Diabetes is a chronic disease that is difficult to heal and handle. If proper care is not taken, it can gradually eat into all parts of the body. Here, Ms. Jalaja, former Secretary, AYUSH, Government of India, tells us how Ayurveda can help treat this disease effectively.
Years ago, as kids, Diabetes was strange to us. It was then considered as the disease of the rich. Today, it is no longer restricted to people of a certain caste, creed or sex. It is widely prevalent among people of all strata of society.
The International Diabetes Foundation states that diabetes currently affects more than 62 million Indians, which is more than 7.2% of the country’s adult population. Till recently, India used to have the most number of diabetics in the world, but, today, China has reportedly surpassed India in the incidence of diabetes.
Diabetes and modern medicine – We all know that diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease in which the pancreas no longer produces insulin (Type-1diabetes) or, when the body is unable to use the insulin it produces (Type-2 diabetes). Blood glucose levels in our body are chiefly regulated by several hormones, including insulin.
Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune disease that develops when the body destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Occurrence of both types results in a medical condition in which the body is unable to regulate the sugar levels, specifically glucose, in the blood. The glucose that accumulates in the blood stream lead to other complications.
Clinical features of diabetes include1. Increased frequency of urine(Polyuria) 2. Increased appetite (Polyphagia) 3. Excessive thirst (polydyspia) 4. Turbidity in urine
Risk factors: The National Health Portal has listed the various risk factors as 1. Family history 2. Obesity (BMI > 27kg/ m2) 3. Age > 45 years4. Hypertension (B.P. > 140/ 90 mm of Hg) 5. HDL < 35mg/ dl and/ or triglycerides levels > 250mg/ dl 6. Habitual physical inactivity
Treatment in Ayurveda: In Ayurveda, diabetes is identified as Madhumeha, a condition in which a person passes honey like (sweet) urine or Prameha, a urological disorder in which a person experiences frequent urination. 20 types of Prameha are described in various Ayurvedic classics like Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Sangraha. These texts state that excess use of guru (heavy to digest), snigdha (unctous), amla(sour) and lavana (salt) rasa, navanna (food prepared from newly harvested grains), new wine, Asya Sukha (sedentary life style), atinidra (excess sleep), avyayama (lack of exercise), achinta (lack of mental exercise), abstaining from samshodhana (purification) therapy are the causes of Madhumeha.
Explanation: A person is considered to have good health when the doshas of the body are in perfect balance. All ailments described in Ayurveda are due to some imbalance in the body’s doshas. According to Ayurveda, diabetes can be traced to an imbalance of Kapha energy. The dhatu concerned is Medas and the Mala, Urine. Type 1 Diabetes is described as an imbalance of the Vata(air and wind) dosha.
Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 denotes an excess of the Kapha (water and earth)dosha. Development of diabetes is attributed to diminished digestive fire, or “agni,” and which affects the ability of the body to carry on metabolic activities, to produce energy and eliminate toxins.
Treatment: As rightly observed by one expert “–The healing system of Ayurveda offers valuable wisdom and guidance that can help us listen to the signals of our body, notice the first signs that we’re getting out of balance, and make the necessary changes to reverse these imbalances.”There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be regulated. The idea is to reduce Kapha and balance the three Doshas.
It can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Eating regimented meals that contain less sugar, starch and fat which reduce Kapha thrice a day is very important. Physicians also advise that one should avoid dairy products and opt for skimmed milk and low-fat yogurt. Vegetables and whole grain intake also are considered beneficial.
The anti-diabetic effect of bitter gourd (Karela) is well researched. It is said to help increase insulin secretion by inducing beta cells of the pancreas to produce insulin. Research studies have shown that the chemical called Curcumin, which is found in the turmeric, helps in blood sugar control. Ginseng, Guduchi, Fenugreek, Psyllium, Cinnamon, Aloe Vera are also used in sugar control. It remains a sad fact that very few authentic research studies have been carried out in support of these claims.
Caution: Many patients who seek Ayurveda treatment are under the wrong impression that the disease can be controlled by simply taking a specific Ayurveda preparation in right doses, as in modern medical system. Sages advised that ‘Pathya‘(diet and exercise) was the essence of Ayurveda treatment.
As part of Ayurvedic treatment for diabetes, herbal preparations are recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners. one needs to be cautious about the blood sugar lowering side-effect of some of the herbs, for, if they are taken in combination with blood sugar lowering regular medications, the result could be harmful, if not dangerous.
Ayurveda preparations need to be taken, only after consulting a qualified physician. Only standardized drugs produced by authorized manufactures as per Global Manufacturing Standards (GMP) and duly certified by quality control authorities ought to be used for treatment. Patients should also be wary of unqualified quacks posing as doctors, dispensing uncertified drugs, which can cause permanent damage to the body.
Yoga, meditation and physical exercise – In addition to healthy food habits and herbal medication, regular physical activity, yoga, and meditation are recommended.
Spirituality – In Ayurveda, the mind and body are equally important and practicing Yoga and meditation is an integral part of diabetic treatment since the mental health can affect the physical well-being too. Raga (attraction) and Dvesha (repulsion) are two aspects of the mind that needs to be mastered to establish harmony between the mind and the body. Otherwise, this can lead to stress that can affect the body functions. Ayurveda also stresses on spiritual aspects of life, including ethical living, that enables a person to lead a stress free life. This is unique to Ayurveda.
Why Ayurveda? Now that we have a clear understanding of the system, we should ask ourselves -is there a place for Ayurveda in today’s technology driven world? Today, modern medical treatment is breaking new frontiers by harnessing cutting-edge technologies. Precision medicine, DNA analysis, gene therapy, robotic surgery, computerized detection and diagnosis, brain-imaging, wireless brain sensors, 3-D printers, health wearables, Cyborgs, (short for “cybernetic organism”, which is a being with both organic and bio-mechatronic body parts) are revolutionizing modern medical world on a daily basis.
Despite the fast changes noted above, it is not a surprise to us that even today a sizable majority of people in the world, especially in India, are unable to access affordable healthcare. The simple but profound world view of Ayurveda provides a unique framework to know our own body; it helps to understand where the problem lies and enables us to correct the imbalance, in time. This frame work can explain any disease known or unknown. Ayurveda promotes preventive health, through simple techniques and self-awareness.
Looking at the fast pace with which modern medicine is conquering new heights, it is impossible to say what the future holds for us. As pointed out by Ayurveda gurus,the principles of this science are derived from universal laws of nature that have changed little through time. Since Ayurveda is essentially a way of life, and is thus an intimate part of human existence, it should continue to guide us as long as we live.
Ministry of AYUSH
Govt. of India