Trying to match up

Trying to match up

Administration of alternative medicines is no morea fad but a necessity. However, despite being touted as the safest form of remedies, alternative medicines are still second choice to allopathy. Explores Sachin Jagdale

Non-allopathic medicines, known as alternative or complimentary medicines, have started garnering increased attention and wide acceptance with regard to both side effects and as a potent treatment option. Ayurveda and homeopathy are the most preferred alternative forms of medicines in India. In fact, ayurveda is the oldest system of medicines in the world.

Ayurveda comes into play in rural India, where access to modern medicines is still poor, Therapeutic approach of alternative treatments is completely different from modern medicines. Non drug therapies, elements like herbs, metals, diet, or a combination of all is at the centre of both ayurveda and homeopathy. Inclination of people towards holistic treatments, mainly to ayurveda, can be attributed to easy availability of these medicines or herbs.

Flying high

“Homeopathy has ‘side benefits’ and is capable of curing many complex diseases. The preparation of these medicines is very simple. Moreover, the treatment is individually tailored”

– Dr Mahendra Kabra Founder Life Line Clinic

and Research Centre

“Companies took advantage of the growing popularity of ayurvedic medicines and modern manufacturing

methods were used to make extracts. Also, more acceptable dosage forms like tablets, capsules and syrups became acceptable to people”

– Pulin Shroff Managing Director

Charak Pharma

“If we have to make inroads into the minds of the Indian doctor and patient, ayurveda must at least initially play
by the rules of the allopathic game without seeking concessions. Adopt the best practices in pharma research and pharma manufacturing. Beat them at their own game first”

– Jayesh Chaudhary Managing Director

Vedic Life Sciences

Though allopathy is still the most effective and preferred way of treatment, experts of homeopathy and ayurveda have their own justifications for the growing popularity of their medicines. When asked the reason why people have started trusting alternative forms of medicines, Pulin Shroff, Managing Director, Charak Pharma, an ayurvedic company, some of whose brands have been hugely successful overseas as well, says, “We feel that there is a lot of awareness amongst people on the safety and efficacy of herbal products. People in India have been realising that there are certain diseases and health problems which can be handled very well with alternative remedies, for example, cough and cold, indigestion. There is an emerging segment which is becoming very popular with ayurvedic products, and that is the chronic disease segment. Here, the awareness is so high amongst people that in the long term treatment of diseases, safety becomes very important. Patients have been experiencing a lot of side effects with allopathic medicines and one can easily understand that it cannot be taken for a long time.”

Homeopathy is yet another alternative treatment that has managed to convince patients from all across the world. There are many things common between ayurveda and homeopathy, like lack of side effects—both are holistic treatments. Homeopathy has one more advantage—it is very easy to administer. Dr Mahendra Kabra, a founder of Life Line Clinic and Research Centre that provides homeopathic treatment with 15 branches in India and six branches in England, opines on some of the benefits associated with homeopathy. Kabra’s expertise in homeopathy has already made him first Indian physician honoured with ‘Best Scientific Contents Award’ to his presentation in World Homeopathic Congress 1996, at Capri, Italy. While explaining the causes of wide acceptance of homeopathy, he says, “Homeopathy has ‘side benefits’ and capable of curing many complex diseases. The preparation of these medicines is very simple. Moreover, the treatment is individually tailored. It enhances health rather than diminishing illness. Homeopathic medicines are cost effective.”

Amidst claims of growing acceptance of alternative medicines there are some experts from within the industry who still feel that there is an exaggeration about the effectiveness of ayurvedic medicines. Jayesh Chaudhary, Managing Director, Vedic Life Sciences, opines, “I am not sure if Indians trust ayurveda today more than they used to before. They are equally wary of the side effects of allopathy as they are of the possibly ‘lack of effects’ of ayurveda. The frequently asked question in India and elsewhere about ayurvedic/herbal preparations is, ‘Do they really work?’ If you see the global picture, then it is bleaker with the much hyped reports of unacceptable heavy metals present in some marketed products in North America.” He adds, “A new dimension has been added to the consumer perception about ayurveda—’Are ayurvedic products really safe?’. If we don’t address these two questions swiftly consumer perception will soon change to ‘I’m better off with allopathy. Ayurvedic products can be as unsafe but at least I know that allopathic works and works fast.”

Still the second choice

Mahatma Gandhi had once said that homeopathy cures a larger percentage of cases than any other method of treatment and is beyond doubt safer and more economical and the most complete medical science. This statement was made more than 60 years ago. Ayurveda has a history of a few 1,000 years and throughout this long journey it has been termed as a therapy devoid of side effects. However, though in existence for such a long period, both ayurveda and homeopathy have been largely treated as secondary or as an alternative to allopathy. “In general, for a common man on the street ayurvedic products will be used for simple remedies as a first line treatment (cough, indigestion, gas), and for chronic diseases it will be used in combination with allopathic medicines. Even if all people realise this potential of ayurveda there will be a great increase in its use and the demand will increase,” says Shroff. He adds, “By nature of the category, ayurvedic products alone will find it difficult to treat chronic diseases.”

Kabra says, “Homeopathy works but that it is slow is an age old myth. Right selection of the treatment ensures speedy recovery for the patient. Recovery depends on the patient as well. Misconceptions that patients have held over the years could be the reason behind the selection of homeopathy as a secondary treatment.”

Chaudhary has different reasons for this perception. According to him the so called ‘modern’ or conventional system of diagnosis and treatment in allopathy is so well-entrenched all over the world that in the next 20 years he does not see any alternative system of medicine overtaking allopathy in terms of acceptance or revenues anywhere in the world, including the deepest forests of Bastar or Amazon. He informs, “Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are clearly more modern in their approach to healthcare, but in order to attain mainstream position, ayurvedic industry will have to work within the existing nexus of drug regulation, healthcare practitioners, drug industry and health insurance prevalent in India and abroad. If the proponents of ayurveda try changing the system it will take them more than 100 years to make ayurveda the first line of therapy. The bottom line is that ayurvedic science is modern, but the ayurvedic industry has not kept with the times. It’s a wake up call for policy-makers, academia, industry and trade.”

Following the trend

“Ayurveda definitely has a great potential. It’s a more than 5000 year old tradition. We are supporting ayurvedic research and in future we will get into the production of
these medicines as well”

– Premchand Godha Managing Director

IPCA Laboratories

Over the years, popularity of traditional medicines increased and increasing demands of these medicines made it compulsory for traditional medicine manufacturers to establish modern and hi-tech outfits. Those who changed their directions with changing winds marched ahead. In fact, industry veterans feel that to convert alternative treatments into main course treatment, such changes were necessary. Shroff opines, “Companies took the advantage of the growing popularity of ayurvedic medicines and modern manufacturing methods were used to make extracts. Also, more acceptable dosage forms like tablets, capsules and syrups became acceptable to people. There was a long standing demand amongst the people that these medicines, which were earlier the secret domain of ayurvedic experts, become more scientific and easily available to the common man. Even doctors practicing allopathy started to look at this system as a means to improve the healthcare of their patients. Ayurvedic doctors also welcomed this trend and started using these medicines which were better and standardised in terms of quality.” Shroff adds, “Our organisation has realised that we do not want to try and win over allopathy, because that is not the objective at all. On the contrary, if we realise that there is need for both the systems to work in harmony for the patients benefit, we can alleviate the suffering of patients better.”

Transition in the medical field is not just one sided. If alternative medicine manufacturers have understood the importance of upgrading their manufacturing methods and offering different and more convenient dosage forms, modern medicine manufacturers have also started taking interest in alternative medicines. Recently, IPCA Laboratories has announced that it is going to support ayurvedic research. Premchand Godha, Managing Director, IPCA Laboratories, informs, “Ayurveda definitely has a great potential. It’s a more than 5,000 year old tradition. We are supporting ayurvedic research and in future we will get into the production of these medicines as well.”

Taking on the mighty

The question remains on how alternative medicine manufacturers can position their therapies as a first choice therapy. Kabra points out that each therapy has its own limitations, but for the management of chronic disease, homeopathy will remain a strong option. However, over the last few years homeopathy has started standing strong against allopathy. He says, “Over the last five years, homeopathy has grown 25 percent all over the world. The average annual patient turnover in an allopathic clinic as against a homoeopathic one was 27,508 patients and 24,943 respectively. These are very positive signs.”

Chaudhary provides the list of dos and don’ts for the ayurvedic companies. Besides stressing on the importance of quality of research and manufacturing, he also points out some of the reasons that according to him have slowed down the growth of ayurveda. Chaudhary says, “Traditionally, our ayurvedic companies have invested half-heartedly only in manufacturing and completely ignored product innovation and claim substantiation. Hence, ayurveda is not moving forward in our country. If we have to make inroads into the minds of the Indian doctor and patient, ayurveda must at least initially play by the rules of the allopathic game without seeking concessions. Adopt the best practices in pharma research and pharma manufacturing. Beat them at their own game first.” He advices ayurvedic medicine manufacturer to stop complaining that pharma practices are too costly. Chaudhary sums up by saying that money chases a good business idea and one doesn’t have to constrain oneself due to lack of resources. Just dream big.

Shroff doesn’t think that allopathy doctors will treat ayurveda as a first line therapy. While mentioning the rationale behind this, he says, “This is because the influence of the British rule was very high and the medical college syllabus in very biased to only treat with allopathic drugs. It does not focus on the holistic picture at all and thus ayurvedic products will always be treated as alternative drugs.”

As alternative manufacturers adapt themselves to the benchmarks set by allopathy, allopathic players themselves are adding ayurvedic products to their basket.

A meeting of minds and finding common ground is inevitable since patient care remains the core of any medicine system.

sachin.jagdale@expressindia.com