“Ayurveda is Medicine to Remedy Sick People, Not Disease."

  associate superintendent of The International Traditional Medical Science Center in Toyama Prefecture of Japan
Dr. Kazuo Uebaba

It is said that the mainstream of medical treatment in the 21st century will be that based on individual constitutions, rather than that of Western medicine which is universally effective to sick people. Ayurveda medicine has practised medical treatment which is based on the former concept since ancient times. We carried out an interview with Dr. Kazuo Uebaba, associate superintendent of The International Traditional Medical Science Center in Toyama Prefecture of Japan, who is well known as an ardent Ayurveda researcher, asking particularly about the outline of the medicine and prescriptions of functional food in line with its theory.
――Could you give us a rough idea of Ayurveda?

It is a traditional medicine with exquisiteness and ingeniousness that takes locality, place, constitution and physical conditions of each person into account.

Uebaba: Ayurveda is a traditional medicine created on the soil of India. It means literally science of life, explaining theories which are universally applicable. Thus, it can be applied anywhere. Indian medical books clearly state that we have to spend our lives, use medical plants and give massages taking into consideration factors such as land, place and physical conditions. The point of Ayurveda is that we spend our lives and give medical treatments in accordance with the principle that a human body and the land where it lives are a single unified entity, and the principle way for a person to spend a healthy life is to eat food in season gathered where he lives. It is a medicine which makes much of personal elements.

Ayurveda explains that there exist in our bodies three kinds of energy, i.e. Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is energy of the air; Pitta is that of fire; and Kapha is that of water. It is said that a person can be in a healthy state when these three energies work well, maintaining a good balance. The balance is influenced by food in various ways. When you eat spicy food, for instance, you feel hot because the energy of fire is increased. So it is good to take food with such an effect when the energy of fire in your body is low. But, if you take it when you have enough of the energy, it would result in a further increase, and that leads to a loss of the good balance of the body.

As explained above, you could become sick by taking food in a wrong way, given that what you normally ate was an ordinary one. Let's apply health food to this theory. Taking as an example, Aojiru or the green vegetable juice made from green vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, celery, lettuce, spinach, parsley, the leaves of Japanese radish, apples and lemons, has a property of making a person feel chilled, cooling the human body. According to Ayurveda, it has the characteristic of Vata or Kapha. In other words, if you drink Aojiru when you feel cold, it means you have a lot of the Vata or Kapha energy, and that only makes you feel colder. In that event, it does not work to improve your physical condition even if you take it many times. Instead, that may cause disease. On the other hand, Aojiru is good when the energy of fire in your body is increasing. The same thing is said in China as well. In the case of that country, food is classified into that with yin (or being positive) and that with yan (being negative). Looking at Aojiru with the theory, it has the property of yin.

――It seems that many aspects of Ayurveda are similar to Chinese medicine.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha in Ayurveda are close to spirit, blood and water in traditional Chinese medicine.

Uebaba: It is said that the traditional Chinese medicine was born between 3,000 and 2,500 years ago. In the case of traditional Indian medicine, it is even older than that of China.

It is also said that medical books on Indian medicine were already in existence as early as 700 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. As for ophthalmic treatments, they advanced much in India. It spread from India to China, for sure. On the other hand, there was another study that had developed in China. The meridian theory is an example. China advanced in studies of pressure points and flows of energies more than India.

Some think that Vata, Pitta and Kapha of Ayurveda correspond to spirit, blood and water in traditional Chinese medicine, i.e. Vata stands for spirit, Pitta for water, and Kapha for blood. In China, it is considered that food influences the balance of the human body, and that it is good to take food that suits each individual body with the yin and yan natures of food taken into consideration. By the way, the same is true in Arabic counties. In these countries, food is categorized into two types: one that has a warm nature, and the other is one that has the quality of chilling. When a person feels hot, it is good for him to take food to make him feel cool. When he feels chilly, it is good for him to take food which makes him feel hot, for instance. This notion has existed for generations.

The idea of "ishoku dogen," or that medicine and an individual's diet are equally important in making a sick body well, believed in Chinese medicine, is also accepted in India. In Chinese medicine, food materials are categorized into three types: "jouyaku," "chuyaku" and "geyaku" or the first-grade drug, middle-grade drug and third-grade drug. The first means one which will not cause any problems, even if food of this kind is continuously taken over a long period of time. A middle-grade drug is one that would not be a problem even if it were taken continuously over a certain length of time. And, the last is one that works as a toxic substance. Representatives of the first type are nuts and vegetables such as jujubes and matrimony vines. In China, a substantial number of animal materials are included in the category of first-grade drug. Similarly, in India, the materials are categorized into drugs, food and toxins. And, it is explained that toxic materials are also needed, depending on the way they are used.

――Could you tell us more specifically about treatment methods of Ayurveda?

In India, drugs are prepared in such a form that plants are mixed with mineral components.

Uebaba: In the country, toxicity is skillfully sublimed so as to be used for medical treatments. Even mercury is sometimes used there, for instance. The mixture is said to have a rejuvenating effect. As regards mercury, doctors in Japan used it relatively frequently about 20 years ago as it has a strong diuretic action. In India, it is regarded as having a certain effect depending on the ways in which it is used. As far as inorganic mercury is concerned, it would not cause poisoning. But, it is said that organic mercury or mercury without sublimation is toxic. The method of neutralizing the poison is called the process of sublimation. After subliming the toxic ingredient, it is turned into an effective one instead. However, this process has not been proven scientifically.

In India, as well as China, crude drugs are used as therapies. The varieties of crude drugs consist of animals, minerals and plants. In China, animals and plants are used in most cases, while minerals are also used frequently in other cases. There is a medicine called "Diabecon" which has been manufactured by a well-known pharmaceutical company in India. The drug is a kind of herbomineral preparation made from not only plants but also minerals. As in this case, medicines are prepared with herbs and minerals mixed together. It is believed that if drugs are taken in such a way every day, helpful effects are acquired by human bodies. However, this approach is not good for, or appropriate for, everyone. There are several cases in which this method does not fit. For example, where a person has a lot of Vata energy, he should not take a lot of the medicine with this quality. There are sometimes such cases. Therefore, doctors prescribe remedies having carefully observed the balance and state of respective patients.

――This concept is very different from one in developing a new drug in Western medicine, isn't it?

Uebaba: Modern medicine will use a single ingredient. In particular, in the case of a new drug, there is a notion that the fewer impurities exist in a compound, the better the ingredient is. In the case of traditional medicine and medical lore, there were circumstances where this was impossible to do, in the first place. Thus, medicines are used in the form of mixtures. In Chinese medicine in particular, crude drugs are mixed together intentionally, to stress the mystery of creation out of the mixture. Such an idea is also seen in Ayurveda. It is very close to Chinese medicine, being ingenious. I think that it would be necessary to develop functional food skilfully incorporating multifunctional actions.

――Please tell us what constitutes excellent functional food from the viewpoint of Ayurveda.

Development of functional food has to be done with a notion that sick people, not diseases, have to be cured. Uebaba: The effects of functional food can generally be figured out by taste. One with a bitter taste helps to balance Pitta. One with an extremely bitter taste is good for a person who is getting ill with increased temperature. It is anti-inflammatory. In the case of a sweet one, it helps balance Vata. If you want to make health food with a bitter taste which will be accepted by everybody, it is helpful to adjust the taste by adding natural brown sugar. One which tastes extremely sweet, hot or bitter gives a severe shock to the human body. It is not good to have food with very pronounced tastes.

There have been many studies of functional food so far. But I can say they were certainly ones for diseases, but not for sick people. It appears to me that researchers omitted developments in which their attention would be directed to the side of human beings. First of all, there is no such idea in the current health food industry that patients' conditions are evaluated first, then guidance on how to use functional food is given. It is important to consider that various states of a person have to be thought about from first to last, and the kind of food combination that could deliver a positive effect to him. The merit of traditional medicine is that it views, at the base, not only diseases but also the states of people.

Men are different individuals, each of whom has a body, heart and spirit. Ayurveda considers that herbs influence not only human bodies also their minds, and even their spirits. It is said that mantra is continuously chanted when making medical preparations. It is necessary to develop functional food with the emphasis placed on the person, and with individual physical conditions taken into consideration in the future. A notion to cure not only diseases but also sick people will be required.

◆Profile Dr. Uebaba

After graduating from The School of Medicine, Hiroshima University in 1978, he joined the Department of Internal Medicine of Toranomon Hospital, a hospital operated by the Federation of National Public Service Personnel Mutual Aid Association, with the objective of working to mix and fuse Oriental and Occidental medicines as his lifework. After obtaining knowledge of a broad range of Western medicine, he moved to the Oriental Medicine Research Center of The Kitasato Institute, which is the first laboratory to initiate studies of Oriental medicine in Japan, engaging in clinical studies of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and moxibustion therapy, and the pharmacology of traditional Chinese medicine. During that engagement, he encountered Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine, knowing intuitively that it was possible for Oriental medicine to mix with other medicines. While he was carrying on research in clinical pharmacology at the institute, he started to study Ayurveda from the viewpoint of modern medicine. Since April, 1999, he took a position at the International Traditional Medical Science Center in Toyoma prefecture, which is the first public organization in Japan to conduct studies of traditional medicines of the world, pursuing his lifework. He holds offices in several organizations, including Councillor of the Japanese Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics; Board Member of the Society of Ayurveda in Japan; advisor to The Aromatherapy Association of Japan; and Executive Director of The Japan Holistic Medical Society. In addition, he also has the position of associate superintendent of the International Traditional Medical Science Center in Toyama as well. He is an MD., Ph.D.

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