Using traditional drug systems to solve nutritional problems in India is a relatively new idea in the country that is in the process of rediscovering the importance of these ancient systems today.
There are many ideas from ancient India, systems and processes that were once an integral part of everyday life and are now forgotten and that could play a vital role in promoting India’s nutritional goals. These ideas, many of which come from the subcontinent’s three major premodern medical systems, Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha, deserve a review of our habits today as simple yet effective solutions to improving everything from immunity to mineral deficiencies.
In this essay, we would like to argue that diet today is viewed through a few absolutist lenses – hunger, malnutrition, and staples and medicines to solve the problems. What is not mentioned enough, however, is the type of food, its quality and the ingredients it contains and, as with proper use, anything from the right food consumed in the right way to the right type of utensils could have a huge impact on the benefits the body gets from food.
The focus of ancient Indian healing systems is, of course, on emphasizing such benefits. In recent years, as the renewed focus on wellness has grown around the world, these traditions have been increasingly explored and explored in a world plagued by over-processed foods on the one hand and acute malnutrition on the other.
In India, there is increasing interest in the idea that traditional foods and medical systems can play an important role in increasing the general nutritional level in the country and can alleviate nutritional decline, particularly among disadvantaged families.
This is especially true of India, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of medicinal plants. Around 20,000 medicinal plants are known to have been found in India, and the country has one of the largest existing medicinal plant health practices with around 1.5 million practitioners of traditional healing systems. If India’s traditional knowledge and abundance of medicinal plants and trees are better understood and practiced at home, they could be better used not only to improve their own health systems, but also to spread them around the world – just like the country sends Covid today. 19 vaccines to several countries as an aid.
Malnutrition or malnutrition manifests itself in the form of being underweight for one’s age, too short or stunted, too thin for one’s height, which is referred to as “wasting”, and lack of essential vitamins and minerals due to insufficient food intake, improper care and a rush of infectious diseases. It is known that inadequate nutrient intake is the leading cause of numerous health risks. Malnutrition is a global problem and particularly harmful to people in developing countries. This remains a serious problem in India, although the prevalence of malnutrition (PoU) in the country fell from 54.2 percent to 38.4 percent between 2000 and 2015 and the number of undernourished people, including children, fell from 249, 4 million (2004-06) has declined. to 189.2 (2017-19), according to statistics from the State for Food Security and Nutrition in the World, a United Nations report.
Furthermore, in India, various groups of the population who can afford the required amount of calories are not always aware of the need for nutrients in their diet. The nutrient imbalance is a relevant issue that requires intervention. Indian healing systems have many references to the causes and solutions to the problem of malnutrition and malnutrition.
Ayurveda emphasizes two aspects, namely Ahar (diet) and Anna (food). The basic principle of Ayurveda is that healthy and healthy nutrition not only nourishes the body, but also the mind and soul. It does not lay down an inherent value of “good” or “bad” for food, but rather emphasizes the many factors that affect food and its properties. This includes biological properties, origin, environmental conditions, seasons, preparation and freshness. It also explains the importance of modifying and curating your diet based on your individual needs and abilities, as researcher Amala Guha of the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine and Dentistry noted in a 2006 article.
The essence of Ayurveda lies in preventing diseases rather than curing them. To prevent malnutrition, Ayurveda attaches great importance to a nutritious diet that contains sufficient nutrients with additional therapeutic properties. According to Ayurvedic beliefs, malnutrition is divided into four diseases. These are known as Karshya, Phakka, Balshosha and Parigarbhika, as researchers (Thakare, Gawai et al., 2017) found in their work Malnutrition: An Ayurvedic View in the European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research.
Karshya is a word rooted in the term krish which means to be slim or emaciated. It is just one form of nutritional deficiency that occurs when weight loss occurs. Ayurveda offers a holistic and well-rounded regime for the prevention of Karshya. The method consists of remedies known as Brimhana Therapy, Samshodhana, Samshamana Aahara and Achara. These are said to be helpful in preventing, controlling, and eradicating the disease, the researchers (Arun Raj, Viswaroopam et al., 2017) note in the publication Malnutrition in Children: An Updated View in the International Journal of Research in Ayurveda Pharmacy.
Ayurveda offers remedies against malnutrition not only for children, but also for the mother of childbearing potential, which is very effective for both the child in the womb and after birth (Thakare & Gawai). Ayurvedic recipes therefore aim to combat malnutrition as early as the pregnancy stage. Garbhini Paricharya, or prenatal care in Ayurveda, includes diet and lifestyle instructions for each stage of pregnancy. This Ayurvedic practice considers food to be the best source of nutrition and consists of a nine-month diet that is adjusted according to the mother’s age, season, location, constitution and “digestive fire”, notes researcher Vaidya S. Koppikar.
Another ancient method of preventing low birth weight in children is that of Sowbhagya Shunti. Endorsed by Siddha, it is an Ayurvedic medicine that is used in postnatal care. Siddha also prescribes drugs such as Thetran Kottai, Nellikai, and Annabedhi, natural formulations that are said to help prevent malnutrition. The Unani system also provides remedies for malnourished children. These include pine amla, Sharbat Foulad, Habbe Jawahar, Kushta Khubsul Hadeed, etc. (Ministry of Ayus, 2018).
There have been some interesting experiments in some parts of India that have been well received. One such example is the Jeevani milk program run by PLT Girija of the Sanjeevani Ayurveda and Yoga Center in Chennai in the villages of Andhra Pradesh to serve milk enriched with the herb ashwagandhadhi. The result was a steady decline in the disease and an increase in body weight in children. The success of this method led to its spread to other states in the country. It was conducted for a group of poor children in the Andamans, a tribal area in Jharkhand, in state schools and a Sarvodaya hostel in Chennai, a Harijan Seva Sangh hostel in Thirukoilur, and is also ongoing in parts of Karnataka.
Another study was done to analyze the effects of Ayurvedic nutritional therapy as a preventive measure to improve digestion, rejuvenation, immunity, and srotasakarya saptadhatu vriddhi, as reported by (Rathod, Masal et al., 2019) in the publication Effectiveness of Ayurvedic Nutritional Therapy in the prevention and management of malnutrition reduction and maternal and child health improvement in the Indian Journal of Applied Research. In essence, the study aimed to understand the effectiveness of Ayurvedic methods in dealing with diseases caused by low immunity, malnutrition, and light weight in children under six. The study found that children between 0 and 6 years of age experienced significant increases in weight and nutritional levels. Elevated hemoglobin levels were also observed. This Ayurvedic nutritional therapy mechanism has also been effective in enhancing breastfeeding, and therefore in improving the health and nutritional conditions for newborns.
Fortifying foods with traditional medicines and nutritional supplements is a good idea not only because it is inexpensive and natural, but also because its use and power is the easiest to convey, especially in remote rural areas where there is confidence in the traditional medicine is far more than in manufactured pharmaceuticals on a chemical basis.
With this in mind, the Ministry of AYUSH signed an agreement with the Ministry of Women’s and Child Development in 2020 as part of the National Nutrition Mission to promote Ayurveda and Yoga in Anganwadis in order to curb malnutrition. The first pilot project comprised 1,000 Anganwadi centers out of a total of 4 Lakh centers. The Ministry of Women’s and Child Development would enable the Ministry of AYUSH to successfully conduct its public relations work. AYUSH would offer Ayurvedic anti-malnutrition interventions that include promoting nutrient-rich recipes based on regional preferences. Emphasis is placed on treating diseases mainly caused by nutritional disorders such as anemia and diarrhea, overcoming breastfeeding challenges, and ensuring optimal nutrition during pregnancy. The agreement also mentioned working with community health workers to identify and treat children who had problems with acute malnutrition (The Hindu, 2020). A similar experiment was carried out on a pilot basis by AYUSH in Mangalore in 2018, using Ayurvedic, homeopathic and naturopathic healing methods for around 1,000 children in Anganwadis over a period of three months. This produced positive results as the children experienced healthy weight gain (The Hindu, 2018).
Using traditional drug systems to solve nutritional problems in India is a relatively new idea in the country that is in the process of rediscovering the importance of these ancient systems today. However, a civilizational memory of the value of such systems is ingrained in the Indian population, and with the right kind of encouragement, they could play an important role in persuading people to adopt dietary habits and other practices that live up to the promise of Ayurveda always been – to cure the disease, in this case that of malnutrition, not just suppress it.
Ankita Sharma is Senior Researcher and Assistant Vice President, and Hindol Sengupta is Vice President and Head of Research at Invest India, the national investment promotion agency.