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Monday, January 28, 2008

Ayurvedic Medicine and Hepatitis C


Ayurveda is a natural system of medicine that has been practiced in India for more than 5,000 years. It was developed by the seers (rishis) through centuries of observation, experiments, discussion, and meditation. For several thousand years, Ayurvedic teachings were passed down orally from teacher to student. The origins of Ayurvedic medicine are recorded in the Atharva Veda, one of the four Vedic scriptures.1 The first summary of these teachings was put into writing around 1500 B.C. The main sources of knowledge are the three Vedic classics Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita, and Ashtanga Hridaya.2

Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word made up of two components, ayush meaning life, and veda meaning knowledge or science. Hence, Ayurveda is the 'science of life'. The teachings of this ancient system of medicine are written in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India and Hinduism. It is based on Indian (Vedic) philosophy. Ayurveda was the first holistic system of diagnosis and treatment integrating nutrition, hygiene, rejuvenation, and herbal medicine. Ayurvedic medicine considers the human body to be in balance with nature. The body is believed to be a dynamic and resilient system that can cope with all stresses from its environment while maintaining the ability to heal itself. 3,4

The main objectives of Ayurveda are:

  • to maintain and promote health by preventing physical, mental, and spiritual ailments

  • to cure disease through natural medicine, diet, and a regulated lifestyle

Ayurveda tries to help us live a long and healthy life, achieve our fullest potential, and express our true inner nature on a daily basis.4 The Ayurvedic classic Charaka Samhita defines Ayurveda as, "the knowledge that indicates the appropriate and inappropriate, happy or sorrowful conditions of living, what is auspicious or inauspicious for longevity, as well as the measure of life itself."

Ayurvedic Medicine and Hepatitis C

The liver is called yakrit in Ayurveda. Pitta is the predominant humor of the liver. Most liver disorders are aggravated conditions of pitta. Excessive bile production or a blockage in the flow of bile usually indicates high pitta, which in turn affects the agni or enzyme activities responsible for absorption, digestion, and metabolism.

Diet and lifestyle activities that aggravate pitta include:

  • alcohol abuse
  • red meat
  • spicy, oily, heavy foods
  • lack of sleep
  • too much direct exposure to the sun
  • smoking

Aggravation of the pitta causes such liver diseases as fatty liver, cirrhosis, and hepatitis. All types of viral hepatitis are of relatively recent discovery, so there is obviously no mention of them in the classic Ayurvedic texts. Nevertheless, one can find similar symptoms described under kaamala.26,27
Ayurveda describes two basic types of kaamala (hepatitis or jaundice).

  • Shakhasrita is caused by the minimal aggravation of pitta and kapha, and is easily curable.

  • Kumbha kaamala results from very high pitta and is difficult to cure. It can become incurable if not attended to immediately.

Panaki and haleemaka are two other types of hepatitis or jaundice that are explained in Ayurvedic texts. Panaki is late stage kaamala. Haleemaka is an advanced stage of anemia that occurs when both the vata and pitta are out of balance.26

Excessive intake of alcohol, and hot, spicy, sour, or contaminated food or water aggravate pitta. When pitta is out of balance, the liver causes disease in the blood, muscle tissue, and biliary system. This manifests as kaamala or jaundice. It is believed that an anemic and/or immunocompromised person is more prone to this ailment.
Symptoms of kaamala include:

  • loss of appetite and taste
  • generalized weakness
  • yellowish discoloration of the eyes, nails, oral cavity, and urine
  • vague body pains
  • burning sensation
  • weakness in all sensory organs

In extreme cases, emaciation (extreme thinness) is also seen. All these symptoms signify the involvement of the immune system in infectious hepatitis. Ayurveda teaches that hepatitis involves the gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, and the skin.26-28

Symptoms such as generalized edema (shotha), excessive thirst (atitrishna), bloody stools (krishna varna mala mutra), vomiting blood (rakta yukta chardi), red eyes (rakta netra), dizziness (bhrama), drowsiness (tandra), total loss of appetite (teevra agni mandya), and hepatic coma (nashta sanjna) indicate that the liver disease is at an incurable stage, and the patient is believed to be terminally ill.29

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