Quality standards and Ayurveda

Ayurveda has survived as a science since centuries. Ayurveda was preached by distinguished personalities like Charaka, Sushruta, Madhva and Kashyapa. These people established the fundamental aspects of the science which are are still valid today. Later scholars like Vagabhatta, Chakrapani, Arundutta, and Dalhana did a commendable job in preserving this ancient wisdom. Before screening a medicine from the Ayurvedic point of view, the following parameters are observed:

1. Substance (Dravya).

5. Post-digestion effect (Vipaka).

6. Therapeutics (Prabhva).

7. Pharmacological activity (Karma).

Since Ayurveda has served humanity for centuries, it is but obvious that without internal quality standards it was not possible for the system to survive. Lack of documentation of ancient medical knowledge seems to be the limiting factor for Ayurveda. Oral transmission was the major tool for transferring theoretical as well as practical knowledge. However after 17th century the scholars felt the need of documentation and several 'Nighantu' were written. Nighantu is the Sanskrit word equivalent to Materia Medica (medicinal botany or pharmacognosy).

Just like all health systems, the concept of standardization exists in Ayurveda. Charaka, the great Indian physician, has described methods for collection of plant parts in appropriate seasons. In Ayurveda or other herbal systems of medicine, various plant parts ranging from roots to bark are used in formulations. The theme about collecting plant parts in the appropriate season is related to the presence of the active principle-the curative factor of herbals remedies. Today we have isolated the active principles of the plants and given them names like alkaloids and glycosides. The ancient scholars were well aware of the active principles of plant-based remedies. They described it in terms of virya (potency).

Ayurvedic pharmacy is a highly developed subject. The herbs are processed into various pharmacopoeial preparations like infusions, decoctions, powders, expressed juice and extracts. Herbs are taken in a specific ratio and subjected to various methods like incineration, distillation or extraction. Although these methods apparently seem to be crude but keeping in mind the lack of scientific instruments in the Vedic era it can definitely be said that the science was at its peak. Doses of all the pharmacopoeial preparations and the mode of administration are been well defined in Ayurvedic texts.

When we study the nomenclature of medicinal plants from the Ayurvedic point of view, it can be said that names were assigned on anatomical or physiological basis. Brahami is classical example of this.

The leaf of the plant has a similarity to cerebral hemispheres of the human brain. It may be the basis of extensive use of Brahami in the treatment of brain related diseases.The name of Ashwagandha has been derived from the smell of the root which resembles that of a horse feces. Due to lack of development of subjects like taxonomy the ancient scholars devised names mostly on an organo-leptic basis.

Ayurvedic drugs have given the scientific community a lead to discover molecules from plants. Cassia tora (Chakrmurda) is widely used in the treatment of ringworm in Ayurveda. As the name suggests the plant is useful in the treatment of skin disease with round margins. It was on this lead that chrysophanic acid was isolated from this plant. Earlier when standard antipsoriatic medications were not available, chrysophanic acid was the main stay of antipsoriatic treatment. This is not the only case as many plants provide us with lead molecules for respective segments based on description (irrespective of the objective or subjective factor) in ancient texts. On the whole it can be said that quality standards do exist in Ayurveda. Due to a lack of laboratory facilities and proper clinical documentation these standards were never fully developed.

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