[Editorial Analysis] Making Ayurveda a real science

Mains Paper 2: Health
Prelims level: Ayurveda
Mains level: Traditional knowledge of healthcare

Context:

• Ayurveda has gained popularity in recent years, but a lot is still to be done to ensure that it stands the scrutiny of science.

• The author Kishor Patwardhan (Faculty of Ayurveda, Banaras Hindu University) shares his views as a teacher of Ayurveda with 20 years of experience.

Rampant misinformation during health crisis:

• Self-medication: Advocation of self-medication diluted the message that unscrupulous, excessive and prolonged use of any medicine could be harmful.

• Lost a chance on correct usage of herbs: We did not educate the public on the identification of the correct herbs, though we encouraged their consumption. For example, Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) and Dalchini (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) are two plants where correct identification matters. Sometimes, Tinospora crispa and Cassia cinnamon are mistakenly identified as Giloy and Dalichini, which could be harmful.

• Lack of Scientific evidence: Almost every Ayurveda physician came up with his/her own formulations as a purported. Many lab reports suggesting clinical improvements with Ayurveda interventions were shared on different social media platforms. However, most of them could not make it to peer-reviewed journals.

• Miss opportunity: Thousands of cases treated by Ayurveda physicians could have provided good data that could have been further analysed. Even though the Ministry of Ayush came up with an online case registry, our fraternity could not make any meaningful use of it.

• Lack of coordination between agencies: The protocols of ICMR and Ayush were disconnected .

Challenges in research in Ayurveda:

• Lack of protocols for research: The Ayurveda interventions were either in addition to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) protocols or, when used as independent interventions, they were administered in mild to moderate cases only.

• Too Subjective – Variety of interpretations: Absence of uniform protocols either for diagnosis or for interventions make Ayurveda too subjective and diverse.

• Vague terminology: Scientifically speaking, ‘immune boosting’ is a vague and potentially misleading term.

• Lack of Regulations in Ayurvedic medicine: During the pandemic, every other Ayurveda pharmacy came up with its own patent and proprietary formulation that supposedly boosted immunity. The common public was made to believe that Ayush interventions were safe, of preventive value, and effective in treating the disease. But most of these claims lacked credible evidence.

• Commercial take-over of Ayurveda: Formally, we never teach our graduates patent and proprietary formulations. However, as these graduates set up their clinical practice, they start prescribing these formulations. Most of these products are not backed by reliable trials or even pre-clinical and toxicity data. The number of pharmacies that manufacture classical formulations(given really in Ayurveda) has reduced to a bare minimum over the years, which shows how commercialisation has taken over the sector.

The Damage due to poor Scientific understanding – Negative Publicity as Pseudoscience: A group of scientists and physicians has recently started a social media campaign calling all Ayush systems ‘pseudoscience’.

• Levels of Toxicity high: These activists conduct chemical analysis of many Ayush formulations and demonstrate that many of these products contain high doses of unwarranted constituents such as antibiotics, corticosteroids and heavy metals.

• Documentation of Adverse events reported: They also publish and share various clinical case reports where adverse events are reported after exposure to Ayush interventions.

• The myth of non-falsifiability of ancient texts: Academia, at present, has made Ayurveda a pseudoscience by teaching the young students that whatever is written in ancient texts is the ultimate truth and cannot be challenged. This renders the system unscientific.

Way forward:

• Support rational Ayurveda: It should be based on experimental rationality, i.e. through scientific evidence.

• Support even those who conduct tests on Ayurvedic medicine and publish negative results: These activities are crucial and need the support as this would make Ayush academicians and policymakers introspect seriously about the current system. The only way to make Ayurveda a real science is to present evidence before the scientific community showing that it works.

• Removing vagueness and subjectivity: An objective evaluation of complex Ayurveda practices is very difficult in the standard accepted format of ‘double blind randomised controlled trials’. The practical alternative is to go for longitudinal observational studies.

• Need for regulation: ‘Commercialization of the sector’ needs to be regulated to ensure that propriety formulation products go through robust pre-marketing studies. Even classical formulations that contain toxic substances such as heavy metals need to be regulated.

• Focus on Quality rather than Quantity: Further, maintaining only a manageable number of colleges is essential to ensure that all students get good clinical exposure. The indiscriminate growth of new Ayush colleges is another matter of concern.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the permanent commission (PC) for women Army officers, consider the following statements:

1. The Union Government agreed to grant permanent commission (PC) to 11 women Army officers who met the eligibility criteria.

2. According to Supreme Court order permanent commission should be given to women SSC officers who obtained 30% marks in their assessment.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

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