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Modern Science and Ayurveda

January 10, 2013

Knowledge Leadership Forum “Modern Science and Ayurveda”– A Lecture by Prof. M.S. Valiathan, Ch. M., FRCS, FRCP [Of Manipal University]

This is a note on the lecture delivered at SASTRA University on 10/01/2013 as a part of the Knowledge Leadership Forum, conducted for the benefit of the students by inspiring them to take up research through lecture sessions of various prominent Scientists working in diverse fields.

The lecture began with a brief introduction to Ayurveda and Science. The speaker was inspired to take up the works of Charaka, Sushruta and Vagbhatta for a detailed understanding of Ayurveda.

The interaction between Ayurveda (“AV” for short) and Science happened during Renaissance. During the Renaissance:

(a) There was an accurate observation of all features, no matter how infinitesimal. For instance, Viscarios (?) of Italy made extensive cadaver dissections in his basement to understand the Human anatomy.Prior to the Renaissance, most scientific data was only based on word-of-mouth hypotheses and not based on Observations. For example, it was thought that females had fewer teeth than males, which is most certainly not true.

(b) There was an extensive dependence on experimental verification instead of mere hypotheses. For example, William Harvey’s experimental proof for the Cardio-vascular system in the Human body

There have been instances of AV being in contact with the Western world of the ancient times. Hippocrates was known to have spoken of pepper, cinnamon and ginger. Alexander is said to have taken a horde of AV’ic plants and medicines when he invaded India.

Science and AV have had a known interaction as early as 16th century. The “Science” spoken of here is by default “Post-renaissance Science”.

The first exposure to science is when the Portuguese were ruling over Goa. Then, the population of Goa decreased from 400,000 to 40,000 within a span of 1 year due to various Tropical diseases. As they looked at Goa as an Overseas Portugal, a Medical training school was established in Goa solely for the above stated reason. The main point to understand here is that though the Portuguese did not understand the concepts of AV, AV’ic medicines were copiously prescribed for patients. The pioneer in understanding the medicinal properties of Indian plants was done by Garcia da Orta, whose ‘Colloquies on the simple and drugs of India’ was the first Western Treatise on Indian medicinal plants and was considered a “Best-seller” of sorts of its time.

In the 17th century, Van Rheede, a military general, then Dutch Governor in the Malabar region, made it possible for the creation of Hortus Malabaricus, a result of extensively researched Medicinal Plants in the Malabar region (space extending between Kanyakumari and Goa). His illustrations are life-like and unmistakeably the best of their kind. It was possible due to the contributions of the local physician Itty Achuthan. The masterpiece of Van Rheede was even used as a reference for Carolus Linnaeus for his work.

Indian Medical Plants’ significance was understood so late that it took time for Indians to join active research. It is interesting to note that local physician practitioners of AV, such as Muiuddin Sherif (1869) of the Chennai region, were helpful in the research.

Medical Research under the British (during the late 19th and early 20th centuries) is of high notability. It was during this period that important Establishments such as IRFA (precursor of ICMR), Haffkine Institute, NRL, King Institute, CRI and School of Tropical Medicine were opened in India even prior to a proper Medical Council in GB. Most importantly, none of the above stated institutes worked on AV.

Indian medical plants, during the 20th century, were extensively studied by Indian AV practitioners. For example, Sri Ramnath Chopra (whose treatise called ‘Medical and Poisonous plants of India’ of two volumes is still considered the best front-runner in this field). Other leading contributers include Asima Chatterjee and Govindachari.

AV practice today is now considered to be CAM (?).

Research in AV includes:

(a) Medicinal Plant Identification (MPI)

(b) Clinical Studies (CS)

(c) Basic Sciences in AV

MPI gave rise to many currently very effective drugs such as Codeine, Atropine, Ephedrine, Quinine, and Emetine. AV research has given rise to the Identification of drugs such as Reserpine and Guggulu, but it has not been economical. Artemisinin is the most successful drug that took around 25 years of oriented research. The oriented strides can be comparable to the instinctive nature of the Hunter in Jim Corbett’s Novel involving a Man-eater Tiger. A single minded objective oriented research is needed in India.

In case of CS, in AV, every patient is treated as an individual, unlike the clinical trials performed en masse. The patient plays the role of a control for studying the effects, i.e. there are no third party unconnected control individuals for testing the AV preparations. A Black-box approach is often followed where the results are checked for a single package of medications and results are noted in case of Western Medicine (WM). For medical research development, the WHO has liberalised many of its terms, in spite of which there is little development in AV research.

Basic Sciences in AV is easy to understand. P C Ray attributed the period of 500 BC – 800 AD as the Golden period of AV. P C Ray’s contemporaries during the British rule in India include Aushutosh Mukherjee, J C Bose and Sarkar. In AV, we find RASASHASTRA, where RASA refers to Mercury. AV can be considered as the Mother of all secular sciences as it involves the study of Chemistry and other Basic Sciences. In the 20th Century, AV and Science have seldom interacted with each other.

A new Science initiative is needed in AV. Shockley once remarked that White-skinned People are creative and innovative and are inventors while the darker-skinned counterparts are only modifiers of their inventions. Though he was openly racist, how is it that still we have never disproved his statement? We need to build on our Self-respect and embark on a journey of self-discovery. This lead to a plan called “Directed” Basic Research, coined by ( a certain) Chidambaram. The PANCHABHOOTA concept explaining that the Human Body as the Cosmic resonator is a good concept, but is it verifiable?

RASAYANA is for “Rejuvenation” and “Ageing with Grace”. It involves food-sap transported to various parts of the Body. It does involve Lifestyle Modifications, Indoor/Outdoor and products for therapy. AV’s theory on Health is not clearly scientifically verifiable. For example, Vagbhatta’s definition of health said “Truthful, Free of Anger, Spiritual Contemplation, Tranquillity and Good deeds”. But this is clearly not experimentally verifiable.

Two recent Research works involve the Biological effects of AMALAKI RASAYANA (AR):

1) Effect of genomic stability on Rat Brain Cells

Wistar Rats treated with AR (prepared by co-workers) and sacrificed at 3, 9 and 15 months to check single stranded DNA breaks (SSB) and double stranded DNA Breaks (DSB). AR was found to effectively reduce SSBs and DSBs as well as “Tail moments”. DNA damage on Ageing was found to be reduced.

2) In-vivo effect on Drosophila melanogaster model

D. melanogaster treated with AR showed

• Earlier pupation

• Larger salivary glands

• Increased DNA counts

• More eggs laying

• Increased Fecundity in larvae

• Increased thermal stress survival

• Increased starvation tolerance (as hnRNA increases)

The VAATHA, PITHTHA and KAPHA concept in AV which is considered for Therapy regimen could provide us with a cue for Research. The above mentioned 3 could be DOSHA specific markers and Projects are currently being worked on this. Interesting results may arise from these studies. For instance, the PANCHAKARMA procedure for treating Obesity gave an increase in Cytokine levels in the patient post-obesity treatment. This was being worked upon in an institution in Bombay.

To conclude, AV-Biology integration is possible using concepts from AV. This could give us a distinctly Indian Research which will as a cascade result in a whole new area with Indian Ingenuity.


The speaker began at 12.05 pm and concluded by 1.05 pm. His sense of timing, accuracy and knowledge was striking. The lecture was with so much to give us in very little time. Cheers 🙂

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 11, 2013 2:14 am

    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
    jobs in life Sciences

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