By Eric Vandenbroeck 4 Febr. 2020
As scientists race to find a vaccine for the deadly Wuhan virus, the Indian government made the bold announcement that their homeopathy and Ayurveda remedies hold the solution to the Coronary Virus Epidemic. And while medical associations worldwide consider Ayurvedic medicine (which includes the drinking of cow urine and the consumption of Mercury) and in Western countries usually is promoted on so-called Mind Body Spirit Fairs as ineffective when it comes to the treatment of diseases Ayurvedic practitioners, in turn, consider Ayurveda a form of spirituality thus transcending normal science.
The Ministry of AYUSH wasn't the only one who found an Ayurveda solution. A doctor of Ayurveda and Siddha from Tamil Nadu claimed to have found a 'cure' to the virus. Dr. Thanikasalam Veni who is currently practicing at Rathna Siddha Hospital in Chennai, and has 25 years of experience in the field of Siddha and Ayurvedic medicines. In an interview to ANI, he says that he has formulated a medicine made from an extract of herbs, which can cure "any type of viral fever."
Following these, the Hindu Mahasabha has also come out with a bizarre treatment for the disease: cow urine and cow dung. Swami Chakrapani Maharaj, president of Hindu Mahasabha, said cow urine and cow dung can be used for treating novel coronavirus disease. He also said that a special yagna ("sacrifice, devotion, worship, offering") will be performed to "kill the novel coronavirus and end its effects on the world."
"Consuming cow urine and cow dung will stop the effect of infectious coronavirus. A person who chants Om Namah Shivay and applies cow dung on the body, will be saved. A special yagna ritual will soon be performed to kill coronavirus," said Chakrapani.
Yet while in the West Ayurveda is often promoted by occultic and New Age organizations like the Theosophical Society, in India, Ayurveda is developed via a much more serious Governmental body called AYUSH, an acronym for Ayurveda, yoga, Unani, Siddha and homeopathy, all traditional practices.
But with Ayurveda's efficacy disputed even in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's critics associate the Ayurveda push with his Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindu nationalist ideology. Some of Ayurveda's most prominent supporters have links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu supremacist organization.
In the Global life expectancy list for 2020, India ranks 165th. That suggests that the Government-sponsored Ayurveda's “science of life” hasn’t done a very good job of keeping people alive. But if the Indians see it differently and want to rely on Ayurveda instead of on modern science-based medicine, one could argue it is their funeral.
Of course, while much of scientific analysis seems to be spurred by the public purpose of ‘the safety of medicines being sold to them’, in countries like India they often where meant, in the light of poverty and underdevelopment, to fulfill a public purpose. Yet when the focus is on a population that is considered particularly vulnerable, whether it be children, the elderly, the destitute or the critically ill, public pressure for government and professional bodies to take a more effective approach could be more urgent.
Elsewhere the pluralistic East-West dialogue through the Western counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s ultimately led to Deepak Chopra as the most prominent proponent of Ayurveda. Yet as Dr. Suzanne Newcombe concluded also his “project is ultimately grounded on faith” and “cannot be scientific” for more on this see.
With such diverging avenues like on one end Mind Body Spirit Fairs and New Age organizations like the Theosophical Society in the West while in India, in contrast, we have a governmental body like Narendra Modi's AYUSH it is clear that what constitutes Ayurveda is much more complex than most people who hear about it for the first time would think.
Thus the more in-depth literature about the subject like among others R. Berger, Ayurveda Made Modern, describes the re-invention of Ayurveda including its political histories. Or Frederick M. Smith (Author, Editor), Dagmar Wujastyk (Editor) Modern and Global Ayurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms detailing ‘New Age Ayurveda’ and the ideological clashes between “classical” and “modernized” Ayurveda, the “export” of Ayurvedic medical lore to Western countries, and the possible “reimport” of its adapted and reinterpreted contents. And analyses what is the non-homogenous nature of the Ayurvedic medical system.
Another good source is Medical Marginality in South Asia: Situating Subaltern Therapeutics edited by David Hardiman, Projit Bihari Mukharji (2012).
Like Rachel as also Madhuri Sharma and Matthew Wolfgram described how from a historical perspective in India the British colonial thrust to replace indigenous medicine with modern medicine mainly where public health was treated, with a particular focus on Hindu pilgrimage sites and how this also inspired local elites to invest in their own traditions, which saw an increase in land allotments, sponsorship arrangements, and training institutions developed to foster the indigenous medical traditions. At the same time, Ayurveda's truth claims where epistemologically hybrid and socially contested.
Two ancient medical compilations, "Charak Samhita" and "Susruta Samhita’"are generally considered as the root sources of Ayurveda. Undoubtedly, after the rudimentary senses of magical charms against diseases as prescribed in ‘Atharvaveda,’ these two compilations mark a forward-leap towards the scientific development in medical science, in spite of having a strange and confusing assemblage of science and its opposite.
However, while lacking a theory that the British could recognize, a number of Ayurveda apologists during the nationalism of the early 20th-century posited “experience” as an epistemological alternative to scientific “rationality.”
The re-invention of Ayurveda in India
In this context, the modern re-invention of Ayurveda in India came about when the asymmetrical relationship between Ayurveda and colonial medicine was codified into text, and Ayurveda apologists sought to regiment the two systems as parallel visions of the body and its treatment. And where Ayurveda was described as an “alternative science,” in which practitioners creatively draw upon India’s rich cultural history to frame counter-hegemonic and uniquely Indian forms of modernity.
The above authors also noticed by looking at the efforts made by the Ayurvedic practitioners to carve out a space for themselves through various organizational and institutional methods, that ‘traditions’ were invented and re-invented and the classical system of Ayurveda was dramatically reshaped and redefined by the Ayurvedic practitioners during the last 50-100 years and still ongoing. This included the celebration of Dhanvantari Diwas; the establishment of the educational institutions for ‘professional training’ of the Ayurvedic practitioners; the use of platforms such as Kashi Nagari Pracharini Sabha; and, the different Vaidya organizations of the provincial and national level for propaganda, etc. are some of the issues explored.
To this came also the commercialization of drug manufacturing in India. For example Sharma (Indigenous and Western Medicine in Colonial India, 2012, p. 120) captures the early twentieth century socio-cultural notions and sensibilities, as reflected through advertisements. and also looked at the competition that prevailed in the medical market and the consequent transformation of a traditional medical practitioner into an entrepreneur.
The problematic situation today
Returning now to this week's claim that Ayurveda remedies hold the solution to the Coronary Virus Epidemic, a similar occurrence took place during the AIDS epidemic when Maharishi Ayurveda made similar claims.
The ideological treatise of Maharishi Ayurveda came in 1989, in the form of Deepak Chopra’s book Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine where Chopra describes how the Maharishi has rediscovered the “true” Ayurveda, i.e., the ability to cure patients through “nonmaterial” means. The essence of Ayurveda, according to the Chopra, is this “nonmaterial” mind/body therapy, including “sound therapy.” Whereby the book obfuscated the fact that the fundamental assumptions of the Maharishi’s teaching are based in a spiritual insight rather than scientific epistemology.
In 1991, a British court case found two physicians guilty of "serious professional misconduct" for use Maharishi Ayurveda in the unsuccessful treatment of HIV.
According to the trial, belief must take second place to a form of knowledge validated by the methodological procedures of empirical testing.
Nevertheless, Ayurvedic doctors continue to claim that in the absence of any clinical symptoms, they can accurately diagnose diabetes, cancer, musculoskeletal disease, and asthma by merely taking a patient’s pulse but remain incapable of providing evidence of a valid physiological mechanism for this capability.
Thus Ayurvedic therapy is, to say, the least extremely thin on scientific verification. A document prepared by the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (a branch of the National Institutes for Health) states, “most clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, lacked appropriate control groups, or had other issues that affected how meaningful the results were.”
And for the above claim being a "prophylactic medicine", as the Indian ministry suggests, this miracle concoction is, in reality, a super-diluted form of arsenic trioxide. Not only is the compound known to be fatal if improperly used, but there's also no evidence to suggest it works on the coronavirus or any other condition for that matter.
We sci-checked the evidence for Arsenicum album 30 for coronavirus infections, the evidence for any other homeopathy drug against coronavirus, and Arsenicum album 30 for any other infections.
1. Evidence for Arsenicum album 30 for coronavirus:
No studies were found that researched the effect of Arsenicum album for coronavirus in humans or animals (in vivo). Also, there were also no studies found in an ex-vivo (outside the animal/human bodies) to study the drug efficacy.
2.Evidence for any homeopathy drug for coronavirus:
No studies were found that linked the efficacy of any homeopathy drug in coronavirus infections
3. Evidence for Arsenicum album 30 for any infection:
Searching for evidence in the homeopathic research for evidence for the drug Arsenicum album 30, only one paper was found, published in British Homeopathic Journal (Kayne & Rafferty, 1994), that studied its use in neonatal diarrhoea in calves. This study was not only in animals on a different type of infection, but was found to be statistically invalid by Verdier, Öhagen & Alenius in 2003.
Thus, Arsenicum album 30 has not been proven or researched scientifically by homeopaths to cure coronavirus or any other infections in humans.
As with other homeopathic drugs, Arsenicum album 30 has never been tested or proven to reduce coronavirus infections or to prevent coronavirus infections. Even though the focus was to study the research conducted by the homeopaths, no studies were found by non-homeopaths within the evidence-based framework that suggests the use of Arsenicum album 30 for coronavirus.
Thus the claim of the Indian AYUSH ministry and the AYUSH homeopaths is false, dangerous and can lead to India’s own coronavirus epidemic, as the infected patients’ caregivers can assume false protection based on the government of India’s advisory.
Kayne, S., & Rafferty, A. (1994). The use of Arsenicum album 30c to complement conventional treatment of neonatal diarrhoea (‘scours’) in calves. British Homoeopathic Journal, 83(4), 202-204.
De Verdier, K., Öhagen, P., & Alenius, S. (2003). No effect of a homeopathic preparation on neonatal calf diarrhoea in a randomised double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 44(2), 97.
And if it weren't for the Dalai Lama recently telling his followers to chant a mantra as protection, India's purported tips to fend off the coronavirus might be the least effective advice offered yet.
But with unverified social media posts in India already advocating that AYUSH’s recommended treatments a concern is that it will help bring out even more unproven Ayurvedic remedies. As suggested above, disciplines promoted by AYUSH and Ayurvedia tend to be viewed by adherents as ancient secrets whose power baffles modern science, so people following the advice given in the advisory bulletin might believe they have gained some supernatural degree of resistance to the coronavirus.
In spite of the overwhelming (just check google by typing in Ayurveda) popularity of Ayurveda today, for many years already there have been warnings that among others, the presence of metals in some Ayurvedic products furthermore makes them potentially harmful. For example a study published in the August 27, 2008, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), demonstrated that one-fifth of U.S.-manufactured and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic products bought on the Internet contained detectable lead, mercury, or arsenic. Researchers found 25 Web sites selling Ayurvedic products. After identifying 673 products, they randomly selected 230 for purchase. Of those, they received and analyzed 193 products. Nearly 21 percent were found to contain detectable levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic.
In 2004, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that lead, mercury, and arsenic intoxication were associated with the use of Ayurvedic herbal medicines.
The Indian Express quotes Dr. Ajay Kumar, senior consultants and liver specialist at Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, saying, “We come across cases of metal toxicity where the underlying cause is longtime use of Ayurvedic medicines.”
April 1998, edition of The Lancet carries an article titled “Indian Herbal Remedies Come Under Attack” by Sanjay Kumar, in which he states, “Indian traditional medical systems, such as Ayurveda, have come under heavy criticism for irrational and outdated practices.” And he goes on to quote Vaidya Balendu Prakash, chair of the health ministry’s Central Ayurvedic, Siddha, and Unani Drugs technical advisory board: “The majority of Ayurvedic formulations available on the market are spurious, adulterated, or misbranded.”
Thus adepts of Ayurvedic therapies dance a hesitation waltz between science and superstition, craving mainstream scientific status, and yet clinging to antiquated, ineffective, and unprovable notions. Volumes of self-serving studies are published every year, most concluding glowing positive results for Ayurvedic nostrums. But credible randomized, placebo-controlled trials with clearly positive outcomes for Ayurveda therapies remain non-existent.