Aug 6, 2010

Ayurveda in the quest of recognition in UK

New Nation
David Watts
August 6, 2010
As Ayurveda, arguably India's greatest gift to the world, is fighting for formal recognition in Britain, its leading practitioners are seeking to raise money to establish a charity to that end. Ironically, just as Ayurveda increases in popularity and modern Western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry are accused of over-reliance on drugs, members of the British Association of Accredited Ayurvedic Practitioners (BAAAP) are striving against bureaucracy and prejudice to put their profession on a more regulated, professional footing.

The increased popularity of the Ayurveda system of medicine is resulting in a flood of poorly trained practitioners who are found to have been making erroneous patient assessments and treatments, which are threatening the credibility and reliability of the profession as a whole.

But the BAAAP is facing tighter legislative controls, adverse media coverage and opposition from the votaries of conventional medicine in its quest for recognition for Ayurveda as a worthwhile way of life and medical treatment. So, the organisation is now intent on setting up a charity in London to raise the money necessary to have its activities regulated and thereby put the profession on a new and sure footing more equal to its Western counterparts.

Heading the drive is Dr Indira Anand, chair of the BAAAP, who hopes eventually to tap the fund-raising skills and contacts of her former colleagues in the City of London, where she was a director of Merrill Lynch International. Once the organisation is registered with the Charities Commission, it will become easier to raise money in support of it while also giving the organization a stronger voice.

One of her principal concerns and one of the driving urgencies behind the plan is the number of ill-qualified practitioners now setting up in Britain.

"They are setting up shop all over the place," said Dr Anand. "We know because they come to us for registration in order to get the insurance and some of them have got only six months' experience. We want to set up the charity to raise money to finance the regulation of the profession so that we can protect the public from people who are not properly qualified."

In some cases, says Dr Anand, it is not just a question of treatments that are not effective; some can actually have negative effects if the original cause of the problem is not identified properly. Certain ayurveda oils used for the treatment of arthritis can be effective with osteo-arthritis but with rheumatoid arthritis "they can actually do more harm. The patients come to us and say, 'I've paid so much money and now I can hardly walk, it's got so much worse'."

Fortunately Ayurvedic treatments are not known to have had fatal results if misused in Britain, but that is not the case for other alternative treatments. In one recent case an unlicensed Chinese practitioner killed a patient by employing an incorrect type of mushroom for treatment.

Typically, patients try Ayurveda after they have failed to achieve successful treatment through the National Health Service. "The NHS is free and here they have to pay," said Dr Anand, "and there is also some scepticism, and rightly so because of all the unlicensed and unqualified practitioners." But those who make the switch to properly qualified Ayurveda doctors usually find satisfaction.

One of the most striking cases is that of Mrs Nano Bhasin, who suffered a severe case of psoriasis brought on by stress when her 24-year-old son was killed in an accident sixteen years ago. For some 12 years she was treated by her doctor under the NHS using steroidal creams. By the time she went to Dr Anand, even touching her ears would provoke bleeding, her blood had been so diluted by the effect of the steroids. After three months of full-blown Ayurvedic treatment using detoxification and enemas, her condition had almost entirely cleared up and it can now be satisfactorily controlled with a specialist cream from India.

Her case classically illustrates the strengths of Ayurveda in assessing the condition of the whole person - holistic medicine - in seeking to improve health, whereas the Western NHS solution was to treat only the external manifestation of the problem.

For City of London worker Shizuko Nakagawa, Ayurveda is 'a life line' since she first started having monthly treatments with Dr Gloria Sinclair five years ago after extremely painful bouts of 'frozen shoulder'. Ms Nakagawa credits Dr Sinclair with getting her through the menopause much more easily than otherwise would have been the case. For the stresses of working in one of the most intense business environments in the world, "it's like putting oil on the wheels of a bicycle. It keeps your wheels running smoothly and it's very good for relieving depression". Dr Sinclair, who was trained extensively in Indian hospitals, is one of the five board members of the BAAAP, and is now putting all her earnings into the registration fund and hoping that others will help out.

She regrets the fact that though she is registered with the NHS as a complementary therapist, the organization does not make referrals even though for so many patients Ayurveda treatment is a life-saver. One such is a patient of Dr Anand, who was facing surgery for chronic colitis until she treated him successfully.

Ayurveda is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a traditional system of medicine. It originated in India and is today widely practised both in India and Sri Lanka as a government-recognised and statutorily regulated medical system. It is a comprehensive system based on a specific approach to anatomy, physiology, pathology and therapy, with classical specialist branches that include internal medicine, ENT, ophthalmology, gynaecology, obstetrics, paediatrics, surgery, psychology and rejuvenation therapy.

The term Ayurveda is derived from two Sanskrit words, ayus (meaning life) and vid (meaning knowledge). Ayurveda is thus also called the "Science of Life", and it is as much concerned with preventing ill-health and enhancing quality of life as it is with the actual treatment of disease.

Ayurveda recognises the dynamic interplay of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels in every individual and considers each manifestation of life inseparable from all other forms of life in the universe. It is firmly embedded in Indian philosophy and its theory of evolution, according to which the universe is composed of five basic elements. These are ether, air, fire, water and earth, which combine and manifest in living beings as so-called doshas.

The three doshas - called vata, pitta and kapha - are the primary energetic forces of the human body. Each has its characteristic site and unique functions in the body. They are inter-related and, in their normal state, maintain the integrity of the living organism, conferring strength and assuring normal physiological functioning as well as longevity. Any imbalance of these forces results in ill-health.

One of the key problems in having Ayurveda regulated is the very fact that it places particular emphasis on the individual constitution, prakriti, of every being, which is determined by a unique combination of doshas, genetic factors as well as the health, nutrition and lifestyle of the parents prior to conception. Prakriti determines an individual's susceptibility to different diseases and has an influence on the development and course of a disease, as well as on the complications that could arise and the prognosis. Ayurvedic treatments cannot, by their very nature, be generalised across the spectrum of the public as are Western medicines and while that is a strength in terms of efficacy and effectiveness for the patient, it is a weakness in terms of winning wider regulatory acceptance.

An Ayurveda practitioner takes a detailed case history and arrives at a diagnosis through a variety of methods, including pulse or tongue reading and other forms of body examination, an in-depth assessment of diet and lifestyle habits, and an analysis of mental and emotional states.

The skill of the practitioner lies in assessing a patient's constitutional type, in diagnosing the root cause of imbalance that manifests as disease, and in selecting appropriate remedial interventions from an array of therapeutic options.

These include: nutrition and lifestyle therapy; pharmacotherapy (use of drugs that are, traditionally, of plant, mineral and animal origin); panchakarma (detoxification therapy): a series of treatments that aim at deep body cleansing. They include elaborate preparatory procedures, emetic and purgative processes and also enema treatments. Rasayana (rejuvenation therapy) is also used: various rejuvenating treatments that increase strength, immunity and overall vitality; manual therapy including massage and other forms of hands-on body work; marma therapy (stimulation of energy points with pressure or solid needles); psychotherapy and counselling; yoga and therapeutic exercise; meditation and breathing techniques along with gem therapy and other forms of subtle energy work and healing.
Asian Affairs