Our elders strongly believed in the maxim of Old of Gold. In the current fast paced world, where the days seem to pass in a blur, this adage holds true as a large number of people desire to experience the older ways of living at every opportunity. The new world order is not that popular on the popularity charts, after all! Oh, how people wish to go back to the simpler (and older) ways of living with many encompassing slow living into their lifestyle be it in terms of adopting Vedic lifestyle, slow fashion or eating slow-cooked food.
Since we are on this topic, how can any conversation about recalling the glorious past be complete without the mention of Ayurveda. One of the prized Indian traditions, and a thing to be proud about, Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit terms Ayur (life) and Veda (Knowledge). So it essentially means the knowledge of life. Also known as ‘Mother of all medicine’, Ayurveda is the oldest system of medicine dating back to five thousand years.
Today, Ayurveda has gained popularity all across the globe. Despite its popularity, it still is shrouded in various myths. Because of these prevalent myths, people are more or less hesitant to adopt this Vedic system into their daily life. Today, we will address a few of these myths to give you a clear picture of what Ayurveda really is.
One of the most common myths about Ayurveda is that it doesn’t have a scientific background. However, this statement needs a major rethink as all the treatments prescribed in Ayurveda have been well-documented, and have survived the test of time. Even The Drugs and Cosmetics Act of India recognizes over fifty-seven Ayurvedic texts in its first schedule.
Ayurveda is one of the foremost systems to have understood the workings of human anatomy in detail. For example in recent years, certain ingredients such as Turmeric and Ashwagandharishta have been studied by the scientific community for their medicinal properties as described in the ancient Ayurvedic texts. These ingredients have been found to be exactly as effective as they were mentioned to be in the said texts.
As you can see the term Ayurveda throws back around 6422 searches on PubMed, while it shows around 13, 168 searches on PMC - US National Library of Medicine in different languages from English to Spanish. In a 2013 clinical trial, Ayurvedic formulations were found to reduce pain caused by knee osteoarthritis. A NCIH funded research has also found Ayurveda to improve the quality of life among the breast cancer survivors. This goes on to establish the fact that Ayurveda is being slowly and steadily accepted by the scientific community instead of being rejected as some pseudo-science.
You may have heard of the saying ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ The example of tortoise and hare story can be extended here with Ayurveda playing the part of a tortoise, and modern medicine playing the part of the hare. And, we don’t have to tell you who wins the race in the end.
The reason Ayurveda is slow is because it works on a deeper level i.e. Ayurveda works on the root cause of the problem instead of merely suppressing a symptom. These problems are the result of chemical imbalances created in the body due to years of wrong lifestyle practices. Therefore, its fixing requires a considerable amount of time.
Sadly, a large number of people turn to Ayurveda only when they have lost hope with modern medicine. This generally means that they turn to Ayurveda, in the advanced stage of their problem, which in turn prolongs their healing.
Self-medication, in general, is a harmful practice - Ayurveda or not. Self-administering a medicine or even tweaking the dosages can cause some serious side effects which may or may not be apparent at that time. But as opposed to modern medicine, people tend to self-administer Ayurvedic medicine more as they believe it to be free from the side effects and are easier to get over the counter.
But it should be borne in mind that Ayurvedic medicine can create an imbalance in the body if consumed without consulting a well-qualified Ayurveda Doctor. An Ayurveda Doctor prescribes a medicine after factoring in parameters such as age, herb composition, ailment, existing ailments and more. Therefore taking medicine without consulting a proper physician could be as dangerous as playing with fire.
Medicines, in general, come with an expiry date and that includes Ayurveda medicines too. This means that different Ayurveda medicines have different expiry dates. Some of the Ayurveda medicines have a shorter shelf life while a few of these medicines (mineral formulations) have a longer shelf life. The shelf life, in turn, is influenced by a range of factors such as transportation and storage, climate, sunlight and humidity.
Therefore, it is best to be aware of the expiration date before consuming an Ayurveda medicine. The medicines that are past their expiration dates should be duly discarded and not be consumed under any circumstances.
Another interesting but baffling myth about Ayurveda is that it is only for the elderly. Ayurveda has nothing to do with age – and is hence age-inclusive in nature. It has medications and formulations for all ages - from infants to the elderly – and everyone in between.
Infact, it has a branch named Kaumarabhritya Pediatrics that deals with the health concerns and treatments of adolescents. So, whether you are a senior or a junior, there is something for you in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda medicines target one of the following doshas namely Vata, Pitta or Kapha. It is said that one is in optimal health when these doshas are in order. Any disorder between these doshas results in ailments. An Ayurveda medicine thus tries to normalize these doshas, instead of increasing or decreasing the body heat. Any such symptom, if experienced, is only for the short term, and not permanent in nature.
Every Ayurveda medicine requires an individual to follow a set of dos and don’ts in order to be effective. Any failure to do so makes the point of taking an Ayurveda medicine, a futile exercise.
A lot of people believe that Ayurveda is a placebo – and essentially a by-chance medicine that works as per the strength of people’s belief in the said medicine. The given statement is reductive; reducing Ayurveda to some fad past its expiration date. Ayurveda, as we mentioned earlier, is five thousand years old. It is well–documented through various ayurvedic texts and treatises such as Charaka Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam.
Understanding Ayurveda medicine requires a different bent of mind, and a framework other than the existing framework. Ayurveda requires an understanding of the past to determine the course of the future. A large number of people have been healed by Ayurveda for various ailments. A chance medicine can work on three or four thousand people, but not on millions.
The general rule of any medicine is that it has to have some side effects if not taken properly. The same applies for Ayurveda as well. Every Ayurveda medicine has to be taken under the guidance of a well-qualified Ayurveda practitioner as per their directions. These medicines have to be backed up with the diet and lifestyle regulations in order to be effective.
Any negligence, either on the practitioner or the patient’s part, can tamper with the medicine’s efficacy or may cause side-effects that can range from minor to major. Ayurveda, in fact, was the first system of medicine to recognize this. It has a concept called Chitiksa Chatuspada involving doctors, patients, medicine and caretakers. Ayurveda recognizes the role of each player in the treatment and aims to leverage all the stakeholders in delivering a treatment with effectiveness and efficacy at its core.
The word herbal isn’t synonymous with Ayurveda. It is seen recently that many brands these days, pass off their herbal products as Ayurveda medicine. If you come across such products offline or online, you should keep the following point in mind: Ayurveda is herbal; but all herbal products cannot be Ayurveda.
Let us explain this to you further. Herbal medicine or formulation can contain chemicals along with the herbs; but an Ayurveda deals only with the natural herbs, minerals, oils and concoctions hence avoiding the usage of synthetic or lab manufactured chemicals in its compositions.
This is again a point of confusion when it comes to matters regarding Ayurveda. The first distinguishing element between the two is that the former are hard to find; as they are in minority. A traditional healer essentially heals the people using the herbs and medicines that are only known to him. These healers employ methods that are passed down to them from generation to generation. Such methods are normally guarded with utmost secrecy, and hence not known to the people outside their family.
An Ayurvedic Doctor has to formally complete their degree in Ayurveda before they can start their practice. Most of the Ayurvedic Doctors have to study BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery) with some of them even opting to study MAMS (Master of Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery) further. Once they successfully complete their degree, they become Ayurvedic Doctors and are given a license to practice. The healers, on the other hand, practice without a license as their practice and profession is not regulated.
Medicines and prescriptions go hand in hand. This fact applies to every kind of medicine be it allopathic or Ayurveda. However, the temptation to buy an Ayurvedic medicine is stronger than the temptation to buy an allopathic medicine because of the perceived safety of the former. The directorate of AYUSH also advises the consumers against this stating that though Ayurvedic medicines are easily available as OTC; one should not be buying them without a proper prescription from a certified Ayurvedic Doctor.
The reason for this is that each and every Ayurvedic medicine is prescribed to an individual after taking his body constitution and other factors into consideration (Vatta, Pitta and Kapha). In simpler terms, the same Ayurvedic medicine may work differently on different individuals due to their unique body constitutions. Furthermore, each and every medicine in Ayurveda has to be taken in a specific way. For instance, there are Ayurvedic medicines which should not be mixed with each other; and hence should be taken separately. There are also medicines which have to be taken on an empty stomach or with milk/water or in specific doses and more. So, it’s best to follow the doctor’s instructions and take an Ayurvedic medicine accordingly.
Ayurveda, as you might have known till now, works on a molecular level. An Ayurvedic doctor, therefore, will give advice on what to eat and what not to in order to help one heal on a deeper level. Ayurveda considers diet to play an integral role in the process of healing. For example: If one has a cold and cough; they would naturally refrain from eating ice cream and other cold food items so as to not aggravate their cold further.
The same is the case with the Ayurveda. In Ayurveda, food is believed to aid the process of detoxification. Therefore, an individual is asked to eat / stay away from certain food items as per their dosha. For example: The people with pitta dosha are normally told to avoid eating spicy and sour food – and encouraged to include wheat, legumes, and cold foods in their diet. Any health condition in Ayurveda seeks to correct the digestive fire to maintain an equilibrium in the system. Thus, the set of dietary dos and don'ts may sound stringent on the surface; but they are in fact advised for one’s betterment.
Medicine is not candy. Most of the medicines, Ayurveda or not, are bitter in nature. But Ayurvedic medicines get more flak for their bitter taste. Ayurveda considers bitter taste to be the lightest of all tastes. The bitter taste of Ayurvedic medicine is believed to correct all the prevalent doshas, purify the blood, elevate the taste component of food and more.
Known as Tikta Rasa, the bitter taste of an Ayurvedic medicine is lent by the natural herbs, fruits, grains and vegetables. However, there are a few Ayurvedic medicines such as Rasayanas and Avalehas, wherein the bitter taste is hardly apparent to taste.
Not all Ayurvedic medicines contain heavy metals. Even the medicines that contain heavy metal strip it off its toxicity through a series of purification procedures. The presence of metals in the Ayurvedic medicines beyond the stipulated quantity can be attributed to corrupt manufacturing processes.
Therefore, it is wise to take Ayurvedic medicines after consulting with a well-qualified Ayurvedic doctor. One must maintain their distance from quacks and do their research before approaching any Ayurvedic Doctor.
Yes, an Ayurvedic treatment can be expensive as some of the herbs required in the treatment may be rare to find and grow. It also boils down to the economics of supply and demand. Ayurvedic medicines are also cumbersome to prepare, requiring various time-consuming steps.
This, in turn, increases the production cost significantly making an Ayurvedic treatment slightly more expensive. Another reason for its high cost is its bespoke nature. Anything that is bespoke is expensive to make, as it is made specifically and uniquely for that individual. The same holds true for Ayurveda as well.
Ayurveda treats a gamut of diseases and medical conditions, contrary to the common myth. The Ayurveda is more organized than some people perceive it to be. It has around eight divisions of specialties namely Internal Medicine (Kayachikitsa), Gynecology and Obstetrics (Prasuti Tantra), Pediatrics and Neonatal ( Kaumarabritya), Surgery (Shalya Tantra), Toxicology ( Agada Tantra), ENT (Shalakya), Psychiatry (Bhuta Vaidya) and Rasayana (Rejuvenation Therapy).
There have been instances when Ayurveda stepped in to treat individuals with the conditions that were left untreated by modern medicine. In many cases, certain Ayurvedic treatments are used in tandem with modern medicines to help an individual heal at a faster rate.
The foundation of Ayurveda is spiritual, as it is based on the Vedas. But, Ayurveda doesn’t advocate any specific religion nor it encourages one to shun their religion or religious practices. The philosophy of Ayurveda is based on the concept of Prakruti (an individual’s constitution) and Doshas (disorders.)
Thus, it deals with physiology, anatomy and pathology. All the Indian Ayurvedic colleges and educational institutions are based on the organizational model, curriculum and practices designed by the Central Council of Indian Medicine. In order to become an Ayurvedic Doctor, one has to study BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurveda Medicine & Surgery) for 5.5 years (including a year of internship.) Upon a successful completion of the course, they can either start practicing or opt to study MAMS (Master of Ayurveda Medicine & Surgery) for a period of three years.
No, Ayurveda doesn’t ask one to become hardcore vegetarians. It permits consuming meat in moderate quantities. Bhavaprakasha, an Ayurvedic text, carries the mention of using meat in Ayurveda. Ayurveda classifies food as Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic.
It basically encourages the individual to have Sattvic food, as they are light and easily digestible. An excess of Tamasic and Rajasic food, on the other hand, generates a lot of body heat leading to the delay in digestion, which in turn, delays the effectiveness of an Ayurveda medicine.
Herbs are one of the parts of an Ayurveda treatment. Hence, they don’t represent the entire spectrum of Ayurveda. An Ayurveda medication can go beyond the herb to include various other things such as salts, resins, tea, fermented brews and more.
Ayurveda, in fact, recognizes the healing properties of fermented food items and brews in enhancing the health of the gut. It uses fermentation as an important step in the preparation of medicated Ayurvedic wines such as arishtams.
Ayurveda isn’t an illegal practice. Because it is moderately regulated, it is often confused. In order to address the issue of non-standardization, the government of Kerala has come up with a scheme for approval of Ayurveda centres (since 1998.) Under the scheme, an Ayurveda centre is classified into Ayur Silver, Ayur Gold and Ayur Diamond based on their facilities and quality of service. The Kerala Tourism board also classifies Ayurvedic centres under Olive leaf and Green leaf after assessing the centre’s quality of program, facilities, infrastructure and a host of other parameters.
From 2009, NABH also began accrediting Ayurvedic hospitals under the AYUSH Accreditation Program. NABH accredits a hospital on the basis of patient and operational standards with an objective to deliver a superlative experience to all the patients.
Besides this, the Ministry of Ayush is also constantly working towards creating requisite mechanisms and interventions to bring various standardization measures to the fore. One of the major steps towards this direction was in 2003, when the Indian government officially came up with their first ever list of pharmacopeia for Ayurvedic medicines. A lot of conferences on Ayurveda are also organized across the world on a regular basis to share the developments and findings with one other.
To sum it up, Ayurveda isn’t a non-scientific wellness modality as it is made out to be. Much of the myths surrounding this age-old science come from the place of misinformation, falsification, and half learned truths.
Sadly, Ayurveda or even modern medicine hasn’t found a cure for all that! Till, it comes up with a cure for the mass-information, the best we can do is to stay informed from our end and correct others when they go wrong. As the saying goes, one candle can light thousands of other candles. We will leave you with that to ponder on.