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    Spurious Drugs Puncture Prestige of Ayurveda

    Published on April 26, 2021

    By Suresh Unnithan

    It is health which is real wealth, and not pieces of gold and silver- Mahatma Gandhi

    Despite persistent personal efforts from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government to promote Ayurveda as a therapeutic medical alternative the age old healing science is yet to gain the desired civic confidence. Medicinal efficacy of this ancient curative system is increasingly questioned and skeptically assessed even by revered medical experts. Genuineness of commercially manufactured Ayurvedic drugs is widely debated. Those apprehensive of the curative competency of Ayurvedic drugs have convincing arguments to prove their point.

    The horrifying experience Aji Nair had after consuming an Ayurvedic decoction sold in the market explains the risk in taking such drugs.   

    Nair, a retired state government employee, elaborated his traumatic plight after  consuming a Kashayam (medical decoction) for a simple fever and head ache.  “I took the Dashamoola Kaduthrayam Kashayam as advised by an Ayurveda Physician. I bought the kashayam from a globally acclaimed manufacturer.  After gulping a couple of doses my health condition deteriorated with multiple problems and had to seek urgent medical attention.”  Aji said that the “medicine” was having an unbearable foul smell  and irritating taste..

    Many, including the practicing Ayurveda Physicians admit “the quality of most of the Ayurvedic drugs available in the market are not of the desired standard.”  The observation from a former regulator of Ayuirvedic drugs industry in Kerala also confirms the “shocking status” of the present day Ayurvedic medicines. The former regulator who is also a specialist in Ayurveda drugs manufacturing and now serving with one of the government  medical colleges in Kerala as a professor in Aurveda  admits that “patients have increasingly lost confidence in the efficacy of Ayurvedic medicines,” thanks to the poor quality of the drugs available in the market.

    Addressing a seminar at Thiruvanathapuram in March 2019 the former regulator observed “With the loss of the quality of Ayurvedic medicine, the trust in Ayurvedic medicine has been consistently eroded.”   The talk was organized by a group of medical professionals from both Ayurveda and Modern medicines.  The professor who had worked as deputy drugs controller (Ayurveda) for over six years in Kerala lamented that the “medicine (Ayurveda) manufacturers do not add  many of the  medicinal herbs and ingredients mentioned in the original text. They prefer to leave out expensive ingredients, even if these ingredients are a must for efficacy of the drug.”

    The professor made another shocking revelation, “essence of the medicinal plants and other ingredients are extracted and only the remains, which are nothing but sheerwaste, are being used for manufacturing medicines. So how can you expect efficacy?” The professor also expressed apprehension on the “unrestrained” use of preservatives like sodium benzoate in Ayurvedic formulations.

    The result of any system of treatment much depends on the efficacy of the drugs administered. “ If the drugs are spurious or without quality how can you expect result? By prescribing such medicines you are only ensuring that the patients are losing money and not curing their illness.” The professor lamented, “The manufacturers are only concerned of their fiscal benefits and not the welfare of the patients. So they have seldom cared of the quality of their products.”

    Dr Anjitha, a seasoned Ayurveda physician also admits, “(Ayuvedic) formulations available in the market are mostly substandard.  The manufacturers give up to 50% commission plus incentives to the doctors to prescribe their products. It’s sad; the poor patients drain their pockets without any relief.  Practitioners who believe in medical ethics generally prescribe the yogam (content of the drug and method of preparation) so that the patient can gather the ingredients afresh and prepare genuine medicines. In my case, I personally prepare most of the medicines, depending on the need of the patient, without adding any preservatives or unnatural ingredients.”

     Mannar G Radhakrishan Vaidyar, a traditional vaidya from Palakkad is highly critical of the quality and efficacy of commercially manufactured Ayurveda. “Drug preparation needs to be done as per the prescription in our ancient literatures on Ayurvedam.  To my knowledge, none of these books on Ayurveda has any mention of drugs preparation in bulk, or any suggestions of using preservatives like Tincture Benzoate which is highly harmful to human health.“

    Mannar Vaidyar was production in charge and chief physician of a reputed Ayurveda Pharmacy in Kerala for over three decades and he feelt the packing of the medicines are also equally important to preserve quality. “In the past, all Ayurvedic medicines were stored only in glass bottles. Our Gurus have always insisted that the medicines should be stored only in clay, gold, silver or glass containers. These days most of the medicines in liquid form are made available in plastic containers.  Plastic is a toxic substance.  The manufacturers skip the warning that powerful drugs would react with the plastic and cause danger to health. There have been incidents where the lehyam (a form of medicine) mixed with Gulgulu was stored in plastic containers and the container got melted. It is a fact; the manufacturers are more interested in money and not in the human health.”

    As a senior Ayurveda Physican pointed out “absence of a uniform certifying mechanism and licensing system for the sale of Ayurvedic drugs is making it easy for the manufacturers from within in and outside the state to flood the market with substandard and adulterated products as Ayurvedic medicines. Such spurious drugs are being distributed even through multilevel marketing.  Sale of such fake drugs is thriving in the state and poor patients desperately hunting for cure become victims of these swindlers.”

    Jayakumar, a senior journalist base out of Thiruvananthapuram attributes the dismal state of Ayurveda to the “preset laxity” of the state administration. Kumar, who has been closely monitoring the health sector in Kerala as a journalist for nearly three decades, states “there is enough testing facility in the Kerala to ascertain quality of any Ayurveda drug. Thanks to the excess influence of the powerful drug manufacturing lobby, no quality assurance or testing is done.  Even the presences of hazardous ingredients are not tested and the patients are compelled to consume the untested spurious products. It’s high time the administration takes proactive steps to control adulterated drugs flooding the market as Ayuvedic medicines.”    

    According to Jayakumar “the manufacturers’ lobby is powerful enough to decide who should be appointed as Deputy Drug Controller, in charge of Ayurveda so they can have free-run with little hindrance from the regulator.”

    The warning is loud and clear. In the absence of a rigorous regulatory mechanism quacks will continue to thrive, pillaging the innocents with their adulterated, spurious formulations sold as Ayurvedic drugs across the state through over 25000 retailers and multiple online platforms. Consequently this 5000 plus year old India system of curative therapy, which is pride of our national, could lose luster.