Ayurveda In Health & Illness

Ayurveda In Health

Words: Dr Deep Narayan PANDEY

Ayurveda places a profound emphasis on daily intake of fruits — such as amalaki, dadim and draksha — by making them nityasevaneeya [part of regular diet]. Risk reductions for total mortality in the order of 35 per cent — and, specifically of 27 per cent to 39 per cent for cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular death — were found for even 3-4 servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes per day compared with fewer than one serving per day. Benefits appear to be maximum for non-cardiovascular mortality and total cardiovascular mortality at consumption of 375-500gm/day.

Many of the Ayurvedic food items are multifunctional. They are simultaneously food, rejuvenators and medicine. These are super-foods. These include dates, grapefruit, raisins, almonds, sesame seeds, gooseberry, garlic, ginger, black peppers, pippli, turmeric, saffron, cumin, coriander, honey, cow-milk, cow-ghee and triphala.

When taken appropriately, they help in free-radical scavenging and oxidative-stress reduction. They also reduce inflammation. Food should, however, be taken only when hungry [i.e., when previously eaten food is fully digested]. Likewise, the quality, quantity and timing of diet, although much remains to be understood in contemporary science, albeit Ayurvedic and scientific insights are now largely moving towards coherence.

Lifestyle Is Medicine

On the protective strategy known as vihara [lifestyle] in Ayurveda, an overwhelming body of scientific and medical literature unequivocally supports the idea that lifestyle is medicine. vyayama [physical activity] and nidra [sleep], in particular, have been the subject of extensive research. They form the two pillars of good health, and they are also as important as diet in extending the health-span and delaying age-related pathogenesis.

While there is a large body of research on various aspects of sleep, it is necessary to take minimum seven hours of sleep at night. Sleep duration should not exceed eight hours though. Sleep during the day, except when fatigued, or ill, is unhealthy.

Physical activity confers large benefits — they are all noted in Ayurveda — including healthy aging. Physical activity not only enhances healthy aging by 39 per cent, it is also associated with a reduction in obesity, weight gain, coronary heart diseases [CHD], type-2 diabetes mellitus and age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition, physical activity has been consistently linked to decreased all-cause mortality rates, probability of long survival, good health and function during old age as well as cognitive performance. Seen from the perspective of the economic burden of physical inactivity, a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases found that the cost of physical inactivity to healthcare systems was US$ 53·8 billion worldwide in 2013, of which US$31·2 billion was paid by the public sector, US$12·9 billion by the private sector, and US$9·7 billion by households.

Investing in vyayama [exercise] daily totalling 150 minutes per week is necessary. Vyayama and other daily routines prescribed in Ayurveda confer health and healthy longevity, perhaps by way of maintaining the integrity of circadian rhythm, that may otherwise trigger fatigue, disorientation, insomnia and increased susceptibility to many diseases.

Stability Imperative

Ayurveda recommends sadvritta [ethics], designed to instil conscientiousness, emotional stability, stronger social relationships, less loneliness, resilience, persistence, optimism, altruism, compassion and self-restraint. Non-adherence strongly increases the risk for engaging in behaviours that deteriorate health-span, leading to shortened lifespan. Sadvritta confers health and control in sense organs. Science, Samhitas and experience are fully coherent in demonstrating that conscientiousness is among the best predictors of longevity and health-span. Even moderately conscientious individuals have 50 per cent lower rates of mortality compared to the non-conscientious.

For extended health-span, Ayurveda recommends a set of daily routines including waking and sleeping, elimination, hygiene, massage, mindfulness practices, diet, work, and travel all during the course of the day and night. The routine calls for optimal times to awake, sleep, oral care, care of eyes, nose, ears and skin. Routines also include cleansing procedures, bowel habits, yoga, breath practices and application of oil all over the body. All these maintain the synchronicity of circadian rhythms with time of the day, night and seasons [dinacharya, ratricharya, ritucharya] and to prevent or delay aging. Panchakarma or periodical detoxification, purification, and rasayana and vajikara are highly recommended for strength and nourishment to the deeper tissues, or dhatus [body cells and tissues] and to delay age-related pathogenesis.

Research now has some evidence to support the position of Ayurveda — that even during an impending societal collapse, panchakarma can rescue lives and bestow health.

Rasayanas are among the most researched drugs of Ayurveda. They confer longevity, memory, intelligence, freedom from illness, youthfulness, excellent body-lustre, complexion and voice, strength of physique and sense organs, perfect speech, respect and brilliance.

Rasayanas keep dhatus in a healthy condition. They are the best and safest antioxidants known to humanity.

Averting DNA Damage

A leading cause of age-related pathogenesis is the inability, impairment, or inefficiency in the DNA repair mechanisms. This leads to numerous disorders, including cancer, neurodegeneration and a large majority of diseases of old-age. Progressive accumulation of DNA damage due to diminished rate of DNA repair is one of the key mechanisms of aging. The ability of the cells to sense and repair DNA damage deteriorates with age — this, as a cascading effect accelerates age-related pathogenesis.

A pertinent question is: can rasayanas promote DNA repair in aging individuals? Possibly yes, when the degree of balance between the rate of DNA damage and rate of repair is maintained. Recent research suggests that amalaki rasayana among others may contribute to maintenance of such a balance.

In conclusion, the key message emanating from this brief analysis is that Ayurveda has much to offer in prevention and treatment of diseases, but the potential can only be realised by employing a comprehensive and holistic approach embodied in the philosophy of ‘seven shields of Ayurveda between health and disease.’ Every breach of the seven walls accumulates personal disease-risks and health debt that finally culminates in pathogenesis and aging. This brief, evidence-based insight, may be useful to practicing physicians of Ayurveda in enhancing the health-span of citizens in times of the health crisis that the world faces today.

Dr DEEP NARAYAN PANDEY, PhD, a distinguished Indian Forest Service Officer, is a man of many parts — manager, administrator, academic, researcher etc., This article was originally published in ©Annals of Ayurvedic Medicine, Vol-8 Issue-1-2 Jan-Jun, 2019 [under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License]. He lives in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.


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