Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dr Ravindra Bapat, a doctor of modern medicine, makes a case for Ayurveda

Last week, I was present for what turned out to be quite an interesting presentation by a doctor at the Sankara Nethralaya auditorium. I had never heard of Dr Ravindra Bapat before, but his name nevertheless seemed to ring a bell. He is as suave and erudite as they come. The Vice Chancellor of the Mahatma Gandhi Mission University of Health Sciences, Maharashtra, and Professor Emeritus at the Department of Surgical Gastroenterology, Seth G.S. Medical College and King Edward Memorial Hospital, Parel, Mumbai, was described as a “passionate teacher” and a winner of several awards.

In an email I had received, Dr Bapat was touted as a brilliant speaker. Of course, during his hour-long presentation, which tended to be a little too long-winded, that “brilliance” did not come out as such. I would hesitate to rank him alongside Dr K.P. Misra (former head of the cardiology unit at Apollo Hospitals), for example, who would, without any Power Point presentation, hold you enthralled for hours.

In any case, Dr Bapat’s was a decent presentation. He was the guest speaker this year at the V. Venugopal Endowment Lecture organised by Sankara Nethralaya's Medical Research Foundation and Vision Research Foundation. The late Venugopal, I learned, was on the board of the Reserve Bank of India and Andhra Bank, a business leader who was into fertilisers and coffee, and who was also a philanthropist. You could feel the Sankara Nethralaya hospitality. Visitors were first directed to the terrace where tea, coffee and snacks were served. There was staff to welcome you and make you feel comfortable. Thank God for small mercies. Why don't more institutions and people in them follow such an example?

The guest doctor’s presentation focused on how Ayurvedic remedies have proved successful, at least during clinical trials, in the treatment of certain chronic diseases. As far as modern medicine was concerned, there were several grey areas, Dr Bapat said, listing the challenges ahead as: side effects of drugs, antibiotic resistance, dependence on biological investigation, use of biotechnology, cost-intensive health care, emergence of new organisms and effect of industrialisation.

Indeed, modern medicine had a number of plant-derived drugs, Dr Bapat said (a large part of the audience comprised doctors and I’m sure they all knew that). Synthetic drugs had adverse effects, they were priced high and not always available, he added. Dr Bapat was for seeking alternatives in the Ayurvedic system of medicine.

For instance, Tinospora cordifolia (an indigenous immuno-stimulant available in the market for oral administration), on which the Ayurvedic research Centre at the K.E. M. Hospital has conducted many tests (led by Dr Sharadini Dahanukar, now no more), offered protection against induced infection and was effective in treating obstructive jaundice, with mortality rates dropping considerably.

Tinospora cordifolia also decreased abdominal fullness, increased appetite, decreased nausea. What’s more, it was found to be effective in the treatment of cancer if administered before chemotherapy. The herb was so versatile, it helped in anti-TB therapy and in leading a better quality of life. Dr Bapat also touched on the merits of the use of Amla, which contained Vitamin C, in treating fistula, piles and varicose veins.

With all this, I wondered why several people still doubt the efficacy of alternative systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and Homoeopathy. Ayurveda especially, since it is our own science and finds mention even in the Vedic texts. Just as we do in life, we are all happy using short cuts. Allopathy offers quick remedies although it does not rid the patient of the root cause of illness, at least in many cases. Perhaps we have not worked on forming our own standards in streams like Ayurveda; our laboratories are not properly equipped for all that. This is where Allopathy gains, because we just need to hitch a ride to benefit from research findings conducted abroad and distribute medicines in the market after tying up with MNCs abroad.

The Sankara Nethralaya hospitality extended right to the end, with even Dr Badrinath himself saying hello to visitors. Wonderful indeed!

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