Perspective of Ayurveda

Historical Milestones :

The concern for life is as old as life. The science of knowledge of healing was explained in the form of Ayurveda. (Ayu-Health, Veda-Science). According to Charaka ‘Ayu’ is comprised of four essential parts i.e. mind, body, senses and the soul. And their most pleasant combination making life very happy. Ayurveda is based on the knowledge gained by the great sage (Bhardwaj rishi) around 5000 BC.

The Ayurveda was practiced by sages during the vedic era. Sage Bhardwaj tought it to Atreya, Punarvasu and other sages. Atreya had 6 disciples who composed teaching of Atreya in their own version. Agnivesa composed Agnivesa-tantra. This was reconstructed by Charak in the form of Charaksamhita. The treatment of diseases was described by internal and external applications of medicine. During the period from 8th century to 18th century AD India passed through a series of sanguinary political upheavals. These events lead to initiation of fall of Ayurveda in India. The Vaidyas preserved the knowledge and disseminated to students from distant countries at Indian Universities. The decline of Ayurveda in India took place during this period because of several reasons like difference in ruler’s religion, language, philosophy health care system etc. The final blow was received during British rule which suppressed the Ayurveda by several ways- retraining ayurvedic education and promoting their own system of medicine. Inspite of these adverse situations many patriotic Indians started pumping new life and preserved our ancient knowledge of Ayurvedic preparations. Many manufacturing companies came into existence and today are leading in Ayurvedic drug manufacturing and are also paying attention on research on Ayurveda.

Future Trends :

In order to save the plants from being lost in the nature, the new technique of plant tissue culture has been practiced in Taiwan, China and other countries. The plant cells are cultured in media in huge reactors. The optimum temperature and other conditions are maintained. Samples from reactors are withdrawn periodically. Chromatography techniques are used to determine the yield of active compounds. The process is stopped after achieving the desired level of compound. The marc is removed, cleaned, dried, powdered and marketed. Ginseng powder prepared by this technique is exported by pharmaceutical companies of Taiwan. These botanicals are being marketed as health remedies.

In India there is a growing awareness for integrating Ayurvedic and modern system of medicine in teaching and research in our academic and research institutes. Such an endeavor will protect our glorious heritage from getting patented by western researchers. Minerals and heavy metal like mercury, arsenic, iron, lead etc are used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for the treatment of various diseases. The procedure for preparation and purification of the “Bhasama” formulation are described and followed in order to increase efficacy and reduce toxicity. The administration of correct dose and period of administration is very important. Recently there were reports about presence of high quantity of heavy metals in various bhasma and other Ayurvedic preparations. The threshold value (permissible limits) has been defined. However the judicious use of heavy metals and control of toxicity is required in their use. Chronic toxicity study of the metal formulations in animals is therefore necessary.

Current Status

Ayurveda our ancient science of traditional system of medicine is having organized system and clear aims and objectives. Therefore many countries have realized the importance of this system. The rich herbal and mineral material medica of Ayurveda has attracted the attention of researchers. The WHO (1996) has defined that “drug” is any substance or product that is used or intended to be used to modify or explore physiological systems or pathological states for the benefit of the recipient. The main sources of drugs are synthetic, medicinal plants (herbs), animal origin and biotechnology derived products, minerals and metals.

The synthetic drugs have certain advantages like large scale manufacture, stability, chemical assays, pharmacokinetic studies etc. But there are limitations as the cost of developing a hit molecule is enormous. Moreover the side effects and time required for approval are major constraints as a result of which there is sharp decline in introduction of new synthetic drugs. The research carried out on the synthetic drugs has helped to enrich our knowledge of physiology and pathology of animal and human body.

There is growing interest in traditional medicinal plants or herbal remedies because of their effectiveness, minimal side effects and low cost. Traditional medicines are used by about 60 % of the world’s populations. Some of the most potent drugs in use today are extracted from plants and several synthetic drugs are derived from starting molecule extracted from plants. The plant material contains many active chemical ingredients like alkaloids, flavonoides, saponins, glycosides, triterpenes, etc. The presences of large number of chemicals are sometimes beneficial as they attenuate the toxicity and enhance the activity (synergism). The yield of the main active ingredient may be very low therefore a large volume of the extracts needs to be administered. The agent showing activity needs to be identified. The plant contents vary during the seasons. It is necessary to authenticate the plant material and standardize by fingerprinting. The herbal standardization by various chemical, physical, pharmacognostic tests and biological assays would help to get reproducible results. However the cost involved is very high and therefore commercial endeavor to isolate the active ingredient may not be economically feasible. The alternative is to evaluate the preparation as it is used by traditional practitioners without much purification. During evaluation if the crude extract proves its efficacy and shows no toxicity in animals then clinical trials is worth to be undertaken. Another approach is to administer concomitantly with synthetic drug in order to increase the efficacy and reduce toxicity of synthetic drugs by tapering the dose. Such herb-drug interactions are studied and found to be beneficial. However many adverse reaction are also reported and clarified as herb-drug toxicities. This type of combinations therefore needs to be tested in animals for their efficacy and toxicity. After the preclinical testing a comprehensive clinical trial has to be carried out as it is done for a synthetic/biotechnology derived drug in the modern system of medicine.



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