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Ayurveda against Anaemia

Anaemia is a reduction in red blood cells in our body, caused usually by iron deficiency. In India, about 52% women suffer from Anaemia. This can be easily remedied by providing Iron supplements like Folic acid. In today’s Indian express, there is an article by Ms.Sheela Rani Chunkath, a well respected IAS officer and a former Health Secretary of Tamil Nadu. The article talks about Ayurvedic medicines to tackle Anaemia. She talks about the widespread prevalence of Anaemia in India and argues that Ayurvedic medicines should be used instead of Folic acid.

The mere fact that Iron is present in many food items that we eat, means that any form of iron-rich food could help reduce Anaemia. But her argument that just because we have not so far been able to eradicate Anameia suggests that we should use Ayurveda is flawed. The reason why Anaemia still exits to a large extent because the implementation of the program is not good enough. The problems is not with Folic acid. So I sent her an email pointing this out and also asking her for a copy of the study that she refers to as having been done by the health department in Thiruvannamalai district.

Dear Ms.Chunkath,

This is with reference to your article in today’s magazine section of the New Indian Express that can be seen here. In today’s article you had talked about Anaemia in which the second paragraph says

We have a big national programme to distribute iron and folic acid to women and adolescent girls. But it does not seem to have made a dent on the anaemic status of our women, with more than 60 per cent continuing to be anaemic.”

In the next paragraph you talk about Ayurvedic treatments and how “With a little training, our health field staff can eradicate anaemia in the community.”

As a former Health Secretary of Tamil Nadu, your opinions on Health are extremely important and consequential. But by making the above two points, you imply that the reason for widespread Anaemia in India is the ineffectiveness of Folic acid. But is it not true that the real reason why Anaemia is still prevalent is that the folic acid supplements do not reach every woman and girl? After all the effect of folic acid on anemia is well established and a straight forward one. And that is a failure of administration and not a failure of Folic acid. If so, then how is it right to use the argument of a failed implementation against a Folic acid?

You also refer to a study done by the Health department in Thiruvannamalai district regarding the efficacy of Siddha and Ayurvedic Iron preparations. Can you mail me a copy of the study done or let me know where I can get a copy? You also suggest that the side effects of Ayurvedic anaemic medicines are fewer than that of Folic acid. Did the Thiruvannamalai study look for side effects of the Siddha and Ayurvedic medicines too?

Thanks,
Madhav.

I do not doubt her intentions, but it is important that any medicinal claim should be supported by evidence. To be fair, she does say that there has been a study on the effectiveness of Ayurvedic medicines on Anaemia(though we dont know how rigourous that has been and so I have asked for the details), but it is doubtful if she really give as much importance to evidence as is needed as can be seen in the below paragraph from the article.

Learning ayurveda from the original texts would give our ayurvedic students the much needed confidence.  In fact, Sarangadhara says that he has only listed those remedies that learned sages have found most effective and which will promote health and welfare of mankind.  In my opinion, most trials of these medicines had been carried out on humans aeons ago and only those which had stood the test of time and do not cause side effects have been included in the Sarangadhara Samhita.

Why should reading Sanskrit texts give more confidence to students? Should not confidence be built up by evidence? She also seems to place her faith on Ayurveda merely because she is of the opinion that trials would have been conducted by sages. Does not sound more like wishful thinking than evidence based reasoning?

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