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What The Nobel Prize For Medicine Means For Ayurvedic Research

My earlier essay titled “Ayurveda’s Public Image” had emphasised upon a singularly important fact – While the classics of ayurveda contain trustworthy and employable clinical observations, their speculations about the physiology and chemistry underlying them are understandably outdated. It is pertinent to reinforce that fact in the context of the 2017 Nobel Medicine prize.

Last year’s Nobel Medicine was awarded to the discovery of the biological mechanism underlying autophagy. The efficacy of Upavasa (therapeutic fasting) in certain well-defined diseased states is a plausible clinical implication of the phenomenon of autophagy. It is worth noting that this clinical employability of upavasa was carefully studied and documented in the ayurvedic classics; the biological mechanism underlying it was of course waiting to be deciphered.

Similar is the case with this year’s Nobel winning discovery of molecular mechanisms underlying the circadian rhythm. One important clinical implication related to this discovery is the recognition “that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.” This again has been documented clearly in the classics, most memorably in the chapters relating to ‘Dinacharya’ and ‘Ritucharya’. A simple health sustaining message that was codified by Vagbhata more than fifteen hundred years ago is illustrative of the point: Regular night-time sleep is the “chief nourisher in life’s feast.” Erratic daytime sleep habits, on the other hand, can destroy happiness and convert life into a frightful encounter with the goddess of Death!

अकालेऽतिप्रसङ्गाच्च न च निद्रा निषेविता|

सुखायुषी पराकुर्यात्कालरात्रिरिवाऽपरा|

रात्रौ जागरणं रूक्षं, स्निग्धं प्रस्वपनं दिवा||



यथाकालमतो निद्रां रात्रौ सेवेत सात्म्यतः| (अष्टांगहृदयम्)

(Note the repetition of the word “Kaala” in almost every verse.)

Ayurvedic observations have been so meticulous that disorders that can arise from untimely sleep habits have also been pinpointed. Several such important clinical observations worth researching have been receiving no attention at all. We have a veritable treasure of sound medical observations waiting to get their biology unravelled. This unravelling would enhance both ayurveda and biology.

There seems to be no hope from “ayurvedic physiologists” whose childish interests lie primarily in text-torturing and strenuously super-imposing contemporary findings upon ancient aphorisms. It is time the larger scientific community recognises and works upon this important area. This, as Indians, we owe it to the great ayurvedic sages.

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(This article was published by IndiaFacts in 2017)

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