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Too much faith placed in AYUSH?

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Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicine treatments.

An editorial piece published in BusinessWorld.IN at the beginning of April claimed ayurvedic treatments “can cure any disease.” It further alleged that western medicine is ineffective.

Both the Indian media and government are placing an ever growing emphasis on the importance of alternative medicine, particularly Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and homoeopathy (AYUSH) therapies. Support for the practices is growing, with claims regarding their potential becoming ever more elaborate. However, is this faith in AYUSH misplaced?

The BusinessWorld.IN article addresses the fact that a vast swathe of the global population is without access to healthcare. According to the World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO), more than half of the world’s population cannot avail essential services.

The article also draws attention to other key health issues, such as the rise of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and the fact that, for many, healthcare is unaffordable and availing it often forces them into poverty and debt. Both are major crises in India, where out-of-pocket expenditure by the patient accounts for two thirds of health spending and the prevalence of NCDs is increasing at an alarming rate.

The article does not address solutions to these issues. Rather, it says ‘it is time for all the health organizations of the world to look eastward. It is time to think Ayurveda.’  Health Issues India has noted in the past that there may be some uses to Ayurvedic and other AYUSH treatments.  

Issues such as the vast overprescription of antibiotics for cases such as the common cold — in which antibiotics would be ineffective — could instead look to symptom management from natural treatments. Yoga, as a form of low-impact physical exercise, can be good for heart health as well as weight loss.

Other examples such as turmeric are widely studied on a biochemical basis. Studies have shown that turmeric can have a number of health benefits, with a reduction of inflammation being key to most.

Turmeric down regulates the nuclear factor (NF)-κB, this compound plays a key role in regulating the inflammation pathway in the human body. By limiting its effect in causing inflammation, turmeric has been implicated as potentially preventing conditions such as arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease.

The claims made in the article, however, are that ‘[Ayurveda’s] natural herbs based treatment approach and therapies can cure any disease.’ This is untrue.

“Ayurvedic treatments are not the miracle cures the media claims they are”

Ayurvedic treatments are not the miracle cures the media claims they are. Claims about their medicinal value too often rely on circumstantial or anecdotal evidence with very little scientific basis. They will not cure diseases such as cancer. They will not remedy genetic conditions. To say they can “cure any disease” is simply false.

The article also claims that ‘the ineffectiveness of western medicine in tackling major diseases is not any secret.’ Allopathic treatments can be credited with, among other things, the eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of polio. As such, to claim that western medicine is ineffective in tackling major diseases is also patently false.

Some Indian media outlets are calling for government funding to AYUSH treatment to be increased considerably. This could potentially pose a risk to public health.

India’s health budget is already stretched, with a lower allocated amount as a percentage of GDP than most other nations. To further detract from this in order to funnel funding into unproven treatments with questionable benefits could take money away from vital services. To make scientifically inaccurate claims about the value of non-allopathic treatments in treating major diseases could deter many people from seeking proper treatment – risking lives.

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