Humans have traditionally been dependent on nature for the healing and prevention of afflictions and revitalizing body systems for longevity. Natural supplements have been offering relief for nearly every known illness since the dawn of mankind, long before today's conventional medical practices. Swabhavoparana, Sanskrit for "remission by nature," was clearly illustrated through the use of herbs and other natural secrets in Ayurveda, the oldest healing science known in India.3 Ayurveda is considered a branch of Atharva Veda, one of the four main texts of Hindu spirituality known as Vedas. Fairly comprehensive information about herbs has been recorded in Charaka Samhita and Shustruta Samhita, the two most important Vedic books. The description of cancer can be dated to earlier than 2000 B.C. by its description given in Atharva Veda under the name apachi. Sushruta, one of the reorganizers of Ayurveda (400 B.C.), described the superficial tumors under the name arbuda. The malignancies of internal organs were described as gulma.4
Ayurveda is the complete health care system embracing the whole domain of medical science. The Vedic texts consider cancer as a life within a body created as a result of emotional imbalance.5 Illness is a sign that life is not being lived in balance. The writers of Ayurveda laid down the rules for maintaining perfect health and suggested remedies for restoring health after the onset of a disease. The holistic approach in Ayurveda seeks the root cause of an illness and restores balance rather than just treating the symptoms alone.
The Ayurvedic concept of cancer is based on three doshas (body constitutions). The imbalance in doshas (vayu, pitta, and kapha) is the beginning of pathogenesis in the development of cancer.4 The disease is classified according to the dosha vitiated, and the treatment is chosen appropriately to augment the dosha using various procedures, including herbal medications.6 The herbs are classified into groups, depending upon their enhancing or decreasing effect on each dosha. The general cancer healing process include cleansing therapies and treatment with immune-boosting herbs such as Satavari (Asparagus racemosus), Ashwagandha (Withania somniferd), Vidari kand (Puereria tuberosd), etc.6 Ayurveda offers unique therapeutic procedures like pancha karma (five actions) to detoxify the body using several processes, including treatment with herbal concoctions.7 Poorva karma is a pretreatment procedure performed to enhance the immune system.8
The treatment of cancer and other diseases using the Ayurvedic system of health care is still a common practice in India. The first recorded cancer clinical study based on the Ayurvedic concept was undertaken in India under the sponsorship of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda and Sidda, and the results were compiled as a publication entitled Ayurvedic Drugs in the Management of Cancer9 The study involves the classification and analysis of the histopathology of the disease and treatment modalities on patients having various types of tumors. In one study involving 400 cancer patients, the Ayurvedic formulation containing herbal drugs bhallatak (Semecarpus anacardium), rohitak (Amoora rohitaka), madhuyasti (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and tamra bhasma was evaluated alone or in combination with other treatment modalities, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. The patients were monitored for 10 years. Significant improvement and increase in survival rate was observed in patients treated with the Ayurvedic drug alone. The combination of the Ayurvedic drug along with modern chemotherapy or radiotherapy showed much better response than the Ayurvedic drug alone.10 It was also observed that the patients who received poorva karma prior to chemotherapy showed longer survival times. This might be the first recorded cancer study based on Ayurveda concepts.
The current popular trends for healthy living and disease prevention have their roots in Ayurveda, which emphasizes health promotion and disease prevention through proper diets and rejuvenating herbs. Other cultures across the globe also have their own contemporary traditional health care systems.
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