The Gerson Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine

Scott Gerson, M.D., Ph.D. (Ayurveda) Medical Director, Jupiter Medical Center Dept. of Integrative Medicine Division of Education and Research

Jupiter Medical Center at The Calcagnini Center for Mindfulness
1210 S. Old Dixie Highway, Jupiter, Florida 33458, Suite M-117.2

 

Lake Mary Clinic and Panchakarma Facility: at 635 Primera Blvd. Lake Mary, Florida 32746

 

 Telephone: (561) 263-MIND (6463); option #2 or (561) 510-3833

Basic Principles Of Ayurveda

Ayurvedic Concepts Of Disease (Ayugenomics)

Many years ago, after I returned from India as an Ayurvedic physician I again enrolled as a medical student at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. One of our classes involved the task learning and memorizing the names of literally hundreds and hundreds of diseases. As I reflected on more and more disease names it dawned on me that, for the most part, these names were meaningless. It wasn’t that I was mentally exhausted, rebellious or uninterested; in fact quite the contrary. I was having a moment of lucid clarity and calm insight. I recall remembering what I’d learned while studying philosophy years before regarding ontology, the study of the nature of being. Ontology, a branch of metaphysics, asks many questions perhaps the principal one being what are the fundamental irreducible categories of things that truly exist and how such things can be grouped and categorized and then subdivided according to similarities and differences. For instance, lakes and oceans are merely sub-categories of and reducible to water.

I had learned the true meaning of disease in India. Disease in Ayurveda is a term used to describe the unique interaction in any individual between one’s deha-prakriti (doshic proportion), manifesting through one’s genetically-determined cellular processes, and the environment. Upon encountering specific environmental conditions, an individual’s deha-prakriti will determine what response will manifest, through the genome as the intermediary, as the physiology acts to re-establish homeostasis. Homeostasis (balance) may be restored completely or the response may create a specific modification to cellular metabolism, which could be recognized as a “disease”. But since this response to the environment is determined by each person’s unique doshic make-up, there can never be two identical cases of any disease, rendering the naming of any disease pointless. Thus, for example, the exact same continued exposure to potentially toxic nitrosamines, formed in fried foods and tobacco smoke, cause cancer in some individuals but not in others. Exposure to the stress of extreme cold for a long period might result in cardiac arrest in some while creating gastric ulcers in others. Vitamin D deficiency in some children with asthma may cause more severe symptoms, but not in other children who are equally deficient. Thousands of other examples exist.

It’s interesting that the completion of The Human Genome Project in 2001has re-directed medical science back to the understanding that the origin of many, if not all, disease is genetotrophic: involving genetic predisposing and environmental- and nutritional-precipitating factors. Ayurvedic medicine shastra has always reflected this understanding and completes it by seeing that genetic predispositions, in turn, are determined by ones deha-prakriti: the unique doshic proportion in one’s constitution.

The Human Genome Project is rightly heralded as one of the greatest achievements of Western science. It allows us not only to see the actual unique sequence of nucleotides (Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine) in a person’s DNA, but it also allows us to compare these sequences in healthy and diseased individuals. We now have the technology (e.g. high-throughput sequencing, gene silencing) to discover which gene variations lead to which diseases. This knowledge cannot tell us precisely which disease will develop in a given individual or when it will occur, but rather indicates how a person’s unique genetic legacy will influence their interaction with the environment which includes not only foods, chemicals, climate, chemicals, exercise and other physical factors, but also emotions, thoughts, perceptions and other non-physical factors. The interface of ancient Ayurvedic insight and modern genomic science has ushered in the era of ayugenomics which will merge a person’s diet, herbal regimen, and lifestyle choices with their doshically and genetically determined unique requirements for longevity.

Medicine of the future will continue the trend, which has already slowly begun, to integrate knowledge from molecular biology, genetics, physiology, quantum physics, quantum biology, systems biology, information technology, clinical medicine, nutrition, botany, and Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and others. What will emerge will be health-care that is truly patient-centered and individualized. The emphasis will be on preservation of the cellular and tissue function of the healthy and the judicious use of invasive and aggressive allopathic approaches when needed to treat already manifest disease. The famous sloka from The Charaka Samhita which eloquently expresses the aim of Ayurveda and memorized by every Ayurvedic student past and present comes to mind: Swasthyasya swasthya rakshanam aturasya vikar prashamanamcha, “To maintain the health of the healthy and to eliminate diseases of the diseased.” In Ayurveda there is no focus whatsoever on labeling or naming the disease. Firstly, to do so would limit the mind of the physician in considering the holistic nature of the disease. Secondly, the naming of a disease creates a false duality consisting of two seemingly separate entities: the name of the disease and the name of the person.

I recall making morning hospital rounds as a medical intern and being asked by my attending physician, “how’s the pneumonia in 504”. Beyond the obvious of what is wrong with that question, the term pneumonia immediately places “blinders” on the mind’s eye and narrows the vision of this condition down to something involving exclusively the lungs. The name doesn’t easily allow for the possibility of any nutritional influence, bone marrow, immune system, or emotional state to enter into consideration, despite all these aspects being important aspects of the imbalance in reality. What’s more, pneumonia cannot exist alone; it only exists in connection with John or Mary or some other specific individual. And then the only label we could possibly apply would by johnpneumonia or marypneumonia, which are two completely different entities. The specific and unique imbalances which occurred that resulted in Mary’s lung infection, bears no relation to the name—pneumonia—that modern medicine calls it. Because in Ayurveda there is no emphasis on naming, the mind is unfettered and free to understand the true and whole nature and causal mechanism of any health condition. Correct understanding leads directly to effective treatment at the root cause to restore balance.

Every human being has their own unique array of neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes, proteins, and other bioactive substances whose structure and function are regulated by their genes. Genes, which consist of sequences of nucleotides are, in turn, created and regulated by the doshas. These recent insights gives new meaning to the consumption of a specific dosha-pacifying diet or use of doshic-pacifying plant-based medicines. In the recent past we understood this doshic re-balancing to have effects at the level of the physiology. Today we are learning that these effects may well be even more fundamental—at the level of the human genome.