28 June 2022 22:57
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Dismantling targeted, falsified and non-factual claims about Ayurvedá

We need strategic partnership and expertise of multiple organisations and the Indian diaspora across the world through ‘research and scale-up engagements.

By Avinash V Karpe

Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH) conference was held online by some anti-Hindu professionals online in September 2021. During the conference, various aspects of Indian (Bhartiya) culture were systematically targeted by the so-called academicians across the world, predominantly consisting of people of Indian origin or working in several Indian organisations.

Similar to the other aspects, Ayurvedá, which is the traditional Bhartiya health system was also targeted and falsified and non-factual framing of this system was done over the course of DGH.

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While the actual science and principles behind were either brushed over or not put for discussion, the individual components such as Samhitas and texts were negatively highlighted by the presenters. A “broad brushing” methodology was used by professionals and members of DGH who either are not academically trained, are biased or can abuse their position. One of the common features seen throughout was presenting of minimal to no facts (read scientific data) and open bashing of the current Indian government.

Through this article, I try to present a counterargument to the presenters of DGH. However, I also highlight the necessity of employing the technology to retell Ayurvedá and yogic sciences in the lexicon that the wide-scientific community understands worldwide. 

Ayurveda; Image Source: @CANVA
Ayurveda; Image Source: @CANVA

My recommendation is that making the west understand the lexicon of our natural and health sciences is the first step to teaching them the deeper aspects and principles of these Indic sciences i.e., how the basics are taught to the kids in kindergarten. Moreover, Indian universities should also promote research and have mandatory courses that recognise the science and philosophy of India.

However, before that happens, it is important that the false propaganda is countered and demolished. For this, a ‘Poorva Paksha’ is needed, starting with the background of the work that the presenters who peddled their propaganda against Ayurvedá.

Background of the Presenters at DGH

Between the 3 “eminent” presenters who bashed Ayurvedá and Indian natural health sciences at DGH, there appears to be a combined of about 144 pieces of writing (journal articles, review papers, book chapters and books). Of these, one has a total publication list of 5 career research articles in Microbiology/Biochemistry based research, all before 1990, none after that. About 100 publications in social aspects of science and science history.

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The second one, although quotes “Infectious Disease’ in the profile, does not even have any experimental STEM article listed in its profile throughout its whole career. The third presenter, despite being from a biology background, has all the career articles focused on the fields of social aspects of science studies and philosophy of science in general. There is no publicly available research article on publication on evolutionary biology or biological experiment-based studies that this presenter shows on their career records.

Furthermore, it is important to note that out of about 144 articles these 3 presenters share between themselves, none of them has any background in biomedical and biological experimentation. Therefore, it is a big question how many of the aspects (broader or finer) these academicians know of regarding the research and development aspects of biomedical sciences. 

Some of the key points on which they bash Ayurvedá and Indian cultural aspects of Bhartiya health sciences, in general, include the points given below, to which I have provided a detailed rebuttal, with research articles and governmental documentation supporting my assertions.

Ayurveda; Image Source: @CANVA
Ayurveda; Image Source: @CANVA

Claim 1: Ayurvedic herbs for COVID-19 are untested and potentially dangerous

Claim: Sashimivati and Coronil contain a herb called Guduchi (Giloy) which has been found to cause serious liver damage in a number of studies conducted in India, Europe, and the USA. 

Rebuttal: The Coronil regimen consists of 3 ingredients of Giloy, Ashwagandha and Tulsi in addition to the Anu taila (nasal oil drops). In fact, in the studies conducted over 2020, results of which are now published, the team of Patanjali (1) did conduct a double-blind clinical trial with 100 patients who were screened for any pre-existing co-morbidities so that, if present, their possible impacts can be tracked. The study observed that within 7 days of treatment, the patient recovery was 100% as against 60% in the placebo group. Also, the level of pro-inflammatory proteins such as interleukin-6 and tumour necrosis factor-alpha decreased in the treated patients. In addition to this, the authors have explicitly indicated that the respective herbs were selected because traditionally, they have been observed to be effective against asthma and similar respiratory conditions, in addition to the immunological modulatory properties. 

While the speaker at DGH speaks repeatedly about the liver toxicity of Gudduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), it has been shown by:

  1. Sharma and Pandey (2) that in the mouse model, the aqueous leaf and stem extracts (0.4 g/kg body weight) of this plant provides protection to the liver cells against lead injury. The intake of the extracts also increased the levels of antioxidant proteins such as Catalase and Superoxide dismutase which correlated with the depletion of lead nitrate from mouse liver.
  2. Huang, Tu (3) that within the clinical applications, businesses, and scientific and popular media, more than 35% of websites (e.g., Wikipedia) misidentify Tinospora cordifolia (TCF)/gudduchi with Tinospora crispa (TCP)/ Patawali (Figure 1). They indicated that through a detailed web review, it was observed that while TCF/Gudduchi provided liver protection, TCP/Patawali, owing to its active ingredient of cis-clerodane terpenoids, causes hepatotoxicity. 
Screen Shot 2022 06 11 at 12.38.20 pm 1

Figure 1. The general appearance of Tinospora crispa and Tinospora cordifolia

  1. Nagral, Adhyaru (4) who claimed that TCF caused liver injury in 6 cases, indicated that 4 patients were taking plant twigs boiled in water. Also, 4 patients who were taking commercially available Gudduchi had previous cases of diabetes, hyperthyroidism or chronic liver disease as co-morbidity. Based on the report of  Huang, Tu (3), it was likely that the patients were mistakenly consuming TCP rather than TCF. Additionally, co-morbidity such as hyperthyroidism is known to cause jaundice or jaundice-like symptoms (5, 6).

The same details also would be applicable to other areas beyond the above-mentioned herbs used in COVID-19 medication as well. For example, this is one of the recent tweets I have been interacting with in relation to the misunderstanding of western medical professionals and non-natural medicine professionals (Figure 2).

pic 2 2

Figure 2. Misunderstanding of Ayurveda is deep within the Indian medical community, a snippet.

The context is one section of Charaka Samhita (Figure 3) that provides information about the benefits of ‘धूमपान’ (Dhoomapaanaa).

pic 3 3

Figure 3. Importance of धूमपान as described in Charaka Samhita, Chapter 18 (7) .

The non-natural medicine professionals with whom I interacted (and also the translator of this test), fallaciously limited the meaning of ‘Dhoom’ to ‘smoke’ and, thus, equating the term धूमपान to ‘smoking’. However, the standard Sanskrit translation services such as Macdonell’s (https://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/macdonell/) indicate that

धूम = smoke/vapour/mist/incense/fume

Going by this translation, treatments such as Asthma inhalers and reliever puffers, and any aerosol-based treatments, would also fit in the same category of treatment that is described in the Charaka Samhita above. When read by a person who doesn’t understand Sanskrit or Ayurvedá, the said translation appears to be in a bad light. Therefore, a thorough critical translation has now become very important so that the meaning reaches the reader in a very clear manner.

Furthermore, as the digitisation of these documents increases, it becomes very necessary that a good scientific context is provided in addition to the translation. Although this will make the document lengthy, it will act as a very important bridge between the language of our Maharishis and the lexicon/linguistics of modern science. In the context of the above document, the components mentioned in paragraph 1 of the translation include Realgar, Orpiment, Madhuka, Mamsi, Musta, Inguda, milk and jaggery.

  1. Realgar (मनःशीला; Red Orpiment): Mineral arsenicals such as Realgar or Red orpiment have been used not only in Ayurved but also in the Traditional Chinese medicine. Realgar has been reported to be used in oral manner to address antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, anticonvulsive and anti-schistosmiasis problems (8 – 10)  and lung cancer (11)
  2. Mamsi (जटामांसी): Popularly called Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi) has been indicated to provide protection from oxidative stress (12) , cardiac toxicity (13, 14)  tissue injuries in liver and lungs (15)  in animal models and cell culture experiments.
  3. Musta (मुस्तक/ मुस्तकगंधा): Known as Musthakam or Nagarmotha (Cyperus rotundus) has been reported to be a neuroprotective, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, antidiabetic, antiuropathogenic, and anticonvulsant (16) . Its extracts have shown cellular protection in breast cancer cells (17) , lung injury (18) , and potentially against a SARS-CoV2 replication (19) .
  4. Inguda (इङ्गुद): Referred to as akantaka, angaravrksa or ingudi (Balanites aegyptiaca L.). Has been experimentally shown to be an anti-viral (20) , anti-helminthic (21)  and hypoglycaemic (22) .

Claim 2: AYUSH ministry is giving false information

Claim: AYUSH is giving false information, putting untested herbs which are more dangerous than they are helpful. AYUSH downplayed the well-observed toxicity studies preferring the time-worn defence of thousands of years of use.

Rebuttal: In its guidelines dated 26th April 2021, The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) has explicitly indicated that the Ayurvedic medications are to be prescribed by the Vaidyas (doctors) as either an immunity booster (recovery and rejuvenation) or Add On treatment (preventive, symptomatic or integrated care). Importantly, India’s AYUSH Ministry looks after the fields of Ayurvedá, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy medications, as its name and mandate suggest. Common sense suggests that beyond these areas, it has no jurisdiction. So, it is natural that the ministry would only suggest the methods under its jurisdiction, which have traditionally shown effects against respiratory infections and disorders (23, 24). Clear statement disclaimers such as given below (Figure 4), among others, present AYUSH’s position that until the scientific wide-scale results come in, as have come for vaccines, the Ayurvedá medicines remain as the adjuvants and immunity boosters. In its disclaimer, AYUSH has clearly indicated that, 

  1. In all severe cases and life-threatening conditions, immediate medical care should be provided and, Ayurvedic drugs may be used as adjuvants along with contemporary management with proper consent procedures”.
  2. Patients need to have a general consultation/advice from qualified physicians before starting any intervention.
pic 4 4

Figure 4. Disclaimers issued by AYUSH for Ayurvedic practitioners in April 2020 regarding COVID-19 management.

Claim 3: AYUSH plays modern science as and when it suits them

Claim: AYUSH appropriated modern science when it suits them, but is kept out when examination of foundational aspects of remedies and practices of Ayurvedic principles.

The presenters stated that,

“AYUSH ministry who spoke their medicines to be scientifically effective defended the scrutiny of Ayurvedá by saying that it is a holistic science and cannot be subjected to the testification by double-blind studies. Using this principle, AYUSH became a purveyor of potentially dangerous drugs which have been untested and unsubstantiated. In the pandemic period, AYUSH and Hindu Mahasabha promoted dubious measures and prophylactics.”

However, the publically available information on the AYUSH ministry’s website shows a different story, completely opposite to what this ‘eminent’ scientist stated. In their notification dated 21st April 2020 (Figure 5), AYUSH released the public gazette stating the importance of clinical and research studies in the areas of its purview. It also has clearly mentioned that the tests, experiments and trials are necessary to set in the regulatory provisions in these natural health sciences, and has provisioned the research guidelines (25). 

pic 5 5

Figure 5. A public gazette issued by AYUSH in April 2020, stated the importance of clinical and research studies in the areas of its purview.

Additionally, in the vein of these presenters, the same rule would also apply to some of the very popular pharmaceutical drugs that have been tried and prescribed by the WHO and medical researchers. Just a cursory search indicates that multiple drugs such as Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, remdesivir, lopinavir + ritonavir, dexamethasone etc. have been authorised by FDA and WHO. However, Infectious Disease Specialists from Mayo Clinic (Figure 6) and several research articles have stated that

pic 6 6

Figure 6. Screenshot of Mayoclinic public information platform, COVID-19 (coronavirus) drugs: Are there any that work? (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/coronavirus-drugs/faq-20485627).

In light of the uncertainties such as these throughout the medical world, AYUSH in particular has been very explicit in its guidelines in the Order (F. No. Z 25023 /09/2018-2020-DCC), dated 1st April 2020 stating 

pic 7 7

Figure 7. AYUSH guidelines for action against rumours, dated 1st April 2020.

In this context, it is clear that AYUSH and the Government of India in general, have been careful and responsible about the management of the pandemic from the perspective of Ayurvedá. However, the big population of India and the difficulties it brings with it, are often underplayed by these “eminent scientists”. 

Claim4: Ayurvedá is kept out of the purview of modern science

Claim: Whatever is written in Sushruta and Charaka Samhita has been kept outside the purview of science

The presenter states, both in the conference and in their work (Figure 7), that modern science was scrubbed clean of its eistimology and turned into a materialistic and reductionist way of knowing something which was already known to the sages. It is also mentioned that

“The empiricism of modern science was simultaneously claimed and ridiculed in favour of eternal truth of Ayurvedá”

One of the presenter’s primary works indicates that

pic 8 8

Figure 7. Excerpts from the works of one of the presenters regarding their views on Ayurveda. Note the non-provision of citation to the statement.

However, no direct evidence or citation is provided in the presenter’s work when stating that the works of Charaka and Sushruta are outdated and not scientific. On the other hand, the prominent translations and transliterations such as that of Sharma (7)  (Figure 8) indicate that 

pic 9 1 9

Figure 8. Excerpts from Sharma (7), indicate the scientific follow-up process in Charaka Samhita.

This contradiction between the opinion of DGH presenter and primary translation is very evident, especially since before the tools of modern science arrived, symptoms, etiology, pathogenesis, and principles of treatment would be considered the empirical and scientific approach in the ten practised health sciences. 

But what do we need to counter this?

Indian medical professionals and so-called eminent scholars treat our traditional health system of Ayurvedá very badly. This behaviour comes not only from an incorrect language translation/ transliteration, but a very limited or no knowledge of physical, chemical, and biological philosophies (or principles) of how Ayurvedic/Yogic treatments and practices work. Although there is a considerable amount of text available from the works of Maharshi Sushruta, Charak and others, the lexicon of that rich era is not being carried on in modern science. Therefore, a considerable amount of knowledge has either been lost or still remains uncoded. For example, the ‘smoking’ regimen is shown in the above example. 

This conversation brought me to two key conclusions. 

  1. The necessity of developing critical translations

Similar to the errors or omissions we see in our school history syllabus, there are several lacunas in critical translations of our Ayurvedá texts (something on the lines of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, but in a better way). Prof. Priya Vrat Sharma who produced an excellent translation to Charaka Samhita (7) for Chaukhambha Orientalia has also stated this back in 1998 (Figure 9). Due to the advent of technology and the increased importance of human health, especially during the COVID-19 and the era which follows, it is becoming increasingly important to follow this through in a personal and institutional manner, on both private and government fronts.

pic 10 10

Figure 9. Excerpts from Sharma (7) indicate the importance of critical translation and transcribing of historical Ayurvedá texts.

  1. Elaborating the principles of how Ayurvedic medication works

There is also an absence of explaining the importance and principles behind various components in ayurvedic treatments and practices (why and how of things). as the digitisation of these documents increases, it becomes very necessary that a good scientific context is provided in addition to the translation. Although this will make the document lengthy, it will act as a very important bridge between the language of our Maharishis and the lexicon/linguistics of modern science and vice versa.

  1. Retelling the narrative of Ayurvedá and Yogic practices in modern science’s lexicon: Utilise the high throughput analytical platforms

Molecular biology and biochemical aspects when combined with the evolving machine learning tools, have the potential to build up a knowledge database for both Ayurvedic and Yogic practices. These 2 steps will be instrumental in resolving, to a great degree, the risks of:

  1. Losing the acceptability by a large part of the population, thereby causing severe erosion of our cultural background, and intertwining of Ayurvedá with day-to-day life
  2. Appropriation of Ayurvedic methods by commercial entities, causing a loss of the spread of this vital knowledge

Currently, the methodologies and protocols used for qualitatively/quantitatively analyzing the effects of Ayurvedic medication and yogic practices are limited to a few arrays of tests only. For example, in case of pranayama, techniques such as optical coherence tomography have been used for measuring intraocular pressure (26) . Other methods include resting heart rate variability (27) , spatial memory scores (28) , blood pressure, ECG and end-tidal CO2 (29)  and oxyhaemoglobin levels (30) . In addition to those, a limited number of studies have performed advanced analyses of blood superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, glutathione, and lactate levels (31, 32) .

In a recent framework document, Schmalzl, and Powers (33) while indicating several quantitative and qualitative assessments, have indicated the limitation of the Western scientific paradigm in the greater elaboration of yogic practices. In Ayurvedá or similar natural medicinal systems, primary tests used in animal/clinical trials include of basic clinical tests such as blood biochemistry (21), inflammatory cytokine and Myeloperoxidase (18) , and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) (15)  expressions. However, there is limited availability of studies that consider the whole body’s biochemistry to assess the changes that are caused by the application of natural medicines in the human body.

Hence, there is an increased need to integrate the cognitive, physiological, and biochemical aspects to provide a better understanding of Ayurvedic and yogic practices on the human body. Current health monitoring platforms measure the physiological and biochemical (such as blood sugar and lactate) aspects of personnel health. 

Molecular and biochemical studies have recently gained traction in the early detection of preventable health issues. These include assessing genetic and biochemical markers and exploring them longitudinally for deviations from a normal state. In endurance sports, “biological passports” are developed for professional athletes which help them to alter their nutrition and training, to optimise performance (Figure 10) (34, 35).

pic 11 11

Figure 10. A general pathway to generate impactful data by using developed platforms in the field of Ayurvedic treatments and understanding the chemistry of medicines and their action mechanism on the human body.

Similarly, genomic studies of blood samples have been used to determine the effects of stress on several key genes and immune proteins among post-deployment PTSD patients (36, 37)  post-deployment personnel exposed to combat trauma during active service (38) . Furthermore, metabolic studies have indicated reduced cortisol signalling in urine following stress and trauma events (39, 40) .

These platforms have also been used to understand the mechanisms of infections (34, 41 – 47) , chronic diseases and disorders such as irritable bowel disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, cancers (48 – 53, 55) and many others.

  1. Building scientific and popular narrative of Ayurvedá and Yogic practices on global platforms

Throughout the countries we count as superpowers, there is active work to build the storytelling of their achievements and innovation through heavyweight platforms. These involve:

  1. Governmental organisations: 
    1. NCBI, NLM, PubMed from National Institutes of Health, USA. 
    2. National Science Foundation, USA. 
    3. European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), EU. 
    4. UniProt Consortium, USA, and EU
    5. China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), PRC
    6. Chinese Academy of Sciences, PRC
    7. Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG), Japan
  2. Non-Governmental:
    1. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA
    2. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, The UK
    3. J. Craig Venter Institute, USA
    4. Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID), USA
    5. ResearchGate, Germany
    6. Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., USA 

Organisations such as these are very influential not only in science but also in forming the opinions of science and its communication among the global audience. We can say that they are the organisations that in addition to being scientific repositories, drive the science and its language of their places of origin throughout the world. 

The influence of some of these organisations can be indicated by 2 examples. First is the Wellcome trust which funds research and development in the UK. The trust’s funding charter for various research projects indicates that it provides free, online access to published research covered through its grant funding. The policy (https://wellcome.org/grant-funding/guidance/open-access-guidance/open-access-policy) indicates (Figure 11) that

pic 12 12

Figure 11. Open access research publication policy of Welcome Trust.

A slightly different route is used by Chinese organisations such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences and, several universities support the research paper publication funding. All the authors (primarily from Chinese institutes) have to do is do the research and put it in prominent journals such as Science Magazine, Institute of Physics Publishing (IOP Science) and Springer, among others (Figure 12). It is important to mention here that this list does not include a majority of scientific publishers (> 95%) in scientific and humanities journals, such as Elsevier, Springer, Sage, IEEE,  Wiley etc. which are based in the USA and  European countries.

pic 13 13

Figure 12. Article-processing sponsorships are provided by organisations to some representative scientific journals.

From a cursory search, it appears that about 85 journals listed on the Springer Open website in 2016, were sponsored for open access publication by various organisations across the World, none featuring any Indian Organisation. A 2018 study by Hajar and Zahra (54) has indicated that both institutionally and as a country, India does not figure at all in the Open access funding model for any research articles. The top 10 countries in terms of absolute numbers include the Netherlands (48.33%), the USA (4.13%), Germany (6.35%), UK (6.05%), China (2.56%), Japan (2.2%), Poland (14.14%), Italy (2.4%), France (2.06%) and Norway (10.8%), in that order. Even less developed countries such as Kenya, Armenia, and Swaziland feature in this list when the data is normalized (54). This is very unfortunate and Indian organisations, both governmental and non-governmental need to focus on this. Small things such as these help the nations to drive their strategic scientific fields and subjects worldwide, especially in an era of the Internet coupled with Artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Conclusions

Through this paper, I aim to address the necessity by:

  1. Leveraging strategic partnership and expertise of multiple organisations and Indian diaspora across the world through ‘research and scale-up engagements. Such collaborations offer a valuable opportunity for proving an elaboration of our cultural Ayurvedic and Yogic sciences to a global audience. Similarly, it will also aid to connect Natural medicine and related indigenous practices followed across those countries with India’s indigenous cultural knowledge and make them more global. 
  2. Providing a good entry point for the Western medical community to increase their understanding of our cultural practices in health, well-being, and spirituality. At the moment, some of these are seen simply as either spiritual or unscientific bunkum. Establishing a solid platform by achieving the above-mentioned objectives will introduce the Western scientific community to the deeper aspects of Ayurvedá and Yoga which go beyond just curing a patient or increasing the flexibility of the body.

I hope that the items I have mentioned here come to fruition over the coming years through the cross-collaboration of Bhartiya people (born or naturalized) with Indian and global establishments. Defending our sciences is a difficult and tall task, but going by our history over millennia, I am sure that we can destroy these Taamsik forces and demonstrate the scientific rigour of Ayurvedá and yogic sciences in the lexicon of modern science so that they learn and graduate this proverbial ‘science’s kindergarten’ and move up the ladder, from Intellect to Intelligence.

असतो मा सद्गमय । तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय । मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय । ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥asato mā sadgamaya tamaso mā jyotir gamaya mrityormā amritam gamaya Oṁ śhānti śhānti śhāntiḥFrom ignorance, lead me to truth. From darkness, lead me to light. From death, lead me to immortality Om śhānti śhānti śhāntiḥ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28)

Contributing Author: Avinash V Karpe, Visiting Research Scientist at CSIRO and Swinburne University of Technology.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The Australia Today is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts, or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The Australia Today and The Australia Today News does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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