This week the New Zealand Herald is running a series of articles on what they describe as “alternative therapies”. Siouxsie and Alison have already expressed their concerns regarding some of the early articles so I thought I would follow suit and take a look at today’s article on Indian Ayurveda.
The first thing to point out is that the term “alternative therapy or medicine” is typically used to refer to treatments that are proposed (usually with very little reasonable evidence) to treat disease. Yet the reporter undergoing the Ayurvedic massage did not describe any disease, rather she underwent a hot oil massage and came away feeling quite relaxed – something that can be achieved with any variety of massage technique.
The background section on Ayurveda pointed out that it dates back 6000 years. Why is this important?As I have posted elsewhere, old does not mean good. It has been estimated that approximately 6000 years ago the average life span was around 38 years, thanks to diseases such as smallpox, cholera, polio and malaria, as well as malnutrition. These days, where modern medicine is readily accessible, the average life span exceeds 80 years.
The article also claimed that Ayurveda is the “most holistic healing science system.” While I do agree that the consideration of diet and exercise in this system is excellent, unless they have added the use of antibiotics and other modern medicines to their system, I would suggest that their “holistic approach” to health is missing some important components. The use of the word science in this description is also misplaced – science regularly updates itself and discards errant information. A 6000 year old therapy can hardly be considered science, particularly if one looks at its underlying concepts..
Ayurveda is based on the concept that disease results from imbalances in the body. This approach completely ignores the fact that many diseases are caused by microbes, while some others are created by contaminants external to the body. Furthermore, many internal imbalances, for example hormone imbalances are not usually treatable through changes in diet, exercise and the use of a few ancient herbs available 6000 years ago, alone.
If the Herald’s aim was to describe alternative relaxation therapies then they should have described them as such. If the aim was to take a serious look at alternative medicines and therapies then they should have asked some much more critical and probing questions about what the treatments can and cannot do. At the very least, in case of Ayurveda, some evidence for the existance of the five “elements” described as the basis of Ayurveda could have been asked for.