Mega study on ayurveda’s healing powers

Perhaps for the first time leading research and medical institutions in the US-Harvard University, Scripps Clinic, University of California San Diego, Mt Sinai University , University of California San Francisco and Duke University -are collaborating on a project to study ayurveda’s healing powers.

Called the `Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI) Research Study’, the study is being conducted at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California. The center, run by wellness expert Deepak Chopra, had earlier conducted a smaller study to examine the effects of meditation and yoga on gene expression.

“The findings from the older study showed that a week of meditation and yoga practice led to an increase in expression of genes that support rejuvenation of the body , a reduction in expression of genes associated with the stress response, and a large increase in telomerase levels (an enzyme that helps maintain structural identity of genes),” says Chopra.

In the SBTI study , researchers will be analyzing the impact of ayurvedic treatments on participants’ genes, certain hormones as sociated with metabolism and mood change, bacteria present in the gut and on the skin, inflammation markers, weight, stress makers etc. “The body’s healing system is still little understood because of the complex inputs -thoughts, emotions, diet, stress, exercise, immune response -that affect healing. The picture is further clouded when isolated findings overlap or contradict one another. In the context of ayurveda, therapies and practices aren’t done in isolation. Instead of focusing on local symptoms, the diagnosis is systemic.Only now is Western medicine beginning to understand that a blanket condition like `stress’ or `inflammation’ connects many diverse disorders, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes,” says Chopra.

Ayurveda is widely practised and followed in India. There are 2,458 ayurveda hospitals running in India under the government’s directorate of Ayush (Ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha and homoeopathy). However since there have been few scientific studies on the safety and efficacy of the system in the West, it is often perceived as a pseudoscience there. Dr Rudolf Tanzi, a professor at the Harvard University and a co-researcher at the SBTI study , says that this perception is now changing.

“Any scientist of worth will admit that most of time we are wrong. Just look back at science 100 years ago and ask how much is still correct today. Why would this not continue to be the case 100 years from now? Thus, it makes sense to look back to ancient remedies and wisdom, for example, as prescribed in ayurvedic medicine. So far, the results ranging from the effects of meditation on beneficial gene activity to ashwagandha on Alzheimer’s pathology are certainly looking sufficiently promising to continue,” says Tanzi who specializes in researching gene mutations linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study also has the potential to throw light on which brain-function related genes and chemicals are turned “on” or turned “off ” by an ayurvedic diet and lifestyle.”That type of information can help us not only better establish how ayurveda works at a cellular level but also how best to integrate it into a modern healthy lifestyle,” says Dr Murali Doraiswamy , professor at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and coresearcher on the study .

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