Chyavanprash Meets Crocin
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01 December 2010
By Bishwanath Ghosh with Pushpa Narayan & Umesh Isalkar
A growing breed of allopaths is digging into ancient texts to blend age–old cures with modern therapies. For these doctors, there’s no conflict between allopathy and traditional systems of medicine
Monday morning. A crowd of about 60 people is silently peering into a crumbling corridor of the dilapidated Red Cross building on Chennai’s Montieth Road. At the end of the corridor, in a tiny, cramped room groaning under stacks of herbal medicine, an elderly khadi–clad siddha doctor, with a stethoscope hanging from his neck, is looking into the throat of a boy with the help of a torch.
A minute later, the examination is over and the khadi–clad man applies himself to his prescription pad.
Meet Dr C N Deivanayagam, one of Chennai’s best–known chest physicians who has worked in some of the city’s biggest hospitals such as the Government General Hospital, Ramachandra Medical College and Tambaram TB sanatorium. Today, at 68, the FRCP doctor has just begun the second innings of his career by setting up a trust called Health India Foundation that integrates siddha and allopathy to treat patients.
At a time when medical journals are churning out studies that often contradict each other's take on the effects of drugs and food on health, there is a growing breed of allopathic doctors which is digging into ancient texts to blend ageold cures with modern therapies. They are doctors who have come to believe that allopathy and traditional systems of medicines don’t have to be in conflict, but can complement each other in restoring health.
Today, Dr Deivanayagam’s trust treats an entire gamut of diseases. He examines patients with the help of a fellow allopath and a siddha practitioner. The state of health, in siddha, is gauged by a curious technique: the urine of the patient is collected in a small bowl in which a drop of gingelly oil is added. The pattern that the drop of oil assumes on the surface of the urine is regarded equivalent to a modernday master health check–up report.
Dr M Muthukkumar, on the other hand, looks into a patient’s eye – with a magnifying glass, – to detect the exact problem. According to him, any ailment is bound to show up in the form of a certain pattern in the iris: then all one needs to do is prick a few needles in vital points in the body so that blocked energy channels open up and the disease is eliminated.
Dr Muthukkumar is an MBBS doctorturned–accupunturist who passed out of a medical college in Madurai and went on to practise allopathy for several years until a chance meeting with a traditional Chinese healer changed the course of his career.
Muthukkumar sees nearly 100 patients a day at his clinic in Chennai’s Vijaya Hospital. "In allopathy, you treat a disease by eliminating the pathogens. But not all diseases are caused by pathogens. What about diabetes or hypertension? Today, there is not a single drug in allopathy that can touch the pancreas. But we can."
Siddha and acupuncture, like Ayurveda, go back a few thousand years. While Ayurveda uses mostly plants and occasionally metals, siddha includes metals such as arsenic, mercury and gold. For years Dr Muthukkumar, 54, ran a nursing home in Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district.
Then he met a Chinese doctor, Aman Talib, in 1984, at a conference where he openly accused Talib of cheating the public with mumbo–jumbo about needles.
A calm Talib turned around to ask a few simple questions: why do patients getting a heart attack report of pain in the little finger, why are men more prone to wearing glasses than women, and so on. Dr Muthukkumar had no answers, but he was intrigued. He found himself chasing Talib for the next six months before the Chinese finally took him under his wing.
Today, Dr Muthukkumar holds every prestigious degree that acupuncture has to offer, and is assisted in his clinic by another allopath–turned–acupuncture enthusiast, Sashi Rawat. Rawat, 23, passed out of a medical college in Pondicherry last January, and did what most ambitious doctors do: enroll in a hospital as a junior resident and simultaneously prepare to train as a surgeon in the US. But fate had other plans.
Sashi’s father was a diabetic, and she, in spite of being an allopath, saw hope for him in acupuncture, and brought her father to Dr Muthukkumar.
According to Dr Sashi, her father’s sugar levels have since climbed down to normal, sparking a new–found faith in the ancient Chinese system. Till the other day, she wanted to be a surgeon, but now she believes the world does not need surgery.
"In fact, acupuncture went to China from south India, taken there thousands of years ago by a saint called Boghar, revered in China as Bo Yang," says Dr Muthukkumar. Dr Muthukkumar and Dr Deivanayagam are not lone rangers in their field. Across the country, several allopathic doctors have found effective cures for their patients’ ailments in traditional medicine and diet, thus developing a new respect for ancient systems of healing.
After finishing his MBBS, Dr Deepak Rokade got a post–graduate diploma in child health, but found his calling in acupuncture. "After practising allopathy for seven years, I realised it had its limitations," says Pune–based Rokade, 48. "Allopathy treatment for many ailments is only about controlling the disease with prolonged drug therapy. The drugs themselves are responsible for many side effects," he says.
Rokade was introduced to acupunture by one of his teachers. Subsequently, he learned from Dr Zu Zong Xiong from Beijing. "But the best teachers were my experience and my patients. They taught me a lot," says Rokade, who’s a consultant with two hospitals and runs his own holistic acupuncture centre that provides free stay for all patients.
Rokade does not stop with acupuncture. "I realised that acupuncture, when combined with panchakarma and yoga, is the best way not only to treat many incurable conditions, but also keep illnesses away," says Rokade, who has christened his approach as Purnopchar, which literally means holistic treatment.
"Recently, I treated a case of ARMD (Age–Related Macular Degeneration, which is partial or full loss of vision due to ageing). The patient regained her partially lost vision within three months. It was a very fulfilling experience.
Over the years I have treated hundreds of patients for various diseases successfully," says Rokade. Mandakini Aphale, the patient who regained her vision, vouches for it. "I was referred to Rokade by my eye surgeon after allopathic treatment failed. I got lucky."
Rokade says he has found his Purnopchar approach extremely effective in treating diseases such as arthritis, spondylitis, paralysis, epilepsy, migraine, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, glaucoma, sciatica, lower backache, frozen shoulder, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, acidity, ulcers, bronchial asthma and vertigo.
How does he view allopathy in relation to traditional methods of treatment? "Allopathy is the basis on which I have built my entire Purnopchar approach. I always say that Purnopchar is allopathy plus acupuncture plus ayurveda plus panchakarma plus yoga, topped with a healthy lifestyle.
I only wish more and more allopathic doctors take help of these traditional systems of cure. They will serve as additional tools towards building a far more comprehensive health care system," says Rokade.
The integration of modern and traditional medicine system is best illustrated by the case of Dr K Rajagopalan, a Padmashri awardee, who was born into a family of Ayurvedic physicians in Kerala. He was taught Sanskrit and Chakra Sastra from the age of 10.
"My father, Dr MP Krishnan Vaidhyar, was my first guru. He was a renowned Ayurvedic physician and my role model," says the chief consultant at the Kottakal Arya Vaidya Sala, who is now 78. After finishing his school, he joined the Government Ayurveda College in Trivandrum in Kerala. After passing out, he took an MBBS degree as well.
Says one of his patients, Uma T, a 41–year–old a homemaker, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and underwent a breast surgery and a cycle of chemotherapy. "I was so fatigued after the surgery that I did not want to continue with the treatment. That’s when my friend suggested I should go to Dr Rajagopalan.
Since he was an MBBS doctor he knew all about the therapy I underwent and its side effects. Now, after the Ayurvedic drug regimen and massages, I’m feeling much better," she says.
How does the Medical Council of India view the integration of traditional forms of medicine with allopathy? With caution. Says Kesavankutty Nair, vicepresident, Medical Council of India, "Only those who are qualified in allopathy can prescribe medicines. Otherwise, it is quackery.
Other streams like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani also have their own councils which have been campaigning for the same. But if a qualified MBBS doctor is practising other streams, we don’t object. If they are not properly qualified in traditional medicines, we expect the respective councils to take it up."