Top Ten Misconceptions about Ayurveda Busted

Ever since I started Ayurvedic practice, I repeatedly find that there are more misconceptions floating around about Ayurveda, than there are fanships. So here comes The Top Ten Ayurveda Myth-buster List

Myth 1. All Ayurvedic drugs contain heavy metals like lead and arsenic.
Ayurvedic drugs are classified in two types – Vanaspatij/Aushadhi (herbal) and Rasashastriya (mineral based). While purchasing, you only need to know the type of drug you are buying. All mineral based drugs (except some containing natural calcium) are anyways banned in UK and most of USA. Indian FDA, too, makes it compulsory for Rasashastriya medicine to be specifically labeled. Still curious to check for yourself? Check the ingredients list for these words –
(Note -This list should make 99% coverage, but is NOT an exhaustive list.)

Paarad (Mercury)
Gandhak (Sulphur)
Kajjali / Parpati / Rasasindoor (Mercuric sulphide)
Taamra (Copper)
Naag (Lead)
Loha / Mandoor (Iron)
Vanga (Tin)
Swarna / Suvarna (Gold)
Roupya / Rajat (Silver)
Somal / Mansheel / Hartal (Arsenic)
Abhrak (Mica)
Vaikrant (A fluorine-containing mineral)
Kansya (Bronze)
Tuttha (Copper Sulphate)
Kaasis (Ferrous sulphate)
Navsaar / Navsagar (Ammonium salts)
Fitkari (Alum – an Aluminium salt)
Vajra / Hirak (Diamond)

It is notable that these metals are always added in combination with herbal constituents which, Ayurvedic texts claim, subvert their toxic effects or cause their safe removal from the body after the therapeutic action is done. These claims are hotly debated and currently a subject of further research.

Myth 2. Ayurvedic drugs are not standardized.
The Indian Government has published two standards, the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India and the Ayurvedic Formulary of India, that are the benchmark for testing Ayurvedic drugs. Also, the FDA maintains a list of reliable ancient texts that are considered as the only authentic source for generic ayurvedic formulations. Anything with an “Ayurvedic” label has to comply with one of these in order to get a manufacturing license in India. Still, one should be careful in purchasing Ayurvedic products, as unlicensed or fake licensed sales are rampant in physical and online markets.

Myth 3. Ayurveda is not good for emergency or acute conditions.
Not all the time. Especially, emergencies in conditions like asthma, allergic reactions, urinary retention, gastric upsets to name a few, are known to benefit a lot from Ayurvedic intervention. However, sparsity of good quality clinical results data impedes the popularity of Ayurveda here, as most doctors are not willing to take risks in such conditions.

Myth 4. Ayurvedic treatment takes a long time to show results.
While this does stand true for some long-standing or severe diseases, it is worth noting that unlike modern medicine, these treatments have no or negligible side effects. In fact, Ayurveda many a times works better than modern medicine in several chronic conditions such as COPD, rheumatoid arthritis and infertility. What you should know, however, is that the time period also depends on how perfectly an Ayurvedic physician customizes the therapy as per the patient’s individual Dosha constitution and other factors. So, choosing a good practitioner is important.

Myth 5. Ayurveda can cure HIV or last stage cancer.
Though it may have infinite hidden potential, till date there is no proof of whether Ayurveda or even modern medicine can completely cure HIV or last stage cancer. If you see a doctor claiming to “completely cure” HIV or last stage cancer using Ayurveda, do the favor of reporting that quack to the government regulator (for India, the Central Council of Indian Medicine, New Delhi).

Myth 6. Ayurvedic Panchakarma is mainly a wellness therapy, of which, oil massage is the biggest part.
Panchakarma (which literally means “The Five Procedures”) is a group of five mainly medical (not mainly wellness) procedures considered most effective in flushing out the imbalanced Doshas (constituent elements) from the body and in treating severe diseases. These include –

(1) Vaman – Inducing vomiting with medicated decoction to flush Doshas from the upper half of the torso.
(2) Virechan – Inducing bowel motions using various medicines to flush Doshas from the lower half of the torso.
(3) Basti – Various medicated enemas given for flushing/balancing Doshas from the whole of the body.
(4) Nasya – Medicated oil/decoction/powders given nasally for flushing/balancing Doshas in the head and neck region.
(5) Raktamokshan – Letting out blood by various methods, to heal disease using the immune response that follows.

“Hey, where does oil massage figure out in all this?”
Oleation, called “Snehan” in Ayurveda, is actually a “Purvakarma” or preparative procedure usually done before all the 5 Panchakarmas. It can be done internally (by drinking medicated oil/ghee), externally (by oil massage) or both in sequence. Now, as a matter of tradition, the Kerala school of Ayurveda (which is by far, the most popular one in the West) prefers external Oleation against internal. Somehow, this idea got favored better in the West due to their familiarity to massage therapy. Also, unlike the main procedures which involve substantial hardships for the patient, massage gives an instantly gratifying and less nauseating experience, which alone can many a times prove enough as a wellness treatment to a healthy person. As a result, many renowned commercially minded Ayurveda centers started building their brands around this theme instead, and soon the real gist of medical therapy got sidelined conveniently.

Myth 7. Ayurveda advises drinking as much water as you can.
No, we don’t find a single reference in any text that says so. Probably, the fact that it is advised in kidney stones and weight loss, got mispropogated as being a general advice for everyone.

Myth 8. Ayurveda contains no surgery.
Ayurvedic surgeons are credited with the first documented cataract surgery, plastic surgery, intestinal resection & anastomosis surgery, as well as ascitic fluid tapping in the world history, around 1500 years BCE. It was somewhere in the late 1st millennium AD, that Indian doctors stopped performing surgeries under influence of the pacifist neo-religions which considered surgery as a kind of Himsa (violence) on human body and banned it. Later, the documented knowledge on anaesthesia got destroyed sometime around the Ghazanavid invasions of India, never to be recovered. In absence of this core component, surgery as a branch of Ayurveda rotted out in oblivion.

Myth 9. Ayurveda professes that stomach is the source of all imbalanced doshas.
Ayurveda professes that stomach is the source of all Ama dosha (Improperly digested food that becomes toxic to the body instead of sustaining it), and not the imbalance of the three Doshas. Though Ama dosha can imbalance all the Doshas if increased, but they may get imbalanced by other causes and at other places too.

10. Ayurvedic doctors are not taught modern medicine.
Starting 2008, all Ayurvedic graduates in India are compulsorily taught modern medicine as part of their curriculum. A copy of the nationwide uniform syllabus can be read at CCIM’s official website. It is another fact, though, that different states allow/disallow them to practice modern medicine independently. So before you go for an Allopathy+Ayurveda integrative treatment, better check out your State’s rules first!

So that’s the Top Ten as I recount, and now its your turn! How many of these misconceptions did YOU have? Want to ask something about any of these? Got something more to add to this list, that I missed? Feel free to place it in the comments section below. I reply comments every 2-3 days.

Till then,

Stay Healthy, Stay Happy!

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9 thoughts on “Top Ten Misconceptions about Ayurveda Busted

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  1. I purchased a medicine that wasn’t labeled as Rasashastriya, but going by your list, it is definitely a rasa medicine. However, it contains no herbal ingredients as you mentioned. Also, it has the words ‘Sh.’ prefixed on all mineral ingredients. What does that mean?

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    1. The prefix Sh. stands for ‘Shuddh’, which denotes that the involved mineral has been treated with various herbal additives to remove its toxic properties. So also the apparent absence of herbal ingredients. Note that though ‘shuddh’ literally means ‘purified’ in many Indian languages, it doesn’t mean that the mineral/metal concerned is in its pure/elemental form. The Ayurvedic term denotes a processed form instead.

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