Most are maintaining the belief that non-western medical traditions have no effect and have no scientific basis. They say that it’s proven that such medical traditions are just cultural practices based on ancient beliefs and have no validity. They pointed out to the rejection of these knowledge systems and their claims by western scientists and western physicians as their proof.
Science is not the personal or collective opinions of the scientists. It’s the results they got from the experiments. Subjecting a hypothesis into experiments and accepting it if the evidence supports it, is the method being used in western science. Until proven by a scientific experiment, any opinion by a scientist on a scientific matter is just a hypothesis, which still yet to be proven. Authority of the person or preference by the scientific community on a theory is not a proof. That’s why Darwin’s theory of Human Evolution, theory of Big Bang and Einsteins’ theory of Relativity still counts as theories not as facts.
So whether these western scientists’ rejection of Ayurveda medicine or Hela medicine as pseudoscience correct or not solely depend on the results of scientific experiments they have done on the efficacy of treatments of those medical traditions.
Most who are accusing non-western medicines as pseudoscience rely on cases they heard when a patient who took medications from a Ayurvedic/Hela physician severed her condition or dead, as their evidence. This approach is problematic since they hasn’t clarified that whether the reason for failure of the treatment is due to the physician’s lack of skills before attributing it to the medical tradition. But even if they fulfilled this requirement, even then such anecdotal evidence can’t be counted as clinical trails for number of reasons. it’s because these are not controlled for age, sex, medical condition etc and have not recorded medical histories to evaluate the cases. If such cases (where the traditional medicines failed) can be counted as ‘clinical trials’ ignoring all the essential requirements to be a scientific study, then it would have be applied to cases where Ayurvedic/Hela medicine said to be incredibly cured certain conditions also. And if them can’t be accepted as a scientific evidence, since they have not been clinically evaluated, then cases they seemed to be failed too must be rejected as scientific evidence, on the same basis.
Since, now its imperative to look at the results of clinical trials on Ayurvedic/Hela medicine, lets look at them. Researches on this field are very limited. So I could found only few researches on them. However all the following findings were from well established clinical trials and have published in respectable medical journals. Link to the original article given as a brief reference within the parenthesis after the summary each research.
- In a Double-blind, randomized, controlled, pilot study comparing classic ayurvedic medicine, methotrexate, and their combination in rheumatoid arthritis, using 42 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, all 3 treatments were shown to be approximately equivalent in their efficacy, within the limits of a pilot study. Researchers also write that Adverse events were numerically fewer in the Ayurveda-only group. (Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. 2011 Jun;17(4):185-92.)
- Results from a random-controlled trial which tested the efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extractscompared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis, using 367 patients, Ayurvedic treatment (c. domestica extracts) showed to be similar to ibuprofain in effect, for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Researchers also write that the number of events of abdominal pain/discomfort was significantly higher in the ibuprofen group than that in the C. domestica extracts group (P=0.046). (Journal of Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2014 Mar 20(9):451-8)
- According to a randomized, double-blind, controlled equivalence drug trial between Ayurvedic formulations (extracts of Tinospora cordifolia, Zingiber officinale, Emblica officinalis, Boswellia serrata) and allopathic treatments of glucosamine sulphate (2 g daily) and celecoxib (200 mg daily), using 440 patients (Overall, 28% of patients withdrew from the study. = rest 316) suffering from knee osteoarthritis it was found that Ayurvedic formulations (especially SGCG) can significantly reduce knee pain and can improve knee function and is equivalent to glucosamine and celecoxib. (Rheumatology. 2013 Aug;52(8):1408-17)
It’s interesting to see that, contrary to popular belief that Ayurveda treatments have no efficacy/they are just pseudosciences, how EVERY clinical trial on Ayurveda have proved its efficacy, sometimes even with less adverse effects when compared to its Allopathic counterpart.
Now I would like to consider about research evidence on ancient Sinhala (Hela) medicine. It should be first mentioned that though these two traditions share medical knowledge and concepts and have inspired from each other, ancient Sinhala medicine is a medical tradition itself which is independent from its Indian counterpart. But however, it may not be unjust to attribute above mentioned scientific evidences to Sinhala medicine also, since the two traditions intertwined with each other. But we should loot at the research evidence which tested unique treatments of Sinhala medicine too. Unfortunately researches on Hela Medicine are so few that I could found only two treatments in Sinhala Medicine which was scientifically tested. One of them is the effectiveness of Salacia reticulata (කොතල හිඹුටු) for treating type 2 diabetics, which was proved from several clinical trials. Though there are no canonical mentions in ancient medicine, on using Salacaa reticulata for type 2 diabetics, it is used as a folk medicine among the Sinhalese and the plant is endemic to Sri Lanka. So it may not be unjust to attribute efficacy of Salacia reticulata to the wisdom of ancient Sinahala medicine.
Following are the clinical trials done on using Salacia reticulata for treating type 2 diabetics.
- Results from a placebo-controlled cross over trial done using 20 individuals with type 2 diabetes, have been indicated that Salacia reticulata extracts containing diet can reduce fasting plasma glucose levels, HbA1C and BMI, significantly. Researchers also write that In contrast, no changes were observed in the control-diet group. (Journal of Japanese Society of Nutrition and Food Science. 2000;53(5):199–205.)
- Results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, which used 29 patients with prediabetes and mild to moderate hyperlipidemia, suggested that extracts of Salacia reticulata can reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and fasting blood sugar (FBS) levels significantly. (Journal of Medicinal Food. 2013 Jun;16(6):564-8.)
- From double-blind randomized placebo controlled cross over trial which investigated the effects of a herbal tea containing Salacia reticulata in patients with type II diabetes mellitus, using 51 patients with type II diabetes mellitus, it was found that Salacia reticulata can reduce HbA1C significantly. Researchers write that A statistically significant fall in HBA1c was seen with the active drug compared to a rise in HbA1C with the placebo group (0. 54 +/- S.D. 0.93) versus -0.3 +/-S.D. 1.05; P < 0.001. (Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2005 Feb 28;97(2):215-8.)
Second is a case study done on the effectiveness of Ayurvedic/traditional Sri Lankan orthopedic treatment for nonunion following the fracture of shaft of the humerus which proved that it’s effectiveness than allopathic treatment (K wire) in certain cases. Study was done on the case of 14-year-old boy who had a compound fracture over the shaft of the humerus and presented to Ayurveda treatment after two months of failure of allopathic treatment. K-wire which was applied, have been removed after 3 weeks since there was no healing of wound over fracture site. Researchers immobilized the nonunion bone for six months after applying the herbal oils and herbal pastes. When assessed the treatment using motor, sensory functions assessment, QLIOF questionnaire results after the treatment shown to be very satisfiable and the anterior- posterior and lateral X-ray have shown the complete healing of the fracture. According to researchers There was a significant (p = 0.03) difference between the pre-treatment (14) and post-treatment (59) QLIOF scores. The anterior- posterior and lateral X-ray showed complete healing of the fracture.
Authors of the study also write;
Blood circulation around the fractured bone was regularized after Sodhana Chikitsa. It initiates the formation of hematoma and subsequently resolves into granulation tissue with the typical inflammatory cascade. In the case of chronic nonunion, Sodhana treatment would trigger the granulation tissue formation which subsequently leads to soft callus and finally triggers the hard callus formation. Sodhana treatment was given for around eight weeks. Once Shamana treatment was initiated, a state of balance between osteoclast and osteoblast activities of seen which will strengthened the callus. With Tarpana treatment, the homeostatis proceeded with bone remolding and lead to final bone formation with complete fracture healing , . While continuing above therapy based on Susrutha Samhita for proper fracture healing, Kusha (splints), Alepa (paste or plaster) and Bandana (bandaging) needed to be done to stabilize the fracture 7“.
Authors mention that Preparation of paste of Katakaladi and paste of Ashwagandada were done according to the methods mentioned by the eminent Sri Lankan traditional physician “Arangala Veda Parapura”. So attributing this result too to the Sinhala medicine my not be a wrong.
These evidences will counter the unsubstantial claims on ineffectiveness of Ayurvedic/Sinhala medicines and will stand against the prejudice towards those medical traditions which reflects Eurocentric and colonial mentality. Those who dogmatically believe in individual opinions by western physicians on non-western medical traditions (which reflects nothing, but their bias) must have to look at these evidences and think that whether the approach those western physicians used to reach their conclusions are at least comply with their own scientific standards.
It’s true that, just because certain treatments of those medical traditions have proved as effective this result can’t be generalized for all such treatments used in them. But since results of EVERY clinical trial on Ayurvedic/Hela medicine, have shown the efficacy and safety of them, there is a possibility of other treatments which still have not tested, also proved to be true if tested. So if anyone has doubt regarding efficacy of Ayurveda or Sinhala medicine, what he or she should have to be done is that testing them using clinical trial models which comply with accepted standards. Arguing over on a matter to justify preconceived notions is not something we expect from people who are in the filed of science.
And it should be noted that though there’s a authority to regulate Ayurvedic doctors, there is no authority to support/research on Sinhala medicine, to assist or test the credentials of Hela physicians. So it’s not fair to discredit it using this neglection as an excuse, since it’s not something have to be fixed by Hela physicians themselves, but something to be done by the authorities. If someone have honest concern with not having regulatory body on Hela physicians, it’s his/her duty to agitate the authorities to establish an institution to do research on it and to regulate them. But using it as an excuse to discredit the medical tradition without doing so is a hypocrisy.
Though the western medicine have the hegemony in the field of medicine today, If we look at the history not all the discoveries of medical science is not done by western scientists or within western knowledge system. It’s a known fact that some discoveries by non-western doctors also have been integrated into the western medical tradition and now been counted as original discoveries of westerners, by those who don’t know the origins. And certain discoveries of western medicine is based on the knowledge of those non-western medical traditions. For example according to a paper named ‘Origins of Inoculation’ which was published in Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, first example of a kind of inoculation; variolation was first practiced in China and in Turkey and there are evidences to suggest that it was practiced even in India.