My Experiences with Ayurveda
I have no medical/biology/medicine background nor am I am a scientist nor do I claim to understand statistics. Read this as some thoughts of a layman.
The Wikipedia entry for Ayurveda starts with
Ayurveda is an alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. The theory and practice of Ayurveda is pseudoscientific. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterizes the practice of modern medicine by Ayurvedic practitioners as quackery.
Compare that the quackiest of all quackery — Homeopathy which gets similar treatment on Wikipedia entry.
This piece is not a defense of Ayurveda but an analysis of some personal experiences with it. I object to calling the entire broad practice of Ayurveda quackery — It's certainly not “science” as we have come to understand the word in the 21st century but calling it quackery is too much of a stretch.
Like most Indians, I have my fair share of experiences with Ayurveda and like most, I have mixed feelings about the practice of Ayurveda. My house contains a fair number of Ayurvedic medicines for a range of ailments like Acidity, Headache, Bloating, Bowel issues, and a range of other minor discomforts. I have liberally used these over the last 30 years and have not had any problematic reactions. In my experiences, these pills/powders have been reasonably effective though not silver bullets. But most of these ailments are shown to be affected by placebos in large trials and hence cant is used to attest efficacy of the practice.
Here are some significant experiences I have had with Ayurveda
Acne: Since my teenage years I suffered from tremendous bouts of acne. The allopathic physicians I visited gave me creams and pills which did not work. Hence I went to a renowned Ayurvedic practitioner in Pune. I took all medicine prescribed for almost 3 months while following a strict diet (no eggs, meat, curd for almost a year). None of these made the tiniest bit of impact while each visit to the practitioner included talks about how उष्ण I was (best translated into HEAT) and how the Acne was a manifestation of my उष्णता. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with all the Pittha, Kapha, Vatha talk but still, I continued the medicines for a good 3 months. Next, I went to a dermatologist and the antibiotic treatment (which included some specific antibiotics) started yielding results within days (some nasty bacteria were exterminated I presume). On retrospection I should have done this years ago, but for a variety of reasons I did not.
Kidney Stones: 4 years ago I developed Kidney stones which weren’t large enough to be treated/ operated but were painful nonetheless. The urologist’s prescription was to take some anti-inflammatory drugs during bouts of pain. Again I turned to an extraordinarily confident Ayurvedic practitioner who gave me some powders and syrups. It appeared to work within a couple of days. I have not had Kidney stones since. I get that this anecdote might just be easily explained by N other things but still went on to share it as not sharing it seemed incomplete.
Allergic Rhinitis: For 17 years I have suffered from frequent and severe bouts of Allergic Rhinitis (average once every week) — where I sneeze for most of the active day. I visited ENT & allergy specialist for this issue some years ago, we failed to pinpoint the trigger but I was prescribed anti-allergy pills for 3 months which worked for 3 months. The continuation of those pills for a lifetime wasn’t advisable and hence after 3 months I was prescribed Duonase Nasal Spray. This spray works 95% times if used with 5 minutes of the onset of Sneezing. But sadly the spray comes with side effects like Drowsiness, Reduced focus (esp while driving) and doesn't work for me once the Sneezing has already started for some time. So I turned to an Ayurvedic practitioner again. I followed the advice on diet and took medicines for a couple of months which had no effect whatsoever. I had resigned to accept this ailment as my fate which could only be moderated to a certain extent by maintaining a healthy sleep pattern in sync with Circadian rhythm. (this seems to be good advice for good immunity in general even for COVID)
With the Covid pandemic raging, a famous Ayurvedic technique called Jalneeti became popular in Maharashtra/Pune after it was recommended by oncologist Dr Dhananjay Kelkar who was at the vanguard of the fight against Covid at Deenanath Mangeshkar hospital as its Medical Director (one of the largest hospitals in Pune).
I started doing this technique 9 weeks ago as I trusted the words of a doctor of Dr. Kelkar’s renown. The practice appears difficult to follow at first, but it gets easy after a week or so. I do this practice two or three times a day depending on my day. Last 9 weeks I have not had a single major bout of allergic rhinitis which is unprecedented for me (I had a minor bout one time) especially given the fact that my sleep patterns are the worst they have ever been. I don’t know how long these results will continue, but I plan to continue this practice. I believe once WFH ends this practice might be difficult to follow, but still it can be easily achieved at least once a day.
Obviously, in absence of any scientific publication, I won't comment on its efficacy as a preventive for respiratory illnesses but I would recommend it strongly if you suffer from allergies.
In conclusion, I strongly protest against calling Ayurvedic practices as Quackery (it smells strongly of Anti Hindu bigotry) though I continue to be skeptical of Ayurvedic advice/treatments for nonpsychosomatic diseases in general. I even find the whole Coronil fiasco troubling. Additionally, the reduction of every ailment under the sun into Pittha, Kapha, Vata appears very frustrating in the 21st century especially given all we know about health. I sincerely hope more funding finds its way towards the study of Ayurveda which is unfettered by ideology/ dogmatism or nativist biases. I hope someone in India (maybe GOI or state governments) sponsors research into the plethora of Ayurvedic practices instead of clubbing it with Homeopathy under AYUSH.
Here is an interesting piece on Ayurgenonics by Anand Ranganathan — the Twitter and TV debate celebrity.