Why, How and Where Ayurveda Differs from Allopathy: Prof Rama Jayasundar

Professor Rama Jayasundar, the head of the department of NMR at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi spoke on the difference between Ayurveda and Allopathy and why this matters, as a part of the lecture series organised by Vijnana Bharati.

She began her talk by pointing out the biggest resource that India has - AYUSH. She stressed on the possibility of using Ayurveda and the growing interest in understanding the ways of including Ayurveda and other Ayush systems in the management of COVID19. It is important to know why, how and where Ayurveda differs from Allopathy. Medical sciences, be it allopathy or Ayurveda, is an applied science and is built on basic sciences. Basic sciences provide concepts, theories and methods to understand the biological system. We are able to understand the pathology and pathophysiology of the diseases and they provide techniques for diagnosis and treatments. Most importantly basic sciences help us in understanding the “World View” or the understanding of reality.

What is important in clinical medicine? Be it any form of medicine- Ayurveda, Allopathy, homeopathy, siddha or unani, they all begin with diagnosis and end with treatment. Treatment depends on diagnosis and diagnosis depends on how well we have understood the human system. Clinical medicine speaks of cells, molecules, tissues and diagnosis will speak the same language. This in turn is followed by treatment, thus maintaining a sync.

When we take up Allopathy, this system of medicine understands the human system in the form of cells, tissues, genes and proteins. Basic sciences contribute to the understanding of any stream of medicine that has a world view. In other words it speaks to the world in a way the world wants to perceive it. This forms the basis of how the human system is understood.
Physics has contributed immensely to the understanding of Allopathy - Nuclear radiation, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, quantum physics. Newtonian physics or classical physics talks of how the universe is made of building blocks and this has directly affected the way one looks at the biological system. Larger objects can be reduced to smaller ones. We have atoms to molecules to organelles to an organ leading to an organ system and finally to an organism. There is a clear structural hierarchy. Modern medicine follows the reductionist viewpoint wherein the entire organism can be broken down to its most fundamental unit. This structural view point is followed in diagnosis, treatment, diet and nutrition.

Reductionism helps in identification of malfunctioning components and can help in developing targeted therapies.

Dr Jayasundar then shifted gears and spoke about Ayurveda. Ayurveda is indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, and is very systematically documented. Ayurveda is the science of life and hence deals with both health and disease. Prevention is the strongpoint of Ayurveda. Ayurvedic treatments are extremely comprehensive and effective. Just as Dr Jayasundar spoke of how physics contributed to Allopathy, in Ayurveda, Darshanas play an important role. Darshana simply means to view. It helps provide theories, explains the formation of the universe, speaks of the relationship between the mind body and consciousness, the tridoshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha), and the Panchamahabhutas (Earth, wind, air, fire and water).

Darshanas are of 6 types- Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa, Yoga and Uttara Mimamsa. Sankhya explains the formation of the universe and this is used in Ayurveda to understand the relationship between the mind, body and consciousness and the tridoshas. Nyaya helps to diagnose and also helps in the nomenclature of the known and unknown diseases. Vaiseshika talks of Anu which is an equivalent to the atom and hence talks of the classification of matter- Ayurveda uses this to understand drugs and herb combinations. Mimamsa works out the contributions between various texts. Uttara mimamsa speaks of how Ayurveda conceptualised the interconnections of the mind, body and consciousness.
Ayurveda adopted the Vedic Worldview which talks about these interconnections. There are four domains is this view- structural/physical, physiological, psychological and the subtle domain of the consciousness.

We are seamlessly Mind Body and Soul. From the core of our being to the vast expanse of the Universe – We are one, says Dr Rama Jayasundar.

The human body is classified into gross and subtle. The gross consists of Dhatus (physical), Doshas (physiological and psychological) and the Srotas (physical, physiological and psychological). The subtle speak of the realms of awareness. Understanding the functioning of the human body depends on structures, biochemistry, electrical, magnetic, mental and emotional activities.

Dr Jayasundar explained very clearly and briefly the concept of the Tridoshas- vata, pitta and kapha. Vata covers all the movements of the body and mind which makes up one cohesive unit. Pitta speaks of all the metabolic processes- physical (food and nutrients) and mental (thoughts and emotions). Kapha speaks of physical growth with emphasis on the stability of not only the physical body but also mental thoughts, character and behaviour. Vata, Pitta and Kapha each have 5 subclasses and a network of connectivities can be created. If there is any change in this network, Ayurveda brings it back to normal. Physical, chemical, physiological and psychological are important parameters and a change in them will cause a change in metabolism, movement and growth.

The ancient Acharyas used the tridoshas to understand Ayurveda and used the same to classify the parameters that play a role in health and disease. Clinical symptoms come under the classification of the tridoshas. Food, environmental and lifestyle activities play an important role in health. Dr Jayasundar gave an excellent example of how the tri doshas can help in understanding the clinical symptoms. She said “When you visit a vaidya he will ask you for the symptoms and can deduce the type of dosha that has fallen out of balance which will let him know the cause of the disease. With this information, he can also get to know the changes in lifestyle activities and food that caused the disease. Let us consider pain which is a typical feature of chikungunya and this comes under the Vata type. If a burning sensation is felt with the pain, it falls under Pitta. If the pain is dull, it is a kapha type. The other example is fever. If the fever is fluctuating, it is of Vata type. When one experiences a burning sensation in the eye and a bitter taste in the mouth, it is of Pitta type. If one has a wet cold and cough and a low grade fever, it is Kapha.”

No disease in Ayurveda is idiopathic. Everything has a known cause!

Treatment is very comprehensive and can range from internal medicines, procedures like Panchakarma, changes in diet, non-pharmacological interventions like Yoga, meditation and mantra chanting.

Ayurveda focuses on personalised medicine, preventive medicine, circadian rhythm, therapeutic nutrition and many more. Dr Jayasundar beautifully explained the difference between Ayurveda and modern medicine. “When one is sitting in a helicopter and flying over a dense forest, he can only get a general view of the entire forest and not the nitty gritty details. This is how Ayurveda is. When one picks a single leaf from the forest, he can acquire the tiniest details of the leaf. This is how modern medicine works. But different heights give different views leading to different understanding and different terminologies. Ayurveda and Modern medicine have varying viewpoints.”

She finally spoke of systems biology. With respect to modern medicine, there is an interaction between genes and proteins or cells and metabolites. This interaction gives rise to emergent properties that play a role in the functioning of the body.
Systems approach in Ayurveda talks about the interactions with the entire organism - the physical, psychological, physiological and the subtle consciousness.

She then took up a few questions from the listeners. She spoke of how Ayurveda and modern medicine can be integrated to give rise to better pharmacological approaches. At a time like this, the need for the two branches of medicine to come together is highly recommended. She also spoke of the misconceptions in the minds of the people about the lack of emergency medicine in Ayurveda. “This is not true. Ayurveda is a science that emerged 5000 years ago. When there were wars, soldiers were treated immediately and in an effective manner that they were able to engage in the war the very next day and there was no need of recuperation. Allopathy does have a very good emergency care system and so does Ayurveda. It is upto the patient to decide between the two.”