As we look into the future of medicine, dominated by conventional medicine practices and potential for artificial intelligence, Ayurveda may seem like a misfit in the results-driven, technical world of modern medicine. Many trying to analyze the efficacy of Ayurveda treatments and compare it to modern medical treatments are often dissatisfied with Ayurveda’s ancient, spiritual quality, but the danger of this comparison is that the entirety isn’t considered. Ayurveda needs to be better appreciated for its past and adapted for the future in order for its untapped potential to be utilized.
In today’s world, Ayurveda is being perceived more as an off-the-counter, commercialized brand for natural products than as a system of medicine. This reveals an underbelly of cultural insensitivity and crafts a narrow perspective on Ayurveda’s significance as an ancient Indian system of natural medicine. Ayurvedic principles have been recorded on three large and three smaller scriptures. They carry interdisciplinary information about daily lifestyle, seasonal diet regimes, mother and child care, longevity, surgery, social relationships, and more. While the information about Ayurveda in these classic texts lacks modern medical terminology, it reveals a detailed and well-developed medical system in ancient times that was the pioneer for many aspects of modern medicine, cosmetic surgery being one. This medical system was central to treatment of ailments in ancient times, just like conventional medicine is in modern times, but provided many patients natural treatments without side-effects.
By removing the philosophy and medical significance of Ayurveda and commercializing it to just some detoxification therapy, pinch of turmeric in a meal, or even worse, a massage session, we lose the essence of why this system of medicine has sustained itself even after years of modernity and technological development.
To bridge the divide between modern medicine and Ayurveda, it is important to consider examples of how they compare and contrast from each other:
— On my very first day at an Ayurveda therapy foundation course, I learned that Ayurveda is a philosophy of health, not of disease. The main goals are preservation of health and prevention of disease with holistic interventions free of side effects so that either good health is maintained or early stages of a disease don’t reach an acute stage, which is applicable to the vast majority of the population. This is different from what allopathy is best for: faster relief for the rest of the population that have acute illnesses, with treatments that involve side effects and possible adverse drug reactions.
— A core theory of Ayurveda is that everything in nature, including our human body, is made up of water, fire, ether, earth, and air, which shows how big of an influence our environment has on health. This is supported by biological science: there are more microbial cells than human cells in a human body, with a ratio of around 1.3:1 (Sender, Fuchs, & Milo, 2016).
— While modern medicine is used to provide the same treatment solution for patients with similar conditions, Ayurveda accounts for both external and internal factors–everything from external stressors, the patient’s state of mind, pulse rate, skin, ENT, and waste material–that provide context when examining a patient. This allows for a more personalized course of healing that focuses on the root cause of the disease, not the disease itself. Biomarkers in modern medicine that give better context of a disease and that can help with earlier detection stem from this Ayurvedic principle.
Currently, a significant consideration to be made is how ancient Ayurveda practices and therapies can be further developed and researched beyond the texts so that they can serve as scientifically verified treatments for less severe ailments. With positive changes underway, such as new Ayurveda research institutes being developed pan-India, it is possible that Ayurvedic theories get the medical backing needed for Ayurvedic treatments to be a possibility. And when that happens, Ayurveda has the potential to move beyond its current superficialized perception and integrate well with modern medicine, revolutionizing medicine into a more holistic practice that incorporates the “quick fixes” of allopathy with the missing puzzle piece: Ayurveda.
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Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R (2016) Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body. PLoS Biol 14(8): e1002533. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002533
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