MODERN MEDICINE AND ANCIENT INDIAN WISDOM
Copying and pasting this, because this is so right on and from what I get from seeing what is out there in the modern world, the Western world really has no idea of what Ayurveda is. The Western paradigm knows nothing else but to look at a symptom and then try to do something to make it better. Ayurveda has also been turned into nothing but that and a check box list and then a diet to follow off of this list. This is so far from any reality of Ayurveda, just as the West has a romanticized idea of a spiritual India where everyone is living in Satyam (truth) and walking around in the highest realm of spiritual bliss, that was a world of a time far gone….. uh, the research shows only 30% of India is even vegetarian and living here I would say that is a stretch.
Some Western Ayurveda practitioner’s sales pitch is “Ayurveda without the dogma” (for the wise, I do not need to translate that). This article made me remember that ‘motto’ and that remember that the general public has no comprehension of any of this stuff so of course things would look like dogmas. And it is so easy to tell someone anything about any of these sciences and how are they to discern anything at all as correct or not. This also goes for the people who think they are practicing Ayurveda in the west as well. How are they supposed to know? Dogma, really? Would not the dogma be the blind belief in that dysfunctional and ignorant life that is so comforting yet causing all of the maladies?
Enjoy the following, I did.
MODERN MEDICINE AND ANCIENT INDIAN WISDOM.
Prof. B. M. Hegde,
MD, FRCP, FRCPE, FRCPG, FRCPI, FACC.
Manipal Academy of Higher Education,
Lecture Delivered at The Nehru Centre, London.
March 2nd, 2000.
Modern medicine started five thousand years ago on the banks of the river Nile as magic, sorcery, witchcraft, and mumbo-jumbo. It has developed over the years into what is now called the scientific modern medicine. But even to this day modern medicine has remained essentially an art based on science.
Unfortunately, it has not been able to fulfill two of its avowed objectives. More than 80% of the world population, a good 4.6 billion people, even today do not seem to have any touch with it; 57% of Britains in a survey expressed their desire to avoid it, if possible; while 62% of the upper middle class Americans find it difficult to afford health insurance. The insurance premia, based on the star performers’ fees, in a fee-for-service system, are prohibitively high.
Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, was not far off the mark when he remarked some time ago: “that modern medicine, for all its breathtaking advances, is slightly off balance like the Tower of Pisa.”
The desire of the young medicos, both in the UK and the USA, to acquire a working knowledge of other systems of medicine, better called complementary medicine, and the public demand for the latter, resulted in the London College of Physicians organizing a symposium on the Science of Complementary Medicine, a couple of years ago. The French Govt. seems to have saved lots of unnecessary expenditure on health care after they opened a one hundred bedded Chinese medicine hospital in Paris.
While it is true that modern hi-tech medicine is very essential for all types of emergency care, ranging from accidents to heart attacks, chronic degenerative diseases still elude any solution. With all the so called hi-tech, that has been aptly described as middle level technology by Lewis Thomas in his celebrated book, The Lives of a Cell,1 we have been able to eradicate only one disease, small pox. This was possible, not through any of the hi-tech methods; but by the simple vaccination.
Ancient Indian wisdom in medicine, like in many other fields of human endeavour, comes from the time honoured Vedic Wisdom. The appendices of the Vedas, the upaangaas, deal with all aspects of human life. The leading among them is Ayurveda, the science of life. This deals with the whole gamut of human health and illnesses. There is unequivocal data to show that they are at least 10000-15000 years old, if not older.2 In one sense they have no beginning.
It is a pity that this most ancient system was the only one being ignored in the recent Royal College symposium. There are evidences to show that even some of the Chinese systems, like acupuncture and Qi gong, have emanated from the Indian Vedic wisdom, and then migrated with Budhism to China.2 Wisdom is not confined to any race, region, time or for that matter, even individuals.
An attempt is made here to show some of the milestones in medicine that show so much similarity between the ancient Indian wisdom and the modern scientific medicine. I have to, per force, confine myself to only a few of them for the purview of this paper.
In his classic book India in Greece, written in 1852, E. Pococke gives detailed evidence to show how the western civilization came to Greece from Sumeria, but came to Sumeria from India thousands of years ago. There was large-scale migration of Indian scholars to Greece along with their texts. This ancient classic, India in Greece, is chronicled by Dr. Laxmikanatham, professor of mathematics at the Florida Institute of Technology, in his recent book The Origin of Human Human Past.2
In fact, it was Albert Einstein who said: “We owe a debt of gratitude to the Indians, for they taught us how to count, without which no scientific discovery was ever possible.”
The Vedic scriptures, including Ayurveda, have always been concerned with the whole of humanity and not just Indians. It is not a religion in the conventional sense. It has no religious organization or authority and does not deal with Saguna Brahman, God with a form. Vedas proclaimed “Vasudhai eva kutumbikam”-the whole world is but one large family.
It was the French astronomer, Bailley, who verified the claims of the ancient Indian astronomers that the most ancient of all systems compared to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and even Jews was the Indian wisdom and all the others derived their conclusions from Indian sources, although most western scholars wanted to debunk Bailley’s theories. Very influencial of the latter was Reverend Burgess, who in 1860 A.D tried in vain, to prove that India was not the cradle of language, mythology, arts, sciences, and religion.
The science of Ayurveda tries to explain how one should look after his body in terms of diet and life style. It talks about medicines only in rare circumstances. It emphasizes the importance of the study of human anatomy and physiology as the basis of all further studies with the help of a dead body. It also emphasizes the need for continuous research and study during a doctor’s lifetime to keep abreast of the science.
Ayurvedic surgery, led by Shustruta (known as the “father of surgery”), included amputations, grafting, setting fractures, removal of the foetus, removal of bladder stones, and the eternally famous rhinoplasty that he is known for even to this day. His treatise contained a total of 127 instruments; some of which look very modern, even by today’s standards! Brain surgery, drug dynamics, counteracting the effects of poisonous gases and even the present-day Caesarian sections have all been graphically described.
There is now ample evidence to show that “Hippocrates borrowed his materia medica from Ayurvedic sources.”2,3 The Chinese system of acupuncture, which describes the point locations on the body, the marmas, has been described in detail in Ayurveda much earlier. A recent publication from the former USSR Library of the Academy of sciences, Leningrad, shows how the art of acupuncture originated in India and moved to China. A Chinese Sanskrit scholar, Itszin, who visited India in 637 A.D to study at the University of Nalanda wrote: “ the inhabitants of India are imparting proper medical knowledge to the Chinese people in the complete art of treatment by pricking, cauterization and also the study of the pulse.” All these show how ancient is the Indian system of medicine.
In modern medicine there are increasing appeals for a unified holistic approach to integrate the somatic and the psychological features of the patient with his or her medical disorder. However, we still frequently find a disturbing polarization of natural science oriented Vs psycho social science oriented medicine. This division has its roots in the traditional Cartesian division of Res cogitans (thinking substance) and Res extensa (extended or corporeal substance.) – the dualism of subject and object; mind and body. The psychosomatic problems have received much medical attention in the recent times especially in the neuro-sciences. This distinction does not exist in Ayurveda.
If only modern medicine could incorporate the knowledge of modern quantum physics more effectively, we could achieve a quantum jump in our effort to overcome the polarization and conflicts caused by dualistic thinking. Usual thinking in medicine up until now has been based predominantly on the natural sciences of the classical rather than of modern physics, mainly on the quantum theory, based science.
If analysis of the human body continues beyond the level of cells, molecules, and atoms to the level of sub-atomic structures or elementary particles the old concept no longer holds good. Modern physics assumed that elementary particles can no longer be understood as corporeal structures in the sense of the Cartesian res extensa and res cogitans and could only be described without contradictions as mathematical structures. The physicist Heisenberg even referred to these mathematical structures as being closely related to Plato’s forms.
Medicine must respond to the developments in its natural scientific base in reshaping its own position with regard to them. The traditional strict division between psyche and soma must be overcome and the unified wholistic approach to the patient, as is seen in Ayurveda, should be encouraged.
The history of medical thought in the West has been a succession of errors in the ascending road of progress. Primitive medical concepts and practices began with the first man on earth and have not entirely disappeared today. 99% of man’s time on earth in excess of one million years ended at about 8000 BC and has been called a Paleolithic period. Surgery of the primitive people had an astonishing degree of technical efficiency. The most ancient instruments were but sharpened stones. Trefining of the skull was carried out among Neolithic people to remove splinters and fragments of fractured skull, for magical purposes to relieve the evil spirits etc. Thus mystic faith and empiric experience based upon seeing and believing were the first attitude adopted by the primitive physician.
We shall now look at some milestones in the medical world.
Vaccination against small pox:
Lewis Thomas, former President of the Sloane Kettering Cancer Institute, claims that the highest technology in medicine is the complete understanding of any disease to be able to eradicate it. Although vaccination has not been very hi-tech by the present standards, small pox is the only disease that we have been able eradicate to this day. He credits vaccination to be the highest technology in medicine.1
Edward Jenner gets all the credit for discovering vaccination. An audit today would show him in very bad light. By any stretch of imagination what he did then would never have passed the ethical committee norms of today.
One of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, J.Z.Holwell, FRS did study the wisdom of India in the eighteenth century by going there and remaining there for some years along with twenty other Fellows of the Royal Society. The Royal Society had sent some of its Fellows to study the science and technological developments in that subcontinent in the distant past. All those reports of the Fellows have been brought out recently in a book form by the Academy of Gandhian Studies in Hyderabad. Prof. Dharmapal in this book Indian Science and Technology in the Eighteenth Century 4 has given a graphic description of the vaccination methods then prevalent, as noted by J.Z.Holwell quoting from Holwell’s original lecture in 1767 to the President and Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London.
“The art of medicine has, in several instances, been greatly indebted to accident; and that some of its most valuable improvements have been received from the hands of ignorance and barbarism; a truth, remarkably exemplified in the practice of inoculation of the small pox,” was the opinion of the College at that time. But Holwell studied the system for nearly twenty years, using the “most scientific” prospective cohort study design, to come up with the following opinion that he placed before the august body of the College for their consideration:
“ However justified you gentlemens’ remarks may be, you will be surprised to find, that nearly the same salutary method, now so happily pursued in England, (howsoever it has been seemingly blundered upon) has the sanction of remotest antiquity (in India), illustrating the propriety of present practice.”
Every year before the epidemic of small pox starts in early summer, a group of vaccinators, that tribe of Brahmins who are delegated every year from the different colleges of Bindoobund, Eleabas, Benares, etc arrive all over the provinces, dividing themselves into smaller batches, arriving in their places well before the onset of the epidemic. The local people, anticipating the arrival of this team, observe strict regimen enjoined if they want to be inoculated. The Brahmins pass from house to house and ask if the inmates have observed the regimen enjoined and then start their work only on those that want to be inoculated. There is no compulsion; in fact, even the number of points they want to be inoculated depends on the recipient’s choice.
Outside of the arm is preferred. First the operator takes a piece of fresh cloth, which becomes his perquisite if the patient is affluent, and cleans the arm area to be inoculated. It is dry massage for a good ten minutes. Then with a special lancet, which is much better than the one used in England, scratches the arm area thus cleaned without drawing blood. The chief of the team keeps a double rag linen bag in his waistband in which previous year’s pus from the inoculated pustule (never from a patient suffering from the disease) is preserved. This is then smeared on to the scratch and bandaged with clean cloth to be kept for a couple of days. Before closing the wound a few drop of Ganges water are poured over the wound thus made. Throughout this procedure continuous chanting of the mantra of worship for the female deity in charge of this disease goes on.
The pus used is from the inoculated pustule of the previous year, for they never inoculate fresh material, nor with matter from disease caught in the natural way, however distinct and mild the type might be. This is the best way of attenuating live virus. Following the inoculation the person would have to observe strict regimen of diet and treatment for the mild eruptive fever that follows. Holwell wrote: “ Although I was prejudiced in the beginning and many practitioners modified the technique, based on their teaching back home, my follow up studies showed that the altered methods lost many patients and the Brahmins’ methods did not lose any patient.” Follow up showed that almost 90% of those inoculated escaped while 90% of the uninoculated died during the following epidemic!” Holwell has given detailed reasons why certain food items like milk and fish were prohibited and showed that it was based on very sound scientific reasoning.
The inoculated person got a very mild eruptive fever, which invariably settled down with another treatment regimen to be followed very strictly and the inoculated person thus became immune to the natural and almost fatal disease! Holwell quoted two of his predecessors who commended this practice as very accurate with invariable success and venerable antiquity for its sanction. They were Helveltius and Kirkpatrick.
Heart and Its Diseases:
The following stanza in the Shushrutha Samhita, the most important text book in Ayurveda, clearly describes the pain of myocardial ischaemia (anginal pain) in such great detail that it cannot be bettered even now. The interesting aspect of the treatise is the reference to the cause of pain in the beginning of the stanza, viz.: “hradrogam” (heart disease).
Although once called the English disease, angina has its first well-documented authentic description in Ayurveda.
“Athaatho Hradrogaprathishedam Vyakyaswamyah
Yathovaacha Bhaghavan Dhanvantharim (suthruthaya)”.
Aayammyathe Maaruthaje Hradayam Thudyathe,
Nirmathyathe Dheeryathe Cha Spotyathe Paaticha
Thrishnoshadaahachoshaam Syuhu Paithikecha,
Dhoomaayanam Cha Moorchaa Cha Swedhahako.”
[In this chapter Bhgavan Dhanvanthari, the God of healing, personally describes the symptoms of heart disease and impending death due to heart attacks. Patient may feel pricking pain, vibrations (palpitations), burning pain, at times the pain may be very severe resembling the pain of splitting the chest into two halves with an axe! He may have unusual thirst, burning all over, breathlessness, extreme exhaustion, mouth breathing because he can not have enough breath through his nostrils, profuse sweating, pale face, stiffness of the body parts, and, finally, even unconsciousness may result!]
Heberden, an English physician, credited with the first authentic documentation of angina pectoris in the 18th century, gave a graphic description of his own chest pain, but had no idea that the pain came from the heart. His student, Edward Jenner, of vaccination fame, thought that his boss’s chest pain was due to syphilis. It was only around 1905 A.D that William Osler, a great medical brain of the last century, postulated that the chest pain that Heberden had could have been due to heart disease.
Reference has already been made about the accurate anatomical knowledge in Ayurveda. In the Dashasookthaani, there comes the Narayansookthaani mantra. These are derived from the Yajurveda originally. Three manthras-numbers 7-10, deal mainly with the anatomy of the heart and there is also a graphic description of the physiology in the Naadigranthas.5
“Heart is said to reside in the chest between the neck and the navel, twelve finger-breadths above the navel. Although centrally situated it points slightly to the left of the midline. It is said to resemble a large lotus bud kept upside down with its tip to the left. A large vessel, in addition to many vessels in that region, arises from the heart and takes blood (God’s power) to all parts of the body from head to the tip of the toe, keeping the whole body warm. The diameter of this large vessel is smaller than the inner diameter of the cavity of the heart!”
In the physiology section we are told that the heart contracts and relaxes on its own, actively pushing and receiving blood at the same time repeatedly without any break. Even the receiving of blood is an active process according to this document.6 Frank Starling did think that it was only possible for God to understand the complete working of the heart. He, therefore, could only partly comprehend the systolic function of the heart in formulating what we now call the Starling’s laws.
It is only recently that a NewYork based venous surgeon of Indian origin, Dr. Dinker Rai, stumbled on the possible diastolic suction of the atria, while working on a dog which died in the middle of his experiment. Analysis of his venograms in retrospect, in the cine films, showed the dye jumping into the heart from the inferior vena cava, coinciding with the atrial diastole. He would be soon writing this up. (Personal communication).
Thousands of years ago Ayurveda knew this truth!
Mind and Disease:
The role of the human mind in disease is a recent thought in modern medicine. The earliest document in this field is that of William Harvey (AD 1648) which goes thus:6
“ I was acquainted with another strong man, who having received an injury and affront from one more powerful than himself, and upon whom he could not have his revenge, was so overcome with hatred and spite and passion, which he yet communicated to no one, that at last he fell into a strange distemper, suffering from extreme oppression and pain of the heart and breast and in the course of a few years died. His friends thought him poisoned by some maleficent influence, or possessed with an evil spirit ….. In the dead body I found the heart and aorta so much gorged and distended with blood, that the cavities of the ventricles equaled those of a bullock’s heart in size. Such is the force of the blood pent up, and such are the effects of its impulse….. We also observe the signal influence of the affections of the mind when a timid person is arrested, a deadly pallor overspreads the surface, the limbs stiffen, the ears sing, the eyes are dazzled or blinded, and, as it were, convulsed. But here I come upon a field where I might roam freely and give myself up to speculation. And, indeed, such a flood of light and truth breaks in upon me here; occasion offers of explaining so many problems, of resolving so many doubts, of discovering the causes of so many problems, so many slighter and more serious diseases, and of suggesting remedies for their cure, that the subject seems almost to demand a separate treatise…
… And what indeed is more deserving of attention than the fact that in almost every affection, appetite, hope or fear, our body suffers, the countenance changes, and the blood appears to course hither and thither. In anger the eyes are fiery and pupils contracted; in modesty the cheeks are suffused with blushes; in fear, and under a sense of infamy and of shame, the face is pale, but the ears burn as if for the evil they heard or were to hear; in lust how quickly is the member distended with blood and erected! ”.6
Many studies in the recent past have demonstrated the pivotal role played by negative emotions like anger, jealousy, pride and depression in the causation of major degenerative diseases.7 A glance at the following stanza will convince one about the ancient eastern thinking in this field.
“Khrodha Shoka Bhaya Aayaasa Virudhanna Bhojana Thaponnalan,
Katwaamla Lavana Theekshnonathi Raktha Pitta Prakopayeth”
[Anger, sorrow, fear, exhaustion, wrong type of food, sedentary living, acidic diet, salt, too much of condiments in diet, will eventually lead on to all the disturbances in every system of the body.]
After the Second World War the stockpiling of the nuclear weapons has been going on at a breathtaking speed. That apart there have been crises everywhere which could be gauged from the daily newspaper reports of unrest in every sphere of human activity viz., unemployment, energy crisis, health care crisis, atmospheric pollution, change in the biosphere, alteration in global temperature with global warming, violence and crime on an unprecedented scale all over the world with special emphasis on terrorism, political unrest in many countries, some countries trying to come together while others breaking up, man killing man in the name of religion, caste and creed, and man trying to destroy all the God given resources of this world for his greed.
I am afraid, I must confess that this change in this century might be due to the so-called scientific temper of the mechanistic concept of Descartes and Newton of reductionism. In the name of science this world also is being split into bits and pieces. Max Bohm, the great guru of German physics, had warned us about the ominous significance of our pursuing the reductionist science as an end in itself. While his three Nobel Laureate students, Oppenheimer (American), Fermi (Italian), and Neils Bohr (Scandinavian), were trying to split the atom in the thirties he did warn us: “I am very proud of my pupils cleverness, how I wish they had used their wisdom in place of cleverness.” He went on to add “that little atom mankind is intend to split-will teach mankind a lesson one day.”
Fritjof Capra, a noted American physicist in his book The Turning Point says it beautifully. “The new concepts in physics have brought about a profound change in our world view; from the mechanistic conception of Descartes and Newton to a holistic and ecological view, a view which I have found to be similar to the views of mystics and sages of all ages and traditions….. The exploration of the atomic and subatomic world brought them (physicists) in contact with a strange and unexpected reality that seemed to defy any coherent description….scientists became painfully aware that their basic concepts, their language, and their whole way of thinking were inadequate to describe atomic phenomena…It took them a long time, but in the end they were rewarded with deep insights into the nature of matter and its relation to the human mind.8
The emphasis of the effect of the mind on the body is so great in Ayurveda that one finds a pivotal role for the mind in the causation of all diseases:
Prasanna aathma indriya manaha swastha ithyabhideeyathe.
[happiness of the soul, senses, and the mind would ensure good health for all times]
Human consciousness is the foundation on which rests the superstructure of the human body and its ramifications.10 Ayurveda correctly identifies mind as a quantum concept at the subatomic level, which pervades the whole organism. The latest concept of teleportation gives credence to this view. Management of diseases in Ayurveda should, per force, take the patient’s mental state into consideration first. Ayurveda is a holistic science.
The science of Yoga in Indian wisdom does just that. “Chitta vritti nirodhaha yogaha”-if one could control the undulations in the mind he will lead a healthy life. The latest truth in modern medicine is seen here having been proclaimed thousands of years ago. There is a common saying that if you could keep a child’s heart as you grow old you would live long. This has been shown elegantly in the breathing exercises of yoga (praanaayaama) where the heart rate variability (HRV) with breathing is being controlled. The sinus arrhythmia of an infant comes back alive even in old age when one could practice this breathing technique. A very recent study published in The Lancet11 shows the great physiological advantages of this method even in severely ill patients with heart failure
Future Predictions in Medicine:
Having practised medicine for nearly four decades I have come to believe that the reductionist science in medicine has come to naught. We have been barking up the wrong tree trying to predict the unpredictable future of the human organism. Professor Firth, a professor of physics in the Strathclyde University in Glasgow, in an article in the 1991 Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal had elegantly shown how the linear mathematics used in medicine and the reductionist logic of splitting the body into organs has resulted in wrong conclusions. He rightly captioned his article Predicting the Unpredictable.9 He advocated the use of the new holistic view to the human body and its ills, using the new of non-linear mathematics and the new science of CHAOS10 which look at the whole.
It is the greed of the present day “scientific” man to be successful in competition that has put the world in this situation of confusion and turmoil. Man is born with only two instincts: – that of self-preservation and procreation. All the other emotions like hatred, jealousy, anger, pride are injected after birth by the environmental influences, the most important being the early schooling where the innocent child is taught all these ills of the modern day society of “dog eat dog” philosophy. Socrates was right when he said, “ Let not my schooling come in the way of my education”. Today’s education does just that. We again seem to have forgotten the dictum of John Adams who said in 1644 “ education is that process which makes man to act “ justly, skillfully, and magnanimously under all circumstances of war and peace”.
In today’s world justice gets subordinated to power – money power or muscle power, and sometimes, even to the scientific power of the atom bomb. Magnanimity is the thing of the past. The wisdom of yore in the East as also in West proclaimed to the world that the best way to live happily is to live with these three qualities engrained within us. Justice, beauty, and equality are always there within us. If they could be brought to the surface this world would be a happier and healthier place to live.
Indian Ayurvedic Oath vis-a-vis the Hippocratic oath:
The Indian ethics of the medical profession are, if anything, much more elaborate than the Hippocratic oath itself. The following is the oath of the Indian physician.
You must be chaste and abstemious, speak the truth, not eat meat.
Care for the good of all living beings; devote yourself to the healing of the sick even if your life were lost by your work.
Do the sick no harm; not even in thought seek another’s wife or goods.
Be simply clothed; drink no intoxicant; speak clearly, gently, truly and properly.
Always seek to grow in knowledge.
Do not treat women except their men be present; never take a gift from a woman without her husband’s knowledge.
When a physician enters any house he must pay attention to all the rules of behaviour in dress, deportment and attitude.
Once with the patient he must in word and deed attend to nothing other than what concerns the patient.
What happens in the house should never be discussed outside; nor must he speak speak of possible death to his patient, if that might hurt him or anyone else.
In the face of Gods and man you can take upon yourself these vows; may all the Gods aid you if you abide thereby; otherwise may all the Gods and the sacra, before which we stand, be against you.
And the pupil should consent to this.
Medical Education in Ayurveda:
The course content of Ayurvedic education was much more exacting than the present modern medical training and the duration could last much longer. The qualifications needed for the tutor included even his personal habits to conform to a particular pattern. The student and the teacher lived together so that the student could have the teacher as his model.
The method of teaching was basically problem oriented-a new method being appreciated in many of our modern schools! Charaka Samhita, a classic in Ayurveda, is basically a problem solving guide where every problem is discussed by both the students and the teacher, with the student taking the active part. The student questions every principal based on his practical experience.
Research in Medicine:
There is a world of difference in the research methodologies of the ancient Indian system and those of modern medicine, especially the epidemiological research. Research in Ayurveda has been of the prospective cohort study variety where the follow up observations have gone on for hundreds of years. Modern epidemiological studies mostly follow the short-term case control methods that have many built-in flaws. The latter, therefore, result in frequent changes in our ideas and advice to patients. One or two examples would be sufficient.
Years ago it was thought that the main fault in diabetes mellitus was the leakage of sugar and patients were, therefore, advised to take large quantities of sugar. One could only imagine the damage that advice would have done. On realizing the mistake it was argued that instead of sugar they should take large amounts of fat to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates. This again must have resulted in many atherosclerotic deaths. Time was when high protein diet was advised only to be followed by the sane advise of a sensible normal diet, which needed to be tapered to the needs of the patient. Underweight diabetics eat more calories while the overweight ones cut on their calories. The latter has been the advice in Ayurveda for thousands of years.
Our ideas about the diet for atherosclerotic diseases have ranged from no fat to low fat. All kinds of absurd ideas were popular in the field from time to time. While butter was a taboo a few years ago the slogan later on was “butter is better”. Saturated fat to polyunsaturated fat was the advice till recently But now reports are trickling in of the ravages of mainly polyunsaturated fats in diet. Ayurveda had one advice, which seems the most sensible even today.
Ghritham thejasvinam, pittaanila haram, rasasoujasam.
[Ghee gives you good health, counteracts the bad effects of pitta and anila, promotes well being.]
Indian melted butter (ghee) is supposed to be the best fat in diet, although in moderation. Scientifically, ghee is butter minus animal protein. It is just caprionic and butyric acids-the two most useful and safe fatty acids. Similarly cocoanut oil (fresh) as the best cooking medium was advised. Although it contains saturated fats it is mainly medium and short chain fatty acids, again good anti-atherosclerotic fats. It stresses the need to use only fresh oils in cooking. This is the best advice in that preserved oils and solidified oils get transformed into trans-fatty acids; the most dangerous ones for the blood vessels!
Life Style Changes and Health:
Indian system maintains that the change of life style is the best insurance against precocious diseases. The advice given is for all times:
“Nithya hita mita aahaara sevi, sameekshakaari,
Datha samaha sathyaapara, kshyamavaan,
Vishaye vasaaklthaha, aapthopasevi,
(Daily eat food in moderation but that which pleases you, work very hard, do not tell lies, cheat others, or backbite people, have the courage to forgive others, always post-judge issues, and treat everyone as your near and dear ones-you will always enjoy good health)
This would look very modern by the present standards, but has not changed in thousands of years. Modern medicine does not stress on these very much and has been changing its advice on and off, although there had been a textbook of medicine written by Charles Scharschimdst way back in 1734 in Vienna, 11 where he was the professor of medicine. At a very young age of twenty-six, as professor of medicine, he emphasised the need to change the mode of living to be healthy.
While the reductionist science follows the dictum of splitting the organs into their cells and then studying their functions to study the drug effects on them, Ayurveda has been studying the effect of drugs on the whole system along with the environment.
Recent work seems to agree with Ayurvedic thoughts. A large study in Canada of the effects of antioxidant vitamins versus extra intake of fruits and vegetables in a large cohort of postmenopausal women showed a marked benefit in the latter group. An editorial on the study in the British Medical Journal 12 rightly pointed out that there could be many other antioxidant factors in the whole fruits and vegetables, in addition to the known A, C and E vitamins in the tablets.
Similarly an editorial in the BMJ entitled Garlic is good for cooking but not for health 13 did not take into consideration the fact that all the forty odd studies referred to there used garlic extract pearls or tablets and not fresh garlic as a whole. Garlic to be effective has to be chewed in the mouth raw, where salivary enzymes convert the inactive principles into active ones, before swallowing. In the pills and pearls the SH group, the heart of the antioxidant property of garlic, as also its anti platelet property, is removed to mask the smell! Garlic is supposed to be a very important medicinal tool in Ayurveda. Recent studies in Harvard reconfirmed the Ayurvedic truth that raw ginger along with garlic and pepper have the most potent antiviral antibiotics against ‘Flu and other respiratory viruses!
One could go on and on but I hope I have made my point. Ayurveda is very authentic.14,15 It has had thousands of years of longitudinal observational prospective research to back its claims. We could further elucidate its different claims with the modern methods of inquiry, to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is very modern in that it has been using non-linear mathematics from the beginning. Modern medicine is just realizing the futility of linear mathematics in dynamic systems and is groping in the dark trying to use the non-linear mathematics. David Eddy, a former professor of cardiac surgery at the Stanford University who now teaches mathematics at the Duke University is trying to educate medical researchers in the correct methods of research.16
Long live mankind using the help of the best in all the systems of medicine.
- Lewis Thomas. The Lives of a Cell 1984. Bantam New Age Books New York.
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