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The smile of Ayurveda

The recently concluded Global Ayurveda Festival in the city had Ayurveda doctors working in Germany and Italy lamenting on the ignorance of the Western World in their refusal to trust this anc

Published: 25th February 2012 01:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:03 PM   |  A+A-

The recently concluded Global Ayurveda Festival in the city had Ayurveda doctors working in Germany and Italy lamenting on the ignorance of the Western World in their refusal to trust this ancient medical system.

 Be it in India, or be it abroad, Ayurveda has always been under pressure to prove itself, to identify that particular compound that cures a particular illness, to isolate it, purify it and again prove the chemical pathway by which it acts and so on and so forth.

Why should the wisdom of the ancient science of Ayurveda be translated into the language of Allopathy? Evolved from a deep understanding of creation, by observing the fundamentals of life and the deepest truths of human physiology and health, Ayurveda takes a holistic view of creation, to heal the sick, maintain health in the healthy and prevent diseases.

Often in the scientific hunt for the tiniest molecule that cures a disease, this holistic approach gets lost. Same with modern quick-fix methods to make Ayurvedic medicines. A paper published in the latest issue of the ‘International Journal of Biological Macromolecules’ just underlines this point.

A group of scientists from the Biotechnology and Microbiology Departments of the Kannur University decided to check out whether the long, sluggish process of fermentation as prescribed by the Ayurveda texts in the production of ‘arishtam’ and ‘asavam’ could be cut short using modern techniques.

The team comprising M Haridas, C Sadasivan, A Sabu, G K Prasanth, Abhilash Joseph and D Naveen Chandra first identified the plants that are used in anti-arthritis Ayurvedic medicines. They found that all of them had in common a high content of the compound berberine, which was acting as the curing agent.

Then they explored how berberine actually brought down the inflammation. They knew that it was a villain enzyme, by name Phospolipase, that destroys the cell membrane units, thus triggering an inflammatory pathway. And, the Kannur team found that berberine from plants blocks the activity of Phospholipase, thus bringing down inflammation.

But they had another more important finding. The medicine was effective only when it was fermented for the prescribed number of days as per the Ayurveda texts. Only then does demethylation (removal of methyl groups) of berberine happens and it is the demethylated berberine that is most active.

A shorter, easier method, will have the same amount of alcohol in the medicine all right, but will not be as active as when processed by the time-consuming traditional method.

"It is not the amount of alcohol, but demethylation of berberine that is important. If you go by the amount of alcohol, the medicine would not be effective,’’ said M Haridas, who headed the study. So now you know why some of the ayurvedic medicines are not effective.

No other system of medicine uses fermentation technology as in Ayurveda; however, the Ayurveda texts, as a general character and unlike Allopathy, do not provide reasons for adopting the technique. Just as it would not tell you about the specific compounds that would come out of the plant when different kinds of firewood are used to heat the stove.

It would take hundreds of years for the mortal man to find all the answers. And all the while, this grandmother of a medical system would have a smile on her face. The smile of a thousand years of wisdom.

(Sci-bug takes you across the world, from test-tubes and petri-dishes to the farthest corners of the planet and beyond, wherever science makes interesting findings. Keep track of the bug, every Saturday. And do not forget to give us a feedback on cityexpresstvm@newindianexpress.com.)



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