A Candle in the Dark

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Archive for September 2006


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Ayurveda, a form of vedic “science”, is allegedly an ancient system of natural medicine, which is the “most complete” of healing arts. It’s proponents claim that, the human body includes

a) nadis (canals) which carries prana, or cosmic energy
b) chakras, (centers of consciousness) that somehow links the body and the soul
c) marmas, which are points on the body where “vital structures” intersect.

It then claims that the “dynamic forces” of the doshas (roughly a combination of elements of fire, water, earth, space and air) affects the health of the human body and imbalance of the doshas causes disease and illness.

Any sensible, rational person would have by now shirked away from these claims with a chuckle, knowing that it completely contradicts the modern scientific understanding of diseases, in terms of pathogens, infectious agents and genetic disorders. Why then, is ayurveda, and indeed the so called vedic “sciences”, so prolific and widespread in India?

The answer has to with many ideas including ultra-nationalism, religious chauvinism and scientific illiteracy. From a sociological point of view, in Indian culture, individuals are not trained to question ideas but to merely accept what is taught to them as truth or facts. The understanding is that these facts have been passed down for generations, and hence surely reflect the wisdom of the ancients! The questioning of ideas and the subsequent verification by experimental evaluation are strongly discouraged and this has lead to a dearth of scientific thinking.

Politicians and other ultra-nationalists, abhor the secular western ideas of empirical thinking, claiming that such views are anti-national and erode India’s time-tested values, ideas and beliefs and should be discouraged. The Hindu nationalists, on the other hand, claim that vedic Hinduism is all encompassing, and science cannot lead to the “truth” as it only deals with materialistic concepts. Those who question the efficacy and the safety of these holistic medicines are surely then enemies of Hinduism and the nation. Why should ayurvedic products, based on the vedas, undergo clinical trials and testing when they have been used for generations?

Recently, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed significant levels of toxic heavy metals in one-fifth of the ayurvedic medicine which is exported. In fact, there are over 50 published accounts of heavy metal poisoning in infants, children and adults where use of ayurvedic products was the most likely cause. This has clearly exposed the poor regulatory standards in safety and testing when compared to standard medicine. In what’s indicative of the scientific competence of the so-called “researchers” in Ayurveda, the joint secretary of AYUSH, (a government branch of the Department of Indian Systems of Medicines) was quoted as saying,

“People who are making an issue of the heavy metal presence don’t know ayurveda. Heavy metals are integral to some formulations and have been used for centuries. There is no point of doing trials as they have been used safely and have mention in our ancient texts.”


Notes and external links
(In lieu of the heavy metals incident, Meera Nanda has an excellent article on the state of Ayurveda from a scientific perspective. You should read it)

Written by parseval

September 17, 2006 at 2:35 pm

Posted in pseudoscience