Ayurveda needs different protocols
THRISSUR: The latest notification of the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Sidha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) of the Centre insisting that the herbal medicines to be exported should be free of heavy metals, will cripple the ayurvedic industry in the country, fear the leaders of the Ayurvedic Medicine Manufacturers' Organisation of India (AMMOI).
As per the AYUSH notification, the herbal medicines manufactured in the country will have to be tested for the presence of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium, and it will have to be ensured that they contain these metals only below the permissible levels, before they are exported.
The AMMOI leaders feel that the notification appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction to a report in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) which claimed that tests conducted in the U.S. in some of the ayurvedic formulations exported from India indicated the presence of high levels of heavy metals in them. Coming as it does at a time when the interest in the Indian traditional medical system is on the ascend globally, the report and the subsequent campaign against ayurveda both in India and abroad could even be part of a design to dampen the prospects of this one of the oldest health care systems in the world, the AMMOI leaders apprehend.
General secretary of the AMMOI D. Ramanathan told The Hindu here that instead of taking such a step detrimental to the promising ayurvedic industry, the Government of India and AYUSH should have tried to convince the West as to how the Indian herbal medicines are safe and effective.
Dr. Ramanathan explained that no heavy metals are directly used in ayurvedic medicines. They are used only after the intense medical purification process called `Sodhana.' Medical purification is different from chemical purification - the former has multiple aims like eliminating harmful matter from the drug, modification of undesirable physical properties of the drug and conversion of some of the characteristics of the drugs, whereas the latter aims at only eliminating foreign matters.
The `Bhasma-based' ayurvedic formulations may have traces of heavy metals if they are subjected to conventional chemical tests. But we will have to evolve new protocols for testing the ayurvedic medicines in which the chemicals are used in compounds and not in isolation, Dr. Ramanathan said. Similarly new protocols for establishing the efficacy of ayurvedic medicines should be evolved instead of the Randomised Clinical Trials (RCT) used for modern medicine. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has accepted that traditional medicines which have a long lineage need not undergo RCT. They can be sold as medicines in the global market provided they have a stamp of approval from a recognised office in their country, said treasurer of the AMMOI E. T. Neelakandan Moos. The AMMOI leaders demanded that the Governments at the Centre and States should make more budgetary provisions for research in ayurveda so that they can be presented in a format acceptable to the global community.
At present, out of the total Rs.11,000- crore budget of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare the traditional medicine sector gets only Rs 406 crores (around four per cent). Ayurveda can engage with the global market little more confidently if that allocation is enhanced at least to ten per cent, they said.
The export earnings of the Indian ayurvedic medicines are only about
Rs.3,000 crores annually whereas the figure for the Chinese traditional medicines is around one lakh cores of rupees. India certainly has better scope in this sector, provided it makd a systematic effort, they said.