ons). It must be accompanied by certain preceding and succeeding processes. The preceding processes involve intake of Ghee and oil application and sudation processes. This is done to facilitate the elimination of toxins when panchakarma is done. If these treatments alone are done without proper panchakarma therapies, it will do more harm than good. The duration and the type of panchakarma treatment needed depend upon the condition of the patient and can be decided only after proper evaluation of the patient. Hence it can never be given as pre fixed packages. To conclude, in the 21st century when the scope of Ayurveda is again on the rise, we people at the cradle of Ayurveda has a lot of doubts and disbelief towards our traditional system of medicine. All these doubts are nothing but the creation of our own. You may blame the policies of the government, the colonial rule and so many to name, but the true culprits are we ourselves who never tried to rediscover or reinvent the time- tested truths revealed in Ayurveda.

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