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The fascination with Ayurvedic medicine 
By Peg Jordan 


Noted fitness expert PEG JORDAN examines the global resurgence of interest in natural healing methods and answers queries from readers.

THERE is little question that centuries of colonisation takes a toll, its tragic toll on a country's people, religions and languages, but one of the most lasting effects is the attack on its original healing arts. Both Muslim invasions in the 11th and 12th Centuries and later British colonisation imposed their own medical beliefs to the point where both Indian folk medicine and Ayurvedic medicine were suppresssed. The British Medical Journal from the 1920s labelled the oldest healing system in the world as "unsupported metaphysical dogma". But despite being marginalised for decades, Ayurvedic medicine is the final victor. Today, there is a global resurgence of interest in natural healing methods, and Ayurvedic medicine tops the list in terms of the West's latest "alternative" health fascination.

While Ayurvedic remedies are sold through many new companies through Europe and the United States, there are numerous Ayurvedic clinics and treatment centres arising as well in the West, where a single treatment balancing doshas draw celebrity clientele willing to pay thousands of dollars. The popularity of plant-based healing systems is even evidenced in new shopping malls.

An international franchise known as the Body Shoppe has launched a new line of Ayurvedic-herbal lotions and skin care products with a mass marketing campaign that aims at younger consumers interested in natural botanicals.

Similarly, the other ancient healing systems of India are gaining credibility among plant researchers. As drug companies encounter more resistant strains among bacteria and viruses, older methods of treatment such as the Ayurvedic recipe of dita tree bark to treat malaria, chronic diarrhoea, fevers and skin diseases, become valuable as non-toxic options.

Not only Ayurvedic medicine, but other forms of folk medicine have suddenly attracted researchers for their vast knowledge of leaves and poultices to treat anemia, heart disease, cough, intestinal colic and diabetes.

Medical anthropologists have recently convened panels on the ancient medical system of the Tamil culture, Siddha, and its use of herbs to reduce the toxic effects of metals in remedies.

An ironic twist to this worldwide clamour for India's ancient healing philosophies is the fact that India itself has become a premier supplier for low cost pharmaceuticals drugs. Ranbaxy Laboratories, in New Delhi, pours out generic drugs , such as popular antibiotics like amoxicillin, as a central player in India's low cost pharmaceutical industry. Churning out inexpensive copies of generic drugs due to its strategy of reverse engineering know-how, Ranbaxy's earnings were reported over $500 million and it has expanded operations to China and the U.S..

Herbal sources for sleeping well

My last column described the pervasive problems of sleeplessness for millions of people, and offered some natural herbs and techniques. It must have struck a chord among readers, because over 60 of you wrote to me, asking for local names of herbs, sources and other types of remedies.

I was able to find an excellent natural herbal formula by a company in Bangalore, The Himalaya Drug Company. Their propietory herbal blends are based on ayurvedic plant knowledge, and are being studied in clinical trials. A company spokesperson reported that seven decades ago, the founder of The Himalaya Drug Company discovered people feeding some roots to pacify elephants on a trip to Burma. The root was Rauwolfia serpentina, a plant known for its calming properties in this Burmese region. Upon further research, it was discovered that the plant was not only a natural tranquiliser, but it lowered high blood pressure as well.

Other herbs researched by the company include Commiphora mukul (Guggul) for helping the immune system, Garcinia Cambodia for promoting normal lipid metabolism and helping with weight control, and Capparis Spinosa for improving liver function. One of the finest collections of herbs is offered in their "StressCare" formula, containing chyawanprash, Emblica officinalis (Indian gooseberry), ashwaganda, asparagus root, and gotu-kola (Centella Asiata Urban).

Otherwise, your search for herbs that promote a good night's rest may be facilitated by knowing their botanical names: Kava kava (Piper myethysticum), Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and As for the other recommendations: Melatonin supplements (three mg at bedtime) or 5-http (50 mg at bedtime) are available online throughwww.mothernature.com, www.allherb.com, and www.drugstore.com.

If you have muscle cramps or "restless legs" that disturb sleep, try taking magnesium (250 mg at night) and vitamin E (400-800 IU daily.)

Other recommendations include avoiding caffeine and alcohol later in the day. Starting your day with some protein, then eating carbohydrates such as whole grain cereals and breads in the evening may help sustain nighttime serotonin (a brain neurotransmitter) activity through the night, and assure a good sleep.

E-mail the writer at peg-hindu@hotmail.com.



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