Originally published on the Progressive Radio Network, October 31, 2019 © Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
Alongside Traditional Chinese Medicine, Indian Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest medical systems still widely accepted and practiced today. It has managed to thrive and flourish for at least three millennia and has built up an enormous body of diagnostic methods and treatments for a wide variety of mild to life-threatening illnesses and diseases. Evidence-based medicine has yet to fully explore its riches. Unlike modern conventional medicine that dominates our healthcare, Ayurveda is a “whole” medical system that goes beyond standard disease management, but also incorporates sophisticated ways sustain health, prevent physical disorders as well as balance the body and mind to promote wellness.
We might look at the entry for Ayurveda in a real encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Britannica notes that approximately 500 million Indians rely upon Ayurveda for their health care. In 1971, the Indian government established standards for Ayurveda education while recognizing the invaluable contributions this ancient medical system has made to prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases. According to statistics recorded by the Association of Ayurvedic Physicians in India, the nation’s largest Ayurveda organization, India is now home to about 250 Ayurveda colleges and teaching institutions and graduate approximately 12,000 doctors annually. The Association is affiliated with the medical school at Hindu Benares University in Varanasi, often regarded as India’s equivalent to Oxford. It is estimated that across the country, there are nearly 450,000 registered Ayurvedic practitioners.
Today, functional medicine is becoming more recognized as a course of disease management. Functional medicine is a biology-based approach to identify and tackle the root cause of an illness rather than focusing exclusively upon symptoms. Any given disease may have many causative factors — genes, environment, toxins, lifestyle, etc. Functional medicine therefore goes to the cause, which may be different for each person with the same diagnosis. Yet the underlying theory behind Functional Medicine has always been the basis for Ayurveda. The Britannica entry states,
“Like scientific medicine, Ayurveda has both preventive and curative aspects. The preventive component emphasizes the need for a strict code of personal and social hygiene, the details of which depend upon individual, climatic, and environmental needs. Bodily exercises, the use of herbal preparations, and Yoga form a part of the remedial measures. The curative aspects of Ayurveda involve the use of herbal medicines, external preparations, physiotherapy, and diet. It is a principle of Ayurveda that the preventive and therapeutic measures be adapted to the personal requirements of each patient. In other words, Britannica describes Ayurvedic medicine as “a well-organized system of traditional health care.”
What do we discover under Wikipedia’s pseudo-encyclopedic entry for Ayurveda? The first thing that might pop up for a viewer is a pictorial box with the heading “This article is part of a series on Alternative and Pseudo-medicine.” Beneath an image of the Hindu god Dhanavantari, the patron deity for Vedic medicine, Ayurveda is further identified with “fringe medicine and science” and “conspiracy theories.” The accompanying link to the “series” brings us to another page that identifies “Alternative Medicine” with “health fraud.” This is how the Skeptic ideology that has taken over Wikipedia frames all of its pages on alternative medical practices; it is a common Skeptic strategy to disparage and dissuade Wikipedia users from taking these non-conventional therapies seriously.
“Although laboratory experiments suggest it is possible that some substances used in Ayurveda might be developed into effective treatments, there is no scientific evidence that any are effective as currently practiced. Ayurveda medicine is considered pseudoscientific. Other researchers consider it a protoscience, or trans-science system instead… Today, ayurvedic medicine is considered pseudoscientific on account of its confusion between reality and metaphysical concepts.”
The last sentence is referenced by a near nonsensical Skeptic screed found in the Oxford Handbook of Psychiatry and makes no mention whatsoever to what the Skeptic Wikipedia editor is trying to convey. This is another typical incidence of Skeptics misquoting and reinterpreting the sources they reference to get their personal opinions wrongly validated.
On a separate Wikipedia page, “Clinical Trials on Ayurvedic Drugs,” the entry claims there is “no firm evidence” that Ayurveda can treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune condition that has been treated by Ayurvedic methods for hundreds of years. However, an honest objective study published in the International Journal for Ayurveda Research, sponsored by the World Health Organization and involving the collaboration of both allopathic and Ayurvedic physicians, followed 290 patients with RA using Ayurvedic protocols for 7 years and relying upon the criteria established by the American Rheumatism Association. The study’s results showed “statistically significant improvement in all parameters from admission to discharge…. Even patients with severe functional limitations showed significant improvement.”
The WHO sponsored study has been criticized for the lack of controls; however, we may remind Skeptics that none of the vaccines on the market, aside from the HPV Gardasil vaccine, has been double-blind tested against a scientifically valid placebo. And in the case of Gardasil, 17 girls died during the clinical trials. Nevertheless, without demanding a thorough investigation into the cause of these mortalities, the FDA fast tracked the vaccine through the review process. So laden are the most egregious hypocrisies in modern Skeptic literature and on Wikipedia, we can only conclude that duplicity and insincerity are institutionalized in the Skeptic ideology and Wikipedia.
Both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have been shown to be effective in treating Alzheimer’s Disease. Amyloid beta peptide has been one of the characteristic biomarkers that is believed to lead to irreversible neuronal damage. Therefore, developing drugs to inhibit beta-amyloid has been a primary therapeutic target. Unfortunately, the current popular drugs marketed to manage Alzheimer’s have serious toxic effects and limited efficacy. On the other hand, both the Indian and Chinese plant pharmacopeias have identified medicinal herbs with superior biosafety that possess multi-targeting activity to specific beta-amyloid enzyme inhibition. One plant in particular is Brahmi commonly used in Ayurvedic formulas. In a 2019 analysis of the existing research published in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, the overall evidence concludes that “Brahmi can be used as a lead formulation for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.”
Leading Skeptics such as Quackwatch founder Stephen Barrett, Harriet Hall, Steven Novella and David Gorski have written diatribes against Ayurveda as well as other ancient indigenous medical systems. Quoted in Wikipedia, Harriet Hall, for example, claims “Ayurveda is basically superstition mixed with soupcon of practical health advice. And it can be dangerous.” This statement can only be accepted if we reject the 5,500 peer-reviewed studies into Ayurveda cataloged in the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed database and the 5,000-plus positive studies recorded in the Chopra Library.
Wikipedia also pulls a quote from Cancer Research UK, “there is no scientific evidence to prove that Ayurvedic medicine can treat or cure cancer or any other disease.” But the same entry by Cancer Research also states, “Researchers have found that some Ayurvedic treatments can help relieve cancer symptoms. It can also improve quality of life” and that “They found that some [medicinal herbs] might help to slow the growth of cancer in animals.” Skeptic editors controlling Wikipedia’s “Ayurveda” page intentioally chose to exclude the institutes positive statements. This is blatant cherry-picking and extremely disingenuous. Besides, there is a growing body of research showing the therapeutic promises many of these ancient herbs have for preventing and treating cancer; in fact, this is referenced by Cancer Research UK.
Researchers in 2011 found that the common Ayurvedic herb Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwagandha or Indian ginseng, “stopped the growth of some types of breast cancer cells” in test tubes and mice. In 2017, another study found the same root extract improved the efficacy of cisplatin chemotherapy. And a 2018 study observed Ashwagandha contributed to the apoptosis of melanoma cancer cells. A more recent 2019 analysis of preclinical in vivo studies conducted by the University of Ghent in Belgium identified the “biochemical framework” that contributes to Ashwagandha ‘s polypharmacuetical effects against carcinogenic biomarkers.
Another major botanical frequently used in Ayurvedic formulas to treat inflammatory conditions, Boswellia serrata or Indian frankincense, has been observed to slow the growth of bowel cancer and triple-negative breast cancer cells.
Skeptics’ simple-mindedness often conflates essential ideas and concepts that underlie traditional medical systems with what Stephen Barrett terms as metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. It is a frequent habit among Skeptics, notably the authors of Quackwatch, to categorically dismiss and even ridicule whatever they cannot understand. But more likely, Skeptics are so entrenched in their own world of “religious” beliefs that anything outside Skepticism’s limited rationalist and pharmaceutical-based paradigm, remains incomprehensible and therefore repudiated as “pseudoscience” to be attacked and abolished. Yet, were the ancient physicians on to something that modern science has yet to explore and understand?
One example is Ayruveda’s theory of Prakritis, which are fundamental constitutional categories or phenotypes of individuals who are predisposed or vulnerable to certain diseases. Skepticism dismisses any scientific evidence to support the Prakriti theory outright. However, research conducted at India’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology analyzed gene-wide expression levels of groups of patients falling under three of the major Prakriti classifications — Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The results indicate there are in fact fundamental differential gene expressions between the phenotypes that correspond to traditional Ayurvedia definitions and diagnoses. This is the first attempt to validate traditional phenotyping theories with modern biology and confirm that ancient physicians may have been far ahead of the curve for predicting various disease onsets than modern medicine.
The World Health Organization’s “Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023” is a resolution to further establish the legitimacy of indigenous botanical medical systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine into global health policies and to advance their integration into modern medicine. Skeptics abhor this strategy and are quick to criticize efforts and funding to research and investigate the scientific wisdom in these ancient systems to improve the health of the world’s population. Skepticism embraces a one-size-fits-all model for treating disease while ignoring prevention altogether. Ayurveda and other traditional medical systems on the other hand do not exclude disease prevention from sustaining a healthy society. Skeptics do.
In conclusion, what do we learn? From Wikipedia, there is no benefit whatsoever for Ayurveda and no science to support it. We can reasonably surmise, based upon Wikipedia, that Ayurveda has no basis in science and should be ignored. We would also be led assume that those practicing this medical system are quacks or as Jimmy Wales says “lunatic charalatans.” But the reality is that half a billion Indians use Ayurveda as their primary healthcare or alongside modern medicine. And there are more or less 450,000 Ayurveda registered practitioners; and that is for India alone. Ayurveda is also practiced in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. This is an established medical system that is approximately 3,000 years old, which has been recognized as a legitimate therapeutic system with over 5,500 known research papers to treat cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, parasitical infections, mental disorders such as PTSD and depression, and much more.
Therefore, who are the real quacks who are utterly clueless about health and wellness? And who is engaged in an intentional disinformation campaign? This is one more reason why Wikipedia, its co-founder Jimmy Wales and its Board should be held accountable in a court of public opinion for pretending to be objective and informed authorities on medicine when the exact opposite is the case.