Fear of the Unknown: Dispelling the Myths of Ayurveda

Fear of the Unknown: Dispelling the Myths of Ayurveda

As human beings we are programmed to fear what we don’t know much about. We fear the dark, have always been fascinated by the stars and constantly question the Superpower – these are things we cannot explain. Ayurveda as a science has had a similar fate over the last few centuries across the globe. Until the mid 90s it was seen as a mystic science that rural consumers in India used for lack of better alternatives. This was during a time when allopathy was reigning supreme and taking control of Indian consumers. With allopaths not knowing much about the science, the easiest thing to do was to dismiss it. Ayurveda was losing its relevance and the 1000s of years of painstaking research that went into it seemed to be going into oblivion.

My grandfather was one of India’s most successful Ayurvedic doctors but always believed that both traditional medicine and modern medicine need to go hand in hand. It saddened him and still saddens me when rash generalizations are made about our science like, “is this safe”, “is this poisonous”, “these products have no backing or research so probably will not work”. Whether it is lack of openness and complete lack of knowledge, sweeping statements without any backing on Ayurveda is still present in society.

With the recent global move towards natural and organic products, proliferation of yoga across the globe (to the status of being more than USD 27b industry in the US) or the general care for health and fitness in society, natural products have received a renewed invigoration worldwide. In recent times, we have seen a renaissance towards Ayurveda with consumers adopting a healthier lifestyle and becoming very conscious of what they intake. This, coupled with the creation of the Ministry of AYUSH, the prime minister’s increased focus to taking the science global and the meteoric rise of Patanjali, has catapulted interest towards the science. Still, Ayurveda faces two serious issues: a lack of connection with modern consumers and multiple myths about the science in popular culture that need to be dispelled.

I recently read an article on Times of India discussing how the Indian Medical Association wanted to create its own symbol (of a cross) that differentiated allopathic doctors from natural practitioners. Lack of clinical evidence and a need for clear differentiation between the two was cited as a reason for this. Another article a few months before, generalised Ayurvedic medicine as ‘poisonous’ because it contained metals.
Ayurveda has a lot of myths that need to be dispelled and as someone who has grown up in an Ayurvedic family I thought of putting these down in simple words:

• Ayurvedic medicines are made unscientifically
With the mysticity around Ayurveda there is some stigma that Ayurvedic medicines are made in completely by hand, with no standardization or regulation. The truth though is quite the opposite.
• Ayurvedic manufacturers are governed by the same governing law as allopathic medicine, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940 (which has been amended in due course from time to time).
• Special provisions have been made in the act governing the manufacturing, labeling, shelf life and testing of Ayurvedic products.
• State governments have been equipped with officers and drug controllers who are to enforce the Good Manufacturing Practices and Licensing requirements for Ayurvedic products
• Like allopathic medicine, Ayurvedic medicine is governed on the standards of identity, purity and strength. There are 27 state drug laboratories and another 44 Drug and Cosmetics Act approved laboratories to test Ayurvedic products and raw materials.
• Every manufacturer of Ayurvedic medicine is under stringent regulation of Rule 158-B of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and is subject to checks and balances from state authorities. Authorities inspect manufacturers of an annual basis and can even take samples for testing/analysis
• Every manufacturer is also expected to test each batch of product made and maintain records for the same before any batch of product enters the market
• Ayurvedic medicines are poisonous and contain harmful metals
It is true that metal oxides and minerals form a part of certain Ayurvedic medicines but these are only added into products after detoxification, incineration, calcination and quality checks. Ayurveda believes in healing through minerals, plants and herbs from nature’s bounty and thus everything present in Ayurvedic products are actually substances that have been freely available in nature. Even so, strict regulation goes into every medicine before it is released:
• Each medicine with such content has strict pre-determined limits for these substances over which manufacturers cannot exceed (mentioned in Part I Volume III of Ayurvedic Pharmacopeia of India)

Ayurveda has been in existence for more than 2000 years (various estimates state the science is between 2600-5000 years old). Before modern medicine came into place, the entire human race relied on traditional medicine and cured ailment over ailment with it. Thus in some sense this can be called a ‘clinical trial’ of millions of people. I concede that the paradigm of study or methodology may not be the same as a Western clinical trial but dismissing a science that has cured millions seems ignorant to someone who has grown up (and even been cured of asthma) using Ayurveda. Humans fear the unknown but now that we ‘know’, here’s hoping we can approach Ayurveda from a more educated and fair standpoint. India has more than 700,000 Ayurveda practitioners and more than 2000 years of research, it is our responsibility to make this all worthwhile….

Author: Arjun Vaidya, CEO of Dr. Vaidya’s

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