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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 35  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 129-131

Research to power a quantum leap in the development of Ayurveda

Research Director, Amrita Centre for Advanced Research in Ayurveda, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (University), Kollam, Kerala, India

Date of Web Publication8-Apr-2016

Correspondence Address:
P Ram Manohar
Research Director, Amrita Centre for Advanced Research in Ayurveda, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (University), Kollam, Kerala
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0257-7941.179871

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How to cite this article:
Manohar P R. Research to power a quantum leap in the development of Ayurveda. Ancient Sci Life 2016;35:129-31

How to cite this URL:
Manohar P R. Research to power a quantum leap in the development of Ayurveda. Ancient Sci Life [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Mar 30];35:129-31. Available from: https://www.ancientscienceoflife.org/text.asp?2016/35/3/129/179871

A recent report revealed that the Department of AYUSH has failed to utilise 50% of the funds allocated to it for the year 2015-16. The spending for research is almost negligible. INR 90.5 lakhs was allocated for the post graduate teaching program which has not been utilized.[1] While the clinical practice of Ayurveda continues to sustain itself and even spread globally in a limited way, research to generate evidence to support the adaptations and modifications in the practice of Ayurveda has been lagging behind. Research is warranted even when Ayurveda has been known to be a rigorous codification of knowledge that has been tested through centuries. This is because there has been tremendous loss of knowledge, break in continuity, vast adaptations and improvisations in practice, emergence of new diseases and health problems.

Research in Ayurveda can move forward and become productive only by the efforts of skilled and motivated researchers, well formulated research strategies and methods and most importantly, adequate funding to execute the projects. It is an irony that Ayurveda is being challenged to produce evidence of efficacy, safety and its biological mechanism of action supporting its therapeutic interventions in the face of little investment being made to conduct high quality research. The financial outlay for AYUSH in the recent budget is only 3.66% of the total health care budget. One can imagine how much is allocated and how much actually spent for research. The situation is quite alarming considering that the government has been thinking of making AYUSH doctors act as the first line of support of healthcare in rural India.

Without nurturing high quality research, it would be impossible to expect the Ayurvedic community to generate data that would satisfy regulatory authorities and the scientific community. It also represents a lack of clear thinking about the role Ayurveda and the Ayurveda community in the national health programme.

Way back in 2004, Saper et al. pointed out the presence of heavy metals in Ayurvedic products sold in the general stores in the US.[2] It is deplorable that the Ayurvedic community has not been able to respond to the concerns raised by this publication even after a decade has passed. This and other challenges face Ayurveda research which need a systematic planning to be countered.

The findings of Saper's study is as follows - A total of 14 (20%) of 70 HMPs (95% confidence interval, 11%-31%) contained heavy metals: Lead (n = 13; median concentration, 40 µg/g; range, 5-37,000), mercury (n = 6; median concentration, 20,225 µg/g; range, 28-104,000), and/or arsenic (n = 6; median concentration, 430 µg/g; range, 37-8130). If taken as recommended by the manufacturers, each of these 14 could result in heavy metal toxicity according to regulatory standards.

Four years later, a second publication reinforced the presence of heavy metals in a substantial number of Ayurvedic formulations sold on the internet. From 673 identified products, 230 Ayurvedic medicines were randomly selected for purchase. 193 of these 230 medicines were analyzed and it was found that 20.7% of them contained heavy metals beyond the prescribed limits.[3]

Several research and newspaper articles reported incidents of heavy metal toxicity in Ayurvedic medicines. Gair wrote in the BC Medical Journal that heavy metals are often found in Ayurvedic remedies including lead, arsenic and mercury.[4] The DNA reported that doctors are warning against the use of Ayurvedic medicines because of the presence of heavy metals.[5] A few months ago, Edzard Ernst blogged his concerns about heavy metal poisoning resulting from the use of Ayurvedic remedies in actual patients.[6]

There have been many responses from the Ayurvedic community in defending the safety of properly manufactured Ayurvedic medicines, including the ones in which heavy metals are added intentionally. However, a market survey and analysis of medicines actually sold in the market similar to the study by Saper has not been forthcoming even after a decade has passed.

It was interesting to see a recent publication in the Arya Vaidyan reporting the analysis of 126 Ayurvedic medicines manufactured by 32 companies, which was analyzed using Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). In addition, the content of heavy metals in 34 common Ayurvedic herbs used in the market was also analyzed. The paper authored by Sebastian et al.[7] reports that all the 126 Ayurvedic formulations studied showed presence of Lead, Arsenic, Cadmium and Mercury in quantities well below the permitted levels. It is pertinent to note that these are purely herbal formulations in which heavy metals are not added intentionally. Ayurvedic practitioners contend that in such medicines, presence of heavy metals can be attributed to contamination originating in the environment or during the process of manufacturing, storage or packaging of the medicines. If Good Manufacturing Practices are followed, then there should not be any chance of contamination with such toxic substances. This study is perhaps a pointer to the fact that well manufactured Ayurvedic herbal formulations are free from heavy metal contamination. With more widespread surveys covering the entire range of Ayurvedic formulations sold in the market, it would be possible to get a clear understanding of the situation.

While such studies focus on the inherent safety of herbal formulations in which metals and minerals are not deliberately added, the category of Ayurvedic formulations used in Rasashastra present a different case altogether. In the case of such medicines, it is not possible to demonstrate the absence of heavy metals, but what is required is a demonstration of their conversion into non-toxic states. We are yet to cover much ground in this direction.

The recent publication by Prof. M.S. Valiathan summarizing the outcomes of the Ayurvedic Biology in the first decade of its inception throws interesting light on the chemistry of metallic preparations in Ayurveda. The study by Ramanan et al. (2015) showed that Rasasindhūra has the same structure as non-toxic α-HgS and toxic chemical forms, viz. elemental Hg, organo-Hg to be completely absent. Their results demonstrated that nano-crystal (D-Rasa ≈ 24 nm) units of Rasasindhūra are robust, defect-free and free of organic molecules. The absence of toxic chemical forms in the virgin medicine (before consumption) could explain its claimed non-toxicity while its robust character would imply nanoparticle integrity during drug release. The report also noted that “Ayurvedic synthesis yielded a better controlled end product than laboratory-based red (α)-HgS: Lower size dispersion and better ordered coordination configuration”.[8]

For that matter, the Ayurvedic Biology Project is a good example of how good research strategy implemented through the collaboration of highly skilled scientists with adequate funding can be productive. The Ayurvedic Biology project was funded by the Prime Minister's Office before becoming a program in the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. In the first decade, several projects were approved under A Science Initiative in Ayurveda to investigate genomic variation analysis of human doşa prakṃti, effects of Ayurvedic Rasāyanas on ageing, immunological and metabolic effects of pancakarma, microstructure of bhasmas and genomic studies of medicinal plants.

Ayurveda needs to make a quantum leap to power itself as the health care system of the new millennium. Such a leap has to be driven by careful and thoughtful research initiatives that harmoniously blend together strategy, skills and resources.

  References Top

Staff reporter. Ayush dept fails to use half of allocated budget. Free Press J 2016. Available from: . [Last cited on 2016 Mar 29].  Back to cited text no. 1
Saper RB, Kales SN, Paquin J, Burns MJ, Eisenberg DM, Davis RB, et al. Heavy metal content of ayurvedic herbal medicine products. JAMA 2004;292:2868-73.  Back to cited text no. 2
Saper RB, Phillips RS, Sehgal A, Khouri N, Davis RB, Paquin J, et al. Lead, mercury, and arsenic in US- and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines sold via the Internet. JAMA 2008;300:915-23.  Back to cited text no. 3
Gair R. Heavy metal poisoning from Ayurvedic medicines. BC Med J 2008;50:105. Available from: . [Last cited on 2016 Mar 29].  Back to cited text no. 4
Andhale S. “Ayurvedic drugs have toxic metals” | Latest news&updates at daily news&analysis. DNA 2012. Available from: . [Last cited on 2016 Mar 29].  Back to cited text no. 5
Ernst E. Heavy metal poisoning as a result of using Ayurvedic remedies. Blog; 2015. Available from: . [Last cited on 2016 Mar 29].  Back to cited text no. 6
Sebastian J, Thomas A, Kumar S. Heavy Metals in Ayurvedic Herbs and Traditional Ayurvedic Formulations - A Study. Arya Vaidyan. 2015;28:101–11.  Back to cited text no. 7
Valiathan M. INSA Proceedings – Ayurvedic biology – The first decade. Proc Indian Natl Sci Acad 2016;81. p. 13-19.  Back to cited text no. 8


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