Monday, 23 July 2007

Ayurveda—the ultimate answer?

Ayurveda—the ultimate answer?

Dr P K Warrier tells us why Ayurvedic system of medication is a class apart.

There is a specific controversial problem, which is being discussed widely by the medical world. Today, the concern of people and medical world everywhere, is on the scope of our present medical system in combating the ever-increasing danger of the uncontrollable spread of diseases like cancer and AIDS. This problem is not as simple or similar to that of controlling other epidemics. We are yet to develop proper medicines to combat many established diseases, but preventive measures that guarantee effective prophylaxis are known. As in the case of all other diseases, here too, the solution is not so easy. We say that malpractices of individuals, violating the rules of nature, fascinated by rajoguna and tamoguna, are the causes of all diseases. Here the idea of withdrawal from unwholesome foods and actions directed by our will-power is more easily said than practiced, because it is the society as a whole that is being prompted by illusions of happiness and prosperous living, leading to a headlong plunge into filth.

Ayurveda has pointed out that diseases are caused by our way of life and changing social conditions. Existing diseases are created and made grave by new social conditions. For them, new outlooks and new remedies are to be advanced without transgressing our fundamental tenets. The chapters in Charakasamhita, Janapadodvamsaneeya and Rasayana-samuthaneeya provide us the guidance. In these chapters, we see how changed social conditions are the causes of new diseases, how new diseases are rampant today, for which a new approach has to be evolved.

Our preceptors have provided guidelines in dealing with diseases. Karsyam is, of course, a bad condition but comparatively it is better than sthaulyam, because karsyam can be cured by medicines, food and rest that a patient accepts with pleasure. In case of sthaulyam that is very difficult, because the steps to reduce it as apatarpana techniques are not at all relished by patients. This statement is equally applicable when we think of reversing the present social trends. It is comparatively easy to bring to the correct path, a society that is deprived of wherewithal for a contented life. But it is very difficult to reverse the course of the so- called advanced society of affluent countries or developing countries, which simulates the pleasure seeking life-model of advanced countries. Since we belong to a country neither too advanced nor too backward, we are in a better position to correct ourselves and show the way to proceed for better health as China is doing today.

Immune against?

What are the immuno-suppressive diseases? Almost all the rampant grave diseases are caused by suppression of immunity, according to modern writers in the related sciences. AIDS and cancer are conspicuously due to immuno-suppression. Other diseases too record a history of immuno-suppression. This term has to be understood not simply as the weakness of the lymphatic system, but as an obstruction to the initiative of the organism to heal itself. Diseases affect us when our immunity is lowered. When a disease attacks us, our body naturally becomes alert and the internal vital forces are awakened to fight the disease. This is the basic concept in ayurveda. There are fourteen vegas, natural urges, obstructing or forcibly initiating, which are the causes of all diseases. These are due to reflexes that help the body's purity and healthy functional state.

What physicians have to do is help the natural tendency of the organism to defend itself. And when diseases are healed by promoting spontaneous defence of the body, what results on recovery, is improvement in immunity. Then, body itself averts fresh attack of diseases by consciously recognising and counteracting sufficiently early. So immunity is not suppressed, but enhanced.

If diseases are healed without freeing and allowing body's spontaneous resistance and drives for correcting itself, but by stopping symptoms by artificial techniques and medicines alone, then the causating morbid factors remain. Since the natural immunity is not enhanced by body's own efforts, there is every chance of a relapse of the diseases or the appearance of other diseases for which the retaining vitiated conditions provide scope. That is why ayurveda always insists on Suddhi. But what prevails in the modern medicines and ways of life is just the opposite.
All over the world we witness two trends—fear of modern chemical medicines and a quest for alternative medicines, particularly herbal. That trend is not without sufficient grounds. This observation of the scientist of modern medicine has raised this fear, if not panic. In the 1930s, Alexis Carrel, Nobel Prize winner, in his famous work, 'Man the Unknown' assessed the present situation. He said that although modern medicine has achieved great success in controlling diseases created by protozoa, bacteria and other microbes and has progressed in the field of surgery, it has failed to control diseases due to viruses. It has also failed to treat diseases due to stress, blood pressure, diabetes, heart diseases, psychosomatic diseases and other degenerative diseases like cancer. Now we can add AIDS also. These are increasing now. Why? These are caused by the changed environmental conditions affecting nature and society. Urbanisation, industrialisation, pollution, alienation of man from nature and society and insecurity constitute the curse of civilisation. Market-led consumer-cravings prompt our life, violating rules of nature. Modern medicines, which are analytic, mechanical and searching for the cause of disease in microbes or some lesions alone, are quite incapable of facing the situation. Carrel said that these diseases, due to degeneration, can be treated only by changing our outlook and paradigm, viewing man in his environmental conditions, studying him related to various factors of life as type, history and all aspects of the ways of life or seeing man as a whole. Mind and body are not separate. So a call for the holistic approach is found in the writings of Alexis Carrel.

Suppression not cure

There are volumes of writings by modern writers, which endorse this view. An American doctor has pointed out that what modern medicine does is to cure one disease by creating another one, more dangerous than the first one. For instance, he says, in treating typhoid or any other disease due to bacteria, modern medicine (a chemical one) does not kill the bacteria directly. It kills bacteria by removing the base on which it thrives. So the bacteria are starved to death. In this process, not only the pathogenic bacteria but also the bacteria that perform useful work in digestion and other functions called saprophytes are also destroyed. This affects the normal functions of the body. When bacteria have an upper hand, other pathogenic organisms like viruses are suppressed. When bacteria are removed, these viruses become active and create diseases many times graver than typhoid, such as cancer and others. Similar studies of the reaction of chemical medicines are often reported in the press.

Most modern studies of free radicals in microbiological research also point out the harm caused by suppressive medicines. It is now reported that most of the grave diseases that cause fear are created by the action of free radicals at the molecular level. As per modern research, free radicals are set free from oxygenated substances. We want oxygen, but substances with excess of oxygen radicals set them free, which at the molecular level harm the molecule and the deranged molecules create or promote diseases like cancer, radiation diseases, AIDS, myocardial infarction, arthritis, diabetes, ageing (Alzheimer's disease) and Parkinson's. Excess use of fat, oils and antibiotics are all listed in the group of substances that create free radicals. Some ayurvedic physicians compare it with the ayurvedic concept of Ama. The factors that correct free radicals are antioxidants. And most of these antioxidants are taken from vegetable sources, vitamins and flavonoids. Many ayurvedic preparations are rich in antioxidants. From these reports we can confirm that medicines like antibiotics are suppressive and cause many serious diseases. No wonder, the elite all over the world are now turning to green medicine.

About AIDS

The study of AIDS has led us to a re-thinking on the causes of all present day diseases. Modern medicine is in the dark as to how to face the problem of AIDS. They say that the virus HIV, or similar viruses were there, even earlier. But the present HIV virus, which becomes virulent is the result of mutation of the old virus. This mutation occurs due to the immuno-deficiency created by our way of life, malpractices like sexual abuses, including perverted sex, use of drugs and also excessive use of antibiotics. We had diseases similar to AIDS earlier too. The disease named Pratilomakshaya is very similar to AIDS. AIDS is a condition which has become more virulent than its previous samples. The cause lies not only in pleasure-seeking life, but in dealing with the diseases it created. We have gone too far with the same measures that caused the disease and have now come to a blind alley. The same cause that created diseases in older circumstances has created new disease since the virus has undergone mutation in new circumstances.

Veterans of modern medicine now say that we are at a turning point and are in need of re-evaluating the progress we have made. The talk of a turning point has come up because we need a change in our views, outlooks and paradigm. In the history of medicine, we can see many many situations when we had to change our outlook and ways to meet new situations created by changes in old conditions and ways of life. Ayurveda itself is a product of such an era, necessitated by changes due to advancement of the ways of life. Our rishis had to assemble on the Himalayas when the old ways of life were changed and new ways of life were adopted. Similarly, later, when industrialisation advanced and new diseases, particularly infectious diseases appeared, the old approaches seemed inadaptable to treat them. Old techniques were over-run by new studies and new chemical medicines. Again, we were at a stage which demanded another new turn. But we have to recognise that a new turn never means denial of the past. If we have a crisis, we have ample scope for new ways of approach too. To put it simply, if we face a crisis, it also provides an opportunity for rethinking. Of course, modern science has come to this stage, advancing from our old ways. Our present duty is to develop a new medical vision and system, in which all the benefits of modern advancement are kept and the benefits of old outlooks, techniques and medicines are retained and improved upon by modifications.

A pure life

Although ayurveda and modern medicine have different approaches, both have some common aims. In ayurveda, we have a field-oriented approach based on the concept that diseases are prevented and cured by vital energy—ojas, in our system. Ojas is enhanced and maintained properly when our body and mind are pure. Purity means, purity from morbid factors, doshas and malas which by weakening our body and mind, create obstructions and act against the natural tendency of the organism to defend itself and to promote the energies that make us agile and fit to face the situation and make them helpful in our progress. The prasada, described by susrutha in the characteristic of svastha is achieved by the so-called condition of ojas. And we all know that diminution or destruction of ojas, is the condition for occurrence of disease, from fever to AIDS. So purity of body and mind is the condition for preventing diseases and curing diseases. Ayurveda starts from here.

Purity means allowing unimpeded action of the vital energy itself to keep our body free from microbes or other disease-creating factors and so it is the vanguard to fight diseases. Our food, medicines and actions presented in the svasthavritta are intend to keep this purity. So to keep oneself healthy and to treat diseases, one depends on the vital energy. In treatment too, wherever possible, assessing the strength of the patient, or in other words, it is purification for which we give the first preference. And if the patient is not strong enough, pacificatory treatments, supportive of purification are suggested. For bodybuilding also, for rasayana, vajeekarana etc, the preliminary step is purification to activise ojas. So in ayurveda, all treatments start from this concept. And the functional, field-oriented, holistic approach provides everything collectively, that promote our ojas.

Modern medicine too relies on ojas but as the last resort because modern medicine is based on anatomy and physiology giving predominance to the structural approach, properties and actions of cells, tissues, organs, systems. The total body is studied as per its structures. Similarly, medicine and techniques alter the deranged structures. An organism that invades the body is killed by a chemical medicine or antibiotic. Hence. first preference is for such medicine and technique. Chemical medicines and antibiotics aim at killing the micro-organism that invades. It is not the vital energy, but the chemical structure that counters the invading body. By virtue of such medicines, the micro-organism or structures that impede the proper functioning of the system are destroyed. This technique works speedily and effectively against infection as that of protozoa and bacteria. But when it approaches subtle structures as viruses, which are only biological packages, it has become very difficult to combat them. They change their forms and also become invisible. Now in this state, the aim of modern medicine also is to rely on immunity mechanism. We can see interferons and interleukins, which are meant to stimulate the defensive mechanism of the body to fight such agents. So we can say that while ayurveda starts from ojas, modern medicine relies on ojas as the last resort. It is this situation that has prompted modern scientists and doctors to talk loudly of the necessity of rethinking. Now the analytical, mechanical, linear study based on structure has undergone a change. The evolutionary principle that has come up now is that structure evolves from function, and is for function. And since the traditional medicinal systems of India and China are the experiences based on functional studies, they depend primarily on purificatory techniques. Besides, the importance of the study of these systems also is gaining recognition. Modern doctors admit that instead of curing diseases by chemicals, antibiotics or steroids, if purificatory techniques also are used, we can register great progress.

How important is study and research in the purificatory techniques, i.e. panchakarma in our own terms? We have done very little work in that field. Since its origin at least three thousand years ago, there are many works on ayurveda that are yet to be unearthed and many works were carried away to other countries. So it is our duty to unearth our past records. Then we are sure to benefit, not only in studying the old techniques, but also in improving our present performance with greater confidence.

(The writer is the Managing Trustee and Chief Physician of Arya Vaidya Sala, Kottakkal)

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