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Raising Global Consciousness

Insights from Ayurvedic medicine rediscovered - taking drugs with the right foods makes them work better

Western medicine is slowly rediscovering the wisdom of Ayurveda.

I have just been reading an article on the BBC website called Right foods 'may help drugs work' with the subtext - Combining medicines with the right food could improve the effectiveness of drugs and reduce the costs of treating patients, experts say. This was based on research by oncologists at the University of Chicago treating breast cancer patients. They discovered that simply taking the cancer drug with food, rather than on an empty stomach, increased it's availability in the body by 167%. And taking it with a fatty meal increased it by 325%.

In Ayurveda prescribing "medicine" is not simply a case of prescribing a regime of take X tablets, Y times a day for Z days. It is far more sophisticated. The type of discovery made by these oncologists is old hat.

To start with, if "medicines" are prescribed, the patient will be given specific overall dietary and lifestyle regimes either with or usually before the drug regime is commenced. The reason for this is that food itself is medicine and, body function is effected by variables such as exercise, sleep, environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, sound etc. as well as mental and emotional states. In many cases, drug therapy will only be prescribed after the practitioner has observed the effects of these basic changes on the patient because they by themselves may be sufficient and/or the results of their practice will act as a diagnostic tool to guide the practitioner develop a more effective "drug" regime.

It appears that we often forget that it is not drugs that cure. Rather, it is the body that cures itself. The body has inbuilt feedback loops and mechanisms that maintain health. Disease occurs when these systems fail. In Ayurveda we seek to help the body re-establish these health systems. This often is more a case of identifying the "causative factors" behind the malfunctioning of these systems and "removing" them rather than "adding" powerful drugs that risk weakening the body system and creating further malfunctions.

If "drugs" are prescribed to the patient many factors are taken into consideration that affect how those drugs will react and the body system they will target. So for example when the drugs are taken (time of day, before eating, while eating, after eating), the carrier agent that delivers the drug (water, honey, fat, alcohol, ginger, etc change the effect of the drugs action), synergistic herbs (that facilitate the action of the main herbs) and digestive hers (ones that facilitate digestion or elimination) - these are all factors taken into consideration.

So Ayurveda has a rich established theoretical framework for enhancing the delivery of "drugs" to patients that might provide western medicine with ways to deliver drugs in the future that are more effective and/or mean that we get the same results using less drugs.

What we ned to do now is design some research to test these insights.

Unfortunately there are a couple of factors in our society that I feel will make this approach difficult to research and put into practice.

First, most medical research is either performed or funded by pharmaceutical companies. Any treatment regime that reduces the consumption of the drugs that they manufacture will reduce their profits. Given this we cannot expect these firms to sponsor or directly engage in research that actively looks at treatment protocols that reduce drug consumption and their profits. Neither can we expect them to participate in research that might discover these protocols or non patentable protocols that substitute for patented profit making protocols.

In the second instance the structure of the medical system is inappropriate for the Ayurvedic approach. Six minute consultations do not give the practitioner enough time with the patient to either do the type of in-depth investigation that is necessary to unearth the possible causative factors, or to educate and coach the patient on appropriate remedial changes.

Thirdly, patients live in a time poor society and may not either have the life skills necessary to make the changes (they may not know how to cook) or access to the facilities required to make these changes. It is far more likely that a patient will choose a system that offers quick relief from symptoms that requires no changes other than popping a few pills over one that requires inconvenient changes to diet and lifestyle and offers slower change. Our society is used to immediate results with the minimum effort.

The fourth point relates to patient psychology. Sick people are usually anxious about their condition. A quick diagnosis and something to take or a invasive procedure gives the feeling that the doctor knows what they are doing and taking action to help them. In comparison, being told to try something such as "stop eating sugar, wheat and dairy products and come back next week and lets see how things have changed" can easily be interpreted as the doctor doesn't know what is wrong or that there is no positive action being taken. The well know placebo effect is a clear demonstration of this process in action.

Fifth, Western trained medical doctors do not have either the training or mindset to practice with an Ayurvedic approach. In essence, Ayurveda sees the body as a complex adaptive system subject to what we now recognise as systems theory, chaos theory and complexity theory. These are more complex forms of cognition and seeing the world that the reductive science that informs current medical training.

Sixth, unfortunately Ayurveda has not yet reframed itself using the language of information and systems theory. The fact is that most Ayurvedic practitioner are unaware of these terms which themselves have only recently been added to the lexicon. This makes it harder for "outsiders" to comprehend the great insights that Ayurveda has to offer and it makes it difficult for Ayurveda to frame them in ways that might make them easier to think about researching.

So while Ayurveda has some rich insights in the the practice of medicine - and particularly the maintenance and enhancement of health, as distinct from the treatment of disease - these insights are only likely to be rediscovered accidentally. And even then it is unlikely that they will be recognised as rediscoveries of processes that are already known and being practiced. It is much more likely that they will be reported as new breakthroughs or discoveries.