Ayurvedic system of medicine is also referred to as Hindu system of medicine. The core theory of Ayurvedic system of medicine stresses on the harmful and useful things for the human body. Ayurvedic system of medicine is holistic in approach and lays emphasis on preventive aspect of the medicine.
Ayurveda is considered to be the derivative of the fourth veda, Artharva Veda. In the Vedic era, Ayurveda flourished as a complete healthcare system. According to one estimate, approximately around 1000 B.C., two principal texts of Ayurvedic system of medicine, Charaka Samhita (treatise on medicine) and Sushruta Samhita treatise on surgery) were composed. Scholars across the globe were attracted to Ayurvedic system of medicine. They visited Indian universities for studying a full-fledged course based on Ayurveda.
The main objective of the Ayurvedic treatment is in restoring the imbalance of the biological humours. The great seers of Ayurveda developed peculiar methods for testing the potency of the drugs. If the ancient Ayurvedic texts are viewed, it can be seen that medicinal activities of crude vegetable drugs like Haritaki, Arjuna, Guduchi and Shilajeet were thoroughly studied.
The diagnostic methods of Ayurvedic system of medicine were based on the clinical experience. A professional Ayurvedic doctor diagnoses the underlying pathology by careful examination the radial-pulse. Part of the clinical investigation includes:
- Pulse diagnosis by detecting changes in the radial pulse and detecting imbalance in three biological humours.
- Tongue diagnosis for detecting disease of the digestive and respiratory disease.
- Urine and stool examination as other tools for detecting clinical diseases.
Apart from the formulations prepared from medicinal plants, therapies have been mentioned in Ayurvedic texts for preventing and curing the diseases.
- Langhana (known as therapeutic fasting in Ayurveda), is a used to remove toxins from the digestive system.
- Pachana (use of appetisers) in order to correct the digestion.
- In Ayurvedic contest, ama (a toxic substance, which is the outcome of impaired digestion) is the underlying pathology of the diseases. Langhana (therapeutic fast) and Pachana (use of appetisers or appetite stimulating drugs) are directed at digesting the ama.
The Panchakarma is a five step therapy for seasonal purification of the human body. Panchakarma is scientific procedure and the procedure should be monitored by an expert. Before the Panchakarma procedure, purva-karma (oleation and fomentation) are carried out.
Ayurveda flourished as healthcare system in the Vedic era. However, invasion by foreigners marked end of the glorious era. The invaders not only destroyed the ancient Ayurvedic manuscripts but took many medical texts to their native countries. Above all, the Buddhist era was a major setback to the most established discipline of Ayurvedic medicine, Shalya Tantra (Surgery).
With the dawn of Mogul empire, Arabian medicine was made official and announced as the primary healthcare system. During the British Empire, clinical practice by Ayurvedic physicians was banned. Despite all the hurdles, Ayurvedic system of medicine has survived. In independent India, Ayurveda revived as a healthcare system and Government of India established several committees for restoring lost glory of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda has documented medicinal use of 550 plants. These medicinal plants find application in pharmaceutical, cosmetic, agricultural and food industry. Ayurvedic system of medicine has become increasingly popular in recent years. In India, 76% of patients visiting the general medicine OPD of a tertiary care hospital seek Ayurvedic therapies.
The medicinal herbs in Ayurvedic system of medicine are used as in various pharmacopeia preparations (decoctions, infusions, powders, aromatic waters or Ghana satva (extracts). There is growing demand of standardized herbal extracts derived from Ayurvedic medicinal plants. Extracts are usually prepared by separating the soluble matter from crude vegetable drugs by use of a solvent like alcohol, water or ether.
In the past times, the validity of Ayurvedic sciences has been questioned. However, modern scientific research has proven efficacy of formulations mentioned in Ayurvedic system of medicine. It has been found that Alternative systems of medicines often succeed when the orthodox system of medicine is helpless.
Ayurvedic system of medicine is known to act slowly. This may be ascribed as one of the reasons that Ayurveda is not a first line of treatment. But as far as chronic and degenerative diseases are concerned, Ayurvedic remedies have genuine utility. They are claimed to act at the root cause of the disease process. The question that strikes our mind is that what is the root cause? In fact Ayurvedic medicines help in boosting immune system and create a suitable atmosphere in the human body. The result is that body starts eliminating disease at its own.
One major question mark over Ayurvedic remedies is whether they are useful in acute phase of the disease or not. This is one of the limitations of Ayurvedic Medicine. Let us compare paracetamol (drug used for curing fever in Allopathic system of medicine) with Godanti bhasma (used in alleviating fevers in Ayurveda). If these two drugs are compared together, paracetamol is obviously more popular due to quick onset of action. Godanti bhasma takes three-four days for reducing fever. The factor responsible for slow action of Ayurvedic remedies is that it utilizes drug as a whole. Modern medicine utilizes isolated drugs which act rapidly and quick response is achieved. The incidence of side effects with isolated drug is more. For better understanding of Ayurvedic and Allopathic sciences, a comparative table has been given below:
Table: It shows comparative account of Ayurveda and Allopathic Systems
The formulations described in Ayurvedic Pharmaceutics are based on two principles:
- Use of a single drug.
- Use of more than two drugs.
When two or more medicinal plants are used in the formulations, they are called as polyherbal formulations. Some time herbs are combined with mineral preparations also. The herbs often exist in crude state. Ayurveda describes method of purification of toxic medicinal plants.
Ayurveda has fundamental aspects for drug formulation. The herbs are selected according to the disease; other herbs are used to prevent the side effects arising from the main herb. Ayurveda is strongly in favour of using drug as a whole.
Sarpagandha, source of blood pressure lowering alkaloid, reserpine, when used in powdered from, is devoid of unpleasant side effects. Reserpine was once regarded as potent treatment of high blood pressure, and prescribed rarely due to unpleasant side effects. Sarpagandhadi churna is traditional Ayurvedic remedy for hypertension and is still used by practitioners of Ayurveda with success.
According to common belief, Ayurvedic drugs are considered to be free from side-effects. This is not exactly true as latest research has shown that Ayurvedic drugs not processed according to instructions mentioned in texts, they can produce side-effects.
Drugs like Kuchila, Datura, and Kalihari are listed in poisonous drug list. Bhasam (Ash), if not prepared according to rules and regulations have ill effect on the kidney. Ayurvedic drugs are routinely prescribed and with an increased use among patients, appropriate knowledge of herbs/ minerals is must.
Today we can see flood of spurious Ayurvedic products in market. Lack in research and development in Ayurvedic sciences is the major factor which has contributed to the down fall of standards while preparing medicines.
Many Ayurvedic medications are sold as over the counter remedies. Under such circumstances, chances of drug interactions between Ayurvedic and synthetic drugs are quiet high. Some Ayurvedic drugs which have shown side effects or interactions with Allopathic drugs are listed below:
- Bawachi is widely used in the treatment of leucoderma. Prolonged use should be avoided as it is known to cause cancer and injury to the liver. (Source: Ann. Rev. Pharmacol. Toxicol. 1980 20:235).
- Guggul is widely used in Ayurvedic system of medicine in the treatment of joint pains. Raw guggul has potential side effects like dry mouth, menstrual problems and heartburn. More so if you are taking blood pressure lowering medications, use of guggul should be avoided as drug interaction has been reported. (Source: Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 10:405 Abstract 1967).
- Ishwari or Indian birthwort is widely used In Ayurvedic prescriptions for female diseases. The use of the drug containing products has been linked to increase risk of kidney cancer. (Source: PM 52 6: 657).
- Mandukparni or Indian pennywort is used locally in healing ulcers. Prolonged application is associated with incidence of cancer. (Source: Cancer research, 1972, 32:1463–1469).
- Mulhati or licorice: It is widely used for the treatment of cough and heartburn. Prolonged use is associated with hypertension. (Source: J Hypertens 19959:348).
- Vacha is widely used for improving memory. The drug should be used with caution as use is associated with cancer. (Source: Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 10:405 Abstract 1967).
Faced with the extensive distribution of many Ayurvedic/ herbal preparations and the risk of self-medication, consumers and clinicians alike should be increasingly vigilant about drug interactions. The purpose of this chapter is to address several key issues of growing problems with Ayurvedic remedies. We are not trying to promote or rebuke any system of medicine, but the need of the hour is for continued public education, physician awareness and more stringent licensing so that this potentially serious aspect is not overlooked.
Before starting Ayurvedic remedies, one must keep in mind the following points:
- According to the Drug & Cosmetic Act, 1940, Ayurvedic drug includes all medicines intended for internal or external use for in the diagnosis, treatment, mitigation or prevention of disease in human beings and manufactured according to rules laid in the books.
- The drug manufactured by the company should comply with the standards laid in Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia.
- Always buy drugs from reputed companies and chemists.
- If planning to try medicinal herb for some disease, always consult a practitioner as it can produce ill effect.
- Look for shelf life if possible, as reputed companies are providing information on shelf life.
- Never take Ayurvedic Medicine during pregnancy and lactation without professional advice.
- As dose in Ayurvedic sciences is a controversial subject, do not treat infants and old aged people without professional advice. In case doses like 125 or 250 mg are mentioned, always consult a qualified Ayurvedic physician or pharmacist to prepare the medicine.
- Do not pick medicinal herbs from wild source as they are contaminated with lead or other toxic constituents.
- Do not self treat if there is a past history of kidney, liver or heart disease.
- Powdered drugs should be consumed within six months.
- Decoctions and infusions should be consumed within 24 hours if preservative has not been added.
- Drug testing laboratories have been established all over India. If efficacy of a drug or adulteration is suspected, the drugs should be submitted to the concerned laboratory for testing.