Alternative medicine systems come to the rescue


With no vaccine available to treat the coronavirus at present, Indians are using traditional medicinal systems such as ayurveda and alternative systems like homeopathy to boost immunity and prevent infection, says Vinita Pathak.

The coronavirus scare has shaken the world and challenged human intelligence to the core. The highly-infectious nature of the disease, the fast-mutating virus and the constantly-changing prognosis of COVID-19 have been keeping the medical fraternity on tenterhooks since the onset of the outbreak.

To control the spread of the disease, people have been looking for every possible option, to help prevent the disease or cure it effectively, along with modern medical interventions. In India, traditional medicine system such as Ayurveda and alternative medicine system Homeopathy are helping people in the prevention and management of the coronavirus infection.

It’s primarily the unpredictable nature of the infection and the rapidly-growing list of ‘possible symptoms’ in an infected person that has been causing fear psychosis among the people. The fact that a ‘normal person’ can suddenly start displaying symptoms that worsen into life-threatening conditions within a span of a few hours is also a big cause of worry and is posing challenges to the medical fraternity and civic health officials in the management of the disease.

Coronavirus affects the respiratory system to a great extent which is why urgent medical attention is needed in patients. There is no vaccine in sight in the near future, shortage of beds in medical facilities, an increasing number of cases of infection – these have led to a major shift in the public’s approach towards medication and health management. They are now focussing on preventive healthcare measures such as immunity boosting.

Boosting immunity important to fight COVID-19

A quick comparison of the COVID-19 related data from across the world reveals how effectively India is managing the crisis. Indians are using traditional methods such as yoga and home remedies to fight the virus by adopting immunity-boosting measures. It’s not surprising that India has one of the highest recovery rates, and improving, in the world and simultaneously, the lowest fatality rates that is further decreasing by the day. Ayurveda and traditional methods have played a significant role in this.

In June 2020, Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved launched ‘Coronil’.

Patanjali claimed that in Coronil, more than 100 ayurvedic compounds are used including ashwagandha, tulsi , giloy and other ayurvedic ingredients that ‘help in boosting internal immunity and fight other symptoms such as cough and cold, fever, etc.’

Ayurveda not an ‘alternative’ treatment anymore

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought Ayurveda to the forefront in India by providing effective solutions to boost immunity and soothe mild COVID symptoms. Ayurveda is an ancient medicinal system, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, based on the delicate balance between the mind, body and spirit.

In traditional Indian households, most home remedies used for fever, cough and cold, sore throat, weakness, body pain, joint pain, diabetes, infection, menstrual pain, migraine, arthritis, etc. are based on Ayurveda. Ayurveda involves the use of herbs and spices in various forms for treatment of ailments.

Medicinal properties of herbs and spices are also used for strengthening immunity. It’s this immunity-boosting property of Ayurveda that has been helpful in managing the COVID-19 infection. Ayurveda uses natural herbs and spices with high medicinal values such as haldi (turmeric), tulsi, giloy, mulethi, cinnamon, ginger, etc.

“As soon as the coronavirus outbreak was announced, my grandmother instructed me to start taking the kadha (a decoction made with herbs and spices) twice a day. I made sure to follow her advice and till today, without fail, I prepare kadha for myself and my family,” says Chicago-based psychiatrist Vasudha Sharma. Mother to five-year-old twin girls, Vasudha had migrated to the US ten years ago, after getting married to her cardiologist husband.

“My grandmother stays in Indore with my parents. She has immense faith in traditional medicines and swears by the kadha. Even before the outbreak, whenever my daughters or I had a cold or fever, she would tell us to take the kadha. And today, when modern medicines are failing to control the coronavirus infection, my faith in the kadha has only bolstered,” maintains Vasudha.

Homeopathy useful in preventive management

During a presentation to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in August 2020, the Gujarat state health department stated that Gujarat “distributed the homeopathic drug Arsenicum Album 30 to more than three crore people.”

According to the state government, the homeopathic drug was being distributed since March when the first case was detected in Gujarat. In the presentation, the state officials also claimed that 99.6 per cent of the quarantined patients in the state who were on prophylaxis through AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) drugs had tested negative for COVID-19.

Apart from Arsenicum Album, there were several other measures and strategies adopted by the state government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These included distributing Ayurvedic medicines Ukalo (a herbal concoction), Samshamani Vati and Ayush-64.

AYUSH Ministry takes the lead

The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) is committed to ‘developing education, research and propagation of indigenous alternative medicine systems in India.’

Vaccine trials are underway at break-neck speed in the most scientifically-advanced nations. Leading pharmaceutical companies are racing to find a COVID-19 vaccine. In India, two-third of the clinical trials are being done on traditional medicines under the AYUSH system – Ayurveda and Homeopathy.

According to a study done by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Jodhpur —- till July 2020, a total of 203 trials were registered in the Clinical Trial Registry of India (CTRI) of which 125 trials (61.5 per cent) were related to the AYUSH interventions and 64 trials (30.7 per cent) were on allopathic drugs.

The analysis further revealed that just “12 trials related to the Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine as monotherapy or with other drugs were registered on CTRI.”

Government advisories stress on Ayurvedic intervention

In its latest guidelines, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare emphasised on ayurvedic intervention to manage post-COVID conditions. The guidelines stated that recovered patients should use chyawanprash and AYUSH medicines to alleviate post-COVID conditions. The advisory further stated, “In the clinical practice, chyawanprash is believed to be effective in the post-recovery period.” The advisory also listed yoga, pranayama and daily walks among other suggestions.

Chairman of interdisciplinary AYUSH Research and Development Task Force Dr. Bhushan Patwardhan feels it’s time to integrate measures from Ayurveda and Yoga in the standard of care to prevent and treat COVID-19. He maintains “immune-inflammation is known to be a key driver in COVID-19 progression” and recent studies “have identified genetic factors that may influence susceptibility to Covid-19. This may explain why SARS-CoV-2 virus may cause serious harm to certain individuals while others largely remain mild or asymptomatic.”

The research on ‘Ayurvedic rasayana (chemicals), ahara (food), yoga, meditation as well as the role of ayurvedic dosha prakriti (nature of the disease) types in pathophysiology and therapeutics of Covid-19’ is producing exciting results.

To face newly-evolving pathogens, it’s important to integrate the best practices from modern and traditional medicine systems. And, Ayurveda is surely being perceived as the way ahead.

Vinita Pathak

Vinita Pathak is an intern with – A DraftCraft International Initiative to spread awareness among patients of legal rights and position in law, boost medico-legal awareness, initiate legislative change and enforce accountability among healthcare players.