Burden of healthcare is increasing worldwide. Despite advances in modern medicine, contemporary societies are experiencing a major healthcare burden owing primarily to behavior and lifestyle. The world is seeing:
- higher rates of chronic diseases or lifestyle disorders,
- inability to adequately prevent or treat chronic diseases,
- high rates of adverse side effects of modern medicines,
- increasing cost of medicines or treatments, and
- dissatisfaction with the overall healthcare experience.
Global trends showing pluralistic healthcare choices
The global trends in health seeking behavior show that pluralistic choices are being exercised by people for fulfilling different health needs. At a time when non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death and disease globally, people worldwide are exploring other medical knowledge systems for more effective healthcare solutions. This trend towards medical pluralism signifies the societal realization that no single system of healthcare has the capacity to solve all the contemporary health needs of the society and therefore the future of healthcare will be based on medical pluralism. Traditional medical systems of healthcare like Ayurveda and Yoga will have an important role to play in this emerging pluralistic healthcare ecosystem.
Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (TCAM) approaches are on the rise
Emerging opinion from experts is that the integration of traditional medicine (TM) or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with modern medicine may be useful for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases related to behavior and lifestyle. This integration is often referred to as Integrative Medicine (IM).
CAM is a group of diverse medical and health care approaches that are not presently considered part of conventional, modern medicine by many. It includes a range of systems and modalities, such as Ayurveda, Yoga, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), other Traditional Systems of Medicine, Meditation, Herbal Medicines, Nutritional Supplements, Movement therapies, Energy based modalities and mind-body practices.
Growing trends indicate higher utilization rates of complementary modalities by the general public in conjunction with modern medical care, and majority of them do not inform their primary care physicians about the use of alternate modalities. Nearly 50% of the population in developed nations and similar or greater numbers in developing countries use some form of traditional, complementary or alternative therapy.
Need for preventive public health approaches that are cost-effective, affordable and sustainable
To combat the worldwide chronic disease epidemic, there needs to be a focus on preventive healthcare and use of cost-effective, affordable and sustainable healthcare approaches. The World Health Organization (WHO) and governments of several countries have established agencies to support research and practice of traditional medicine in combating lifestyle-based diseases or disorders.
Despite this growing interest, the governments have been slow to promote scientific research to investigate the clinical utility, mechanisms, cost effectiveness and policy implications of these therapies. On top of that, with notable exceptions, much of the research efforts have been around quality, safety, and efficacy of TM products from India and China due to the potential for exploitation in drug discovery and commercial development for large scale pharmaceutical use.
Overall, for most of the TCAM approaches, there is often a dearth of scientific studies or due to longstanding biases in the scientific community, the impact at the global level is not what one would otherwise expect.
The time for Ayurveda is now!
In this current integrative landscape, out of all these TCAM approaches, Ayurveda stands out as the one with the most potential to address this growing situation. With over 5,000 years of history, Ayurveda is a time-tested holistic system that has the potential to not only prevent but also treat chronic and lifestyle diseases. Exploring Ayurveda based knowledge, practices, products and therapies can make a big contribution to healthcare in the 21st century.
Ayurveda has long held the view that specific stressors at the root of degenerative processes that drive its progress must be identified and removed at an early stage. Not only that, Ayurveda says that if newly emerging disorders or health symptoms are not identified and treated at the right time, they progress into becoming chronic disorders that are more difficult to treat or manage. In most cases, the manifestation of an indicator is not what originated in the body recently but has been building up over a time. Ayurveda does not give immediate relief like how modern medicine pills work on symptoms like pain. Instead, it gets down to the root cause thus ensuring there is no relapse of the disease.
In recent years, proponents of Integrative Medicine also talk about addressing behavioral dysfunction at an early stage, not just treating the symptoms but restoring health just like Ayurveda has been teaching since time immemorial.
At a time when 70% of global deaths are being attributed to NCDs, the potential that Ayurveda offers to help solve the global crisis in chronic disease needs to be recognized and better understood. Ayurveda and Western medicine share common goals – improve the health of the public through sustainable and accessible care for all. The next five years is therefore going to be the most critical years for the growth and development of Ayurveda globally, through what models it offers the world in-terms of addressing chronic conditions and life-style disorders.
Dr. Mahadevan Seetharaman is the Founder of AYUSH Global, USA. The views expressed by the author are his own