Ayurveda and Modern Medicine: Are They Compatible?
In the recent past, scientists sought to explain the relationship between Ayurveda and modern medicine; mostly since both aim to resolve or prevent disease.
However, a dispute has occurred among scientists on the topic. Some consider Ayurveda defective in its treatment methodology. According to some scientists, some diseases are not adequately treated to prevent the loss of life.
On the other hand, others argue that the holistic nature of Ayurveda is much more practical than modern medicine and comes with less adverse effects.
Yet it is difficult to clarify recommendations for or against the Ayurvedic approach. The big question is, can the two be compatible or conjoined somehow? We might compare this to how Japanese conventional medicine has embraced Traditional Kampo medicine in Japan.
Are the two approaches compatible?
Although many scientists do not consider it a science, Ayurveda has strong roots in traditional science and research. By definition, the word “Ayurveda” is roughly translated to “the science of life.”
Ayurveda involves a number of clinical practices and techniques. These include herbal medicine, nutritional diets, bodywork and medical massage, psychology, spirituality and even some surgical interventions. These therapies have been the result of clinical application and research by traditional doctors for more than 5,000 years. In fact, many modern medical therapies have their original foundation in traditional Ayurveda herbs and practices.
Indeed, there is a multitude of modern clinical studies that have supported the use of Ayurvedic medicines. These include, for example, Ashwagandha, proven effective for dozens of conditions, Gotu kola, found to be effective for many conditions, and ginger, also found effective for a number of conditions. These and many other therapies have been proven out in modern clinical studies, showing that Ayurvedic remedies can treat a variety of diseases.
Yet there is simply not enough modern research on Ayurveda remedies to convince mainstream medicine. This relates to the reality that Ayurveda is not well understood, but also that plant medicine research is not well-funded. This lack of research compared to pharmaceuticals makes it more difficult for modern Western medicine to make recommendations for or against the use of Ayurveda herbs. After all, Ayurveda says that a drug must be balanced in both the quality and safety profile for the herbs to be recommended.
For the perfect realization of its possibilities in modern science, we need to realize the differences between Western medicine and Ayurveda.
Unfortunately, most of the differences between the two approaches are philosophical. For clarification purposes, modern science involves the science of diagnosis nomenclature (naming a disease) and treatment using pharmaceutical, surgery or mechanical interventions. This science has been evolving for thousands of years, during which methods developed in from religious and philosophical practice using herbalism to a more technological approach of treating patients with pharmaceuticals and surgery.
By contrast, Ayurveda focuses upon the health of the whole person. This relates to the elements of dosha and body type, and what is the ideal relationship between the body and the environment.
Below are some of the specific similarities and differences between Ayurveda and modern Western medicine.
Western medicine and Ayurveda have several similarities. For one, both are sciences, and treat the human body, aim to remove ailments, and aim at maintaining the body’s health. Both aim at curing disease.
Although the two fields are entirely different, proper drug prescription depends on the analysis of the disease symptoms. According to Leonie Satori, Naturopath, ancient Greeks theorized that all diseases are caused by a decrease or disarrangement of vital body fluids by the loss of animal warmth. They concluded that the illnesses were curable with the restoration of the body energy, and removing the prior cause of the diseases. Using Western Indian Ayurvedic medications, they would induce vomiting, cayenne to produce body heat, and vapor bath to induce sweating. All these were derived from ancient Native West-Indian medicine.
Ancient Greece’s philosopher, Hippocrates (468-377BC), perceived symptoms as an expression of the human orgasmic defense systems reacting to an infection. Therefore, he implied that aiming at curing the symptoms might hinder the healing process. These are the same theories applied in modern science and Ayurveda. Both philosophies aimed at achieving holistic treatment of the illness causes rather than just eliminating the symptoms. Each uses different cleaning or removal techniques to remove the toxins and enhance bodily function.
In 1900, J.M. Thurston, M.D. and professor at the Physiomedical College of Indiana defined physiomedicalism as a practical approach towards healing considering scientific ideas like blood circulation and nervous system functioning. For effective treatment, physiomedical doctors aimed at eliminating the toxic impediments which hindered cellular growth. The system emphasized the need for herbal medicine in balancing the circulatory system, modifying and enhancing body functions and eliminating toxic encumbrances.
Physiomedicalism has many similarities with Ayurveda. It also provided somewhat of a bridge between Western medicine and Ayurveda.
The main difference between Ayurveda and modern medicine is that modern medicine typically treats the symptoms only while Ayurveda treats the entire body as a whole. According to many experts on Ayurveda, most drugs do not overcome the problem and instead, they reduce the mild symptoms. Instead, the prescribed medications may cause some unintended side-effects.
Ayurveda is considered a way of living. For a person to be healthy according to Dr. Robert Svoboda, an Ayurvedic physician, your body must be in balance with nature, your mind must be in harmony with your society, and your soul must be satisfied spiritually. There are five forms of material energy in Ayurveda, Akash (Ether), Vayu (air), Tejas (fire), Apas (water), and Pritvi (earth), Each of them have different and unique attributes, and the universe is built in and composed of all the energy forms in different proportions.
Therefore, for proper health, one has to determine the nature of their physical and social environment to know the remedies to take. According to Ayurveda, each person has different attributes and recommendations to take based on their different body type. That is, the Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. The complexities of its philosophy are beyond mentioning.
The scientific medical and cultural differences between the two fields require different understandings and approaches. On one hand, conventional medicine depends upon scientific research while Ayurveda encourages a more holistic approach towards healing.
The need for preservation of the environment is a critical issue. According to Sanjeev Rastogi, there is a rapid reduction in natural resources which poses a threat to the sustainability of traditional medicine. Relying on Ayurveda rather than modern science could encourage the protection of heritage and the environment. Ayurveda allows the use of animal products without doing actual harm to them and therefore doesn’t pose a threat to their existence. To find a balance between our natural habitats and proper medication, we need to re-visit traditional approaches to medicine.
Here are some of the benefits of integrating Ayurveda in modern science:
– Sustaining traditional medicine
– Preserving the environment and plant-based medicines
– Encouraging respect for animals
With additional research, modern science and Ayurveda can be bonded together. The research so far has provided clear evidence that Ayurvedic medicines provide valid treatment alternatives. The ultimate benefit would be to humankind as well as the environment. Quite simply, holistic medicine is more environmentally friendly.
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Alice Moore is a lifestyle writer who is fond of exploring different cultures and blending them into her life. She has been living an Ayurvedic lifestyle since coming across Ayurveda in her journey to India to explore yoga. Having fallen in love with its traditional wisdom, she is now a big advocate, and shares Ayurvedic wherever and whenever her pen decides to write.