More on Ayurveda

So, not long after I read Orac’s hit piece on alternative medicine about a very old JAMA article about mercury in Ayurvedic herbs manufactured in India and sold in the US, I read this entry on how the government of India is testing Ayurveda and trying to see how it fits with the world of modern medicine. Part of this process, of course, is Good Manufacturing Practices designed to ensure that what you manufacture (say, herbs suitable for Ayurveda) is what you say you manufacture (as opposed to, say, mercury-laden herbs or bone powder). But there’s more to this story.

It seems very strange to me that medical systems are evaluated only by what they put in people’s bodies. Ayurveda’s not about the herbs and remedies, and neither is most other “altie” medicine. Most alternative medicine I know about is about prevention, and most good conventional doctors talk about how important prevention is but do little else to back it up. Ayurveda is about adjusting lifestyle to balance the forces that control one’s body and to work with the body, rather than against. (Adherents to the spiritual philosophies might talk about balancing the “energies” in your body, but you can easily adapt this line of thinking to physical forces if you happen to be a radical materialist.) It’s about being conscious of the food you eat and how you react physically and emotionally. For example, textbooks say that spinach is good for you, but how do YOU react to it? You have to be conscious of what you are eating and how you are eating, and how you feel in the hours afterward. If you feel good, then it’s probably ok to eat it again. If you eat too much and feel to flatulent, then it’s probably better to cut it down or out, no matter what the textbooks say. The same goes for yoga poses, exercises, meditations, and massages.

The drawback to these systems is that there is a lot of crap out there, and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish from the real deal. The levels of mercury found in some lots of herbal remedies manufactured in India did contain high levels of heavy metals including mercury and arsenic, and these should be avoided. (It should be stressed that these problems occur less often in US-manufactured goods because of current Good Manufacturing Practices requirements. I think that WTO(World Trade Organization) countries also adopt cGMP(current Good Manufacturing Practices).) Fortunately, the Indian government and the UN are taking some steps on regulating the content of Ayurvedic herbs and certifying yoga centers. We do need objective sources of information on these systems of medicine, and I’m glad to see these regulations coming into place. It looks like the UN committee is also seeking regulation on homeopathy remedies, though do note that manufacture of homeopathic remedies is regulated by the FDA, and there is a Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia. More information about US homeopathic regulation is here and elsewhere in this blog.

You might take a look at Dr. Stephen Bratman’s site as well. But remember, what may be a cure for others may be poisonous for you … drugs, herbs, foods, whatever.

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