The natural doctrine
India is one the few countries where multiple recognised systems of traditional medicine are prac-ticed. These alternative systems are strongly connected with nature-based remedies and thanks to government support, these ancient philosophies are thriving. Dr Sanjeev Rastogi explains how al-ternative and natural systems may be a viable solution for a healthier lifestyle
The ongoing global pandemic has exposed the world for all its strengths and weaknesses in a single stroke and has brought into focus the importance of enhancing the body’s natural defence system. With the support of the government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, traditional practices of medicine, especially Ayruveda, are seeing a new growth in popularity and relevance. The government has announced innovative clinical drug trials to evaluate the safe and effective use of selected Ayurvedic medicines in the treatment of COVID-19, making this one of the first examples when modern and traditional medical experts are working simultaneously to find a solution. The Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) has also released a series of advisories for the general public on the use of several well-known Ayurvedic formulations to improve the immune system in the fight against COVID-19. Thus, stressing on the tried and tested ‘prevention is better than cure’ paradigm, which happens to hold relevance even centuries after it was first incorporated. In contagious diseases, prevention becomes of crucial importance. The measures we are currently following in the context of the ongoing pandemic have their inspirations from traditional Ayurvedic concepts of contagious disease prevention mentioned in ancient Indian texts like Sushruta Samhita.
- Practiced largely across Southern India, the Siddha system is one of the earliest traditional medicine systems in the world.
- According to the doctrines that have been preserved and passed down through the generations, practitioners (called siddhars) stress on holistic treatment of both the spiritual and physical self.
- Siddha medicine is claimed to revitalise and rejuvenate dysfunctional organs that cause a disease. Kayakarpam (a special combination of medicine and lifestyle), varmam therapy (based on activating pressure points, vaasi (Pranayama) and muppu, a special salt (made from three regional rock salts and minerals) are the specialities of this system of medicine.
The Ayurvedic assist
Another ancient science, Ayurveda, explores the concept of disease prevention by promoting a novel concept of ‘prakriti vighat’. This refers to averting the environment and lending it unfavorable to the growth of microbes, in reference to microbial infections and infestations. Due to the ubiquitous presence of microbes all around us, there is a continuous search by the microbes for suitable hosts that may allow the pathogens access and to flourish by providing them entry and substrates to feed upon. Ayurvedic herbal recommendations of mulethi (liquorice), giloy (Tinospora Cordifolia; often referred to as the eternal source of life due to its immense medicinal and immunity-boosting properties), and ashwagandha (Indian ginseng or winter cherry) set an apt example in the case. These herbs act optimally at multiple levels; preventing the entry of the virus by blocking the receptors and also by halting its proliferation by inhibiting the enzymes needed for it. In an advisory released early in 2020, the ministry of AYUSH recommended some Ayurvedic medicines as “prophylactic measures/ immunomodulatory drugs as per the Ayurvedic practices” to treat COVID-19 patients. While the ministry proposed consultations with Ayurveda practitioners, the medicines, AYUSH said, can help to “strengthen the immune system”. Gujarat and Kerala have administered alternative medicines to infected patients as immunity and strength boosters. Kerala has also set up Ayur Raksha clinics at district levels to provide preventive medicines, improve immunity and provide other health support.
- One of the greatest scholars of Unani medicine, Ibn-e- Sina, defines the ancient avenue as “A science in which we learn various states of body in health and when not in health and the means by which health is likely to be lost and when lost, is likely to be restored”
- Traditionally practiced in Southern Asiatic regions as well as the Middle-East, Unani stresses greatly on the temperament (mizaj) of the patients and therefore considers them in relation to the environment and the stress it exerts.
- Unani physicians hold the digestive capabilities and diet in utmost import. The medication is of varying potency and in accordance with temperament, causative humour, faculty of organ involved, and severity of the disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not just affected us physically but has also led to high levels of psychological distress leading to depression, stress, and severe anxiety. It is a well-known fact that increased anxiety leads to decreased immunity in our body, making it susceptible to various disease, including an increased risk of viral respiratory tract infection, which is a symptom of COVID-19 as well. Yoga, especially the deep-breathing exercises, are said to increase lung capacity and thus keep respiratory ailments at bay. Speaking during the sixth International Day of Yoga on June 21, 2020, PM Modi, said that as the coronavirus specifically attacks the respiratory system, pranayama or breathing exercise, can help in strengthening the respiratory system. Ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy are said to alleviate stress and calm the mind as well.
- One of the nationally recognised systems of medicine in India, Homeopathy, is largely based on the principle of Similia Similibus Curentur (Latin), which means let similar things take care of similar things.
- Homeopathic physicians follow this concept and the medications prescribed produce similar effects that counteract the symptoms of a disease. It is also commonly used for long-term afflictions as homeopathic medicines often use potent ingredients in minimal quantities for prolonged symptomatic relief.
- Its strength also lies in its effectiveness on certain clinical conditions for which there is less treatment in other medical systems and is often recognised as a standalone treatment for ailments like hormonal disorders, pain and palliative diseases.
Homoeopathy & Unani
In its COVID-19 advice, the Ministry of AYUSH elaborates on prophylactic medicines from Homeopathy and Unani as well. In the case of Homeopathy, the ministry release mentions a medicine that can be taken as an immunity boosting dose against coronavirus infections, which has also been advised for prevention of other influenza-like illness. Talking about Unani medicines, AYUSH recommends the use of certain herbs and oils for “symptomatic management of Corona Virus infection”. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, more people are turning towards a natural way of living, of using ancient knowledge to stay healthy, and this may be the ‘new normal’ in the post-Covid world. This is the time to discover more about the true potential of these traditional practices and the time for India to demonstrate the potential of AYUSH systems in addressing this global health crisis to the world.
- Naturopathy is a system of lifestyle medicine that works in modulating the factors that improve the body’s innate healing properties i.e. immunity.
- Naturopathy is one of the few systems of medicine that adheres to a non-alignment with drugs. It advocates the strengthening the entire body naturally to remove the causes of an ailment. Naturopathy is known to help patients suffering from chronic ailments in comparatively less time than any other forms of medicine.
- Some of the widely used Naturopathy treatments include mud therapy, spinal therapy, steam therapy, magnet therapy, Acupuncture and reflexology.