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Ayurveda: Taking roots and spreading fast

Rukmini Priyadarshini

Bangalore Sept. 19

THE hype of AIDS, HIV and cancer cures notwithstanding, ayurveda is big business and there are many cashing in on the opportunity.

Karnataka, like the rest of India, is a witness to the resurgence of ayurveda.

With the emergence of lifestyle diseases, the ``natural' and `herbal' medicines appeal to most Indians, and a host of others as well.

According to Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, an ayurveda physician and former Chairman, Scientific Advisory Committee, Central Council of Research in Ayurveda, the popularity of this form of medicine rests on its reputation of being `safe' with no side effects, natural— herbal or mineral origin— and cost-effective.

Ironically, ayurvedic medicines are more popular in urban centres than among villagers who will not be happy until the doctor at the local primary health centre gives them an injection, says a retired Government doctor. For them, allopathy is the last resort after home remedies, quackery, superstition and tantric rituals, he says.

Since a variety of problems require only non-invasive therapies — at a time when the awareness and fear about side effects is at its peak — the resurgence of interest in ayurveda is easily explained, he says. Ayurvedic practitioners, whether with a medical education and degree or without, talk about their success with paralytics, managing diabetes, treating skin conditions, assisting conception in infertile couples, rheumatic disorders and spinal problems. There have been prominent celebrity physicians who talk about remissions in cases of malignant cancer, and cures or containment of HIV and AIDS. "These are not necessarily documented proofs although there is a lot of well funded research in leukaemia and some cancers," says Dr Narayan.

According to Dr Shubhankari P. Rao, an ayurvedic physician, certain lifestyle diseases have been better managed under ayurvedic care than under allopathy while surgery and infectious diseases are usually treated by allopathic doctors.

The general public usually approaches an ayurvedic physician only after trying and failing to be cured by allopathy, agree ayurvedic doctors. However, there is still a large body of people who seek ayurvedic remedies and none other.

There is greater awareness about what ayurveda offers, says Dr Vasundhara Bhupathi, an ayurvedic physician and popular writer and speaker. Since ayurveda treats the disease and condition by examining root causes and prescribes medicines based on the individual's constitution, it is often successful and has fewer or no side effects, she says.

The cost of ayurvedic treatments and medicines are also reasonable compared to certain investigations and medicines and procedures in allopathy whose cost can be prohibitive, says Dr Bhupathi.

Since ayurvedic cures almost always involve modifications in diets and lifestyles, there is an enhanced effect to the medicines and people are becoming aware of the benefits of such a holistic approach, say physicians.

One concern among consumers, consumer groups and doctors alike is in the lack of standardisation in the prices of ayurvedic medicines, a sure indicator of a lack of standardisation in quality too.

There is also a proliferation of `massage centres' that people can just walk into and get a massage or procedure as if it was a haircut, says Dr Narayan.

These centres should be clamped down if run by people without the requisite training and qualification, he says. An ayurvedic massage often requires certain preparations just as a surgical procedure, he says.

However, ask Mr S. K. Prabhu who has recovered the use of his left hand and legs since a stroke left him paralysed on one side, unable to feed, clothe or even clean himself and he will swear by his `untrained vaid' in Puttur whose treatment has enabled him today.

"These people have acquired a reputation for curing paralytics that would be hard to argue with,'' agrees Dr Rao, adding that a lot of ayurvedic practices and procedures have not necessarily been documented.

Not every unqualified `vaid' can be called a quack, says Dr Rao, who adds that there is a lot of unchecked quackery in ayurvedic practice that could tarnish its image.

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Ayurveda: Taking roots and spreading fast

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