How Green is This Medicine?

 

Ayurveda, the oldest health system in the world, is going in for a makeover, but is it all for the good? Till now, the biggest innovation had been coloured ayurvedic pills and capsules. But the government’s recent amendment of the 63-year-old Drugs and Cosmetics Act appears to allow a more fundamental change — ayurvedic medicine can now contain anti-oxidants, flavouring agents, preservatives and sweeteners. So is ayurveda about to lose its unique organic wholesomeness?

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Ayurveda practitioners and drug-makers don’t think so. They say the additives, natural or synthetic, must be in permissible quantities in order that the medicine retains its natural properties. “The purpose of allowing the use of anti-oxidants or sweeteners is to increase the shelf life of the ayurvedic medicines,” says Dr S K Sharma, advisor to the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH). The reasoning is that once they last longer, it would be easier to market ayurvedic medicines nationally and internationally.

But Sharma cautions that the changed law is not “purely for commercial reasons. There is a strong need for scientific innovation. It’s time that we tried to improve ayurvedic medicines.” So, the anti-oxidants that are being allowed to use will prevent the medicine from decomposing. The additives, says Sharma, will only help in making ayurvedic medicines more stable than ever before.

Some ayurvedic practitioners admit that there are legitimate concerns about additives. Dr V V Doiphode, dean of Pune University‘s Department of Ayurveda, stresses the importance of testing any product before it is added to an ayurvedic drug. “The onus is on the drug-makers to ensure these (additives) aren’t detrimental to health,” he says. For that they will have to conduct extensive research and lab testing.

There are other ways of ensuring compliance, not least guidelines issued by the Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC), an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The IPC sets strict standards for drugs and other pharmaceutical products. Add to this, the wording of the amended Drugs and Cosmetics Act, which allows “only natural colouring agents as permitted under rule 26 of Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules 1955 for ayurveda, siddha and unani drugs.”

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But what if someone wanted to market a flavoured chyawanprash, say chocolate, to attract the international market? Would that be more synthetic than traditional chyawanprash? Not really, so long as it retains its original properties, says Ranjit Puranik, CEO of Shree Dootapapeshwar Ltd, ayurvedic drug-maker and exporter.

The loophole, however, is that a product like chyawanprash, which is made of 54 herbs — of which amla (gooseberry) is the main — can be marketed internationally as a dietary supplement rather than a medicine. If it has to be marketed as a medicine, then all the 54 herbs have to go through a standardisation process that will certify that none of the herbs are harmful to health.

The amended act allows synthetic additives in ayurvedic drugs but insists they “carry a statutory warning stating the name and quantity of the artificial sweetener.” Puranik says it’s up to the individual manufacturer to decide how natural he wants the ayurvedic drug to be. And if he uses a large quantity of synthetic additive “he clearly can’t then sell the product as ayurveda”.

That may affect ayurvedic core market, but the holistic health treatment has a long way to go in persuading India and the wider world of the goodness of its old-style organic approach to healing. Industry experts estimate that the global market for ayurveda is worth $120 billion. But India’s ayurveda exports are a paltry Rs 450 crore or $91 million. China and Sri Lanka lead the world in ayurveda manufacture and export.

India is finally trying to close the gap by adding innovation to the ayurveda mix. “These medicines can be tweaked a bit to suit people’s tastes, but the medicinal properties should be maintained. Say for instance, a popular ayurvedic medicine, kashayam, is now available in the form of capsules and tablets. This has been achieved by spray drying but the original properties are not tinkered with.” says V G Udayakumar, president of the Kerala-based Ayurveda Medical Association of India. He believes the same can be applicable to other medicines too.

But there’s some way to go before the humble hajmola becomes the world’s prescribed cure for indigestion.

Sources:The Times Of India

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