Drinking water is a natural resource for the quintessential existence of life on earth. However, clean water has become a scarce entity to almost a billion people around the world and more than 63 million people in just India. Entire chapters are dedicated to water in Ayurveda texts that describe the properties of different source of water and also ways to enhance the quality of water through the use of metals, precious stones and herbs. Some of these practices are still in vogue in India. Exploring the scientific basis of these recommendations can provide contemporary solutions for healthcare problems.
Even though physical and chemical impurities in water are hazardous, microbial contamination is by far the major cause of waterborne diseases like diarrhea, cholera and dysentery. Diarrhea is the second major killer of children under the age of five, mainly from developing countries (the first being respiratory diseases). Diarrhea causing pathogens find their way into water through fecal contamination and in communities where water, sanitation and hygiene are compromised. Studies have indicated that point of use interventions (PoUs) to purify drinking water are essential over and above community based systems in order to tackle issues of recontamination during storing and handling. There are several PoUs to purify drinking water such as boiling, chlorine tabs, water filters etc. However, each has their own advantages and disadvantages. E.g. the after taste of chlorination is not liked by the user, boiling requires fuel and filters need change of cartridge. Hence there is a scope for developing an intervention that is affordable and sustainable. Storing drinking water overnight in copper pots is also a well known traditional knowledge. Research at FRLHT-TDU has demonstrated that overnight storage of water in copper pots kills diarrheagenic pathogens including Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella Typhi and rotavirus. Since copper pots are expensive, a cost-effective, copper based drinking water purification device was developed that kills the pathogens. The research findings were published in reputed international journals. Through a project funded by Grand Challenges Canada, the device was field tested in households in community settings in India and Kenya and found to significantly improve the microbial quality of drinking water. Diarrheal incidence among under five year old children also reduced. The design has been further improved and productised and branded in the name of TamRas. Currently the product is being manufactured and distributed through a community based social enterprise model in three rural sites in Karnataka.
Wellness or Svasthya is viewed in Ayurveda as a state of homeostasis when the three doshas are in equilibrium and vaya or ageing is a natural process. There are several internal and external factors which determine svasthya and accelerate the ageing process. Ayurveda describes ways to achieve wellness and delay ageing under a separate branch called Rasayana. TDU is a National Facility for R&D in Rasayana and has established facilities to undertake trans-disciplinary research to bridge Rasayana concepts (sastra) and science. Relevant cell free, cell based and small organisms model have been established to study the mode of action of selected Rasayana plants and to understand the molecular mechanisms. These include models to study aspects of agni (digestion), deepana/ pachana (digestion & absorption), srotoshodhana (clearing of blocked channels), vyasthapana (longevity), poshana (nutrition), vrshya (aphrodisiac), medhya (nootropic) etc. Simple medicinal herbs and fruits like Amla, Brahmi and pomegranate are mentioned as Rasayanas. We have demonstrated that pomegranate juice is an excellent enhancer of longevity and amla juice enhances bioavailability and absorption of iron in cell based and whole organism models. Brahmi enhances cognition and protects neurons from degeneration. A combination of turmeric and amla can prevent diabetes. Research into the mode of action of Rasayanas is one area which has been undertaken by several of the faculty of the School of Integrative Health Sciences. It is planned to explore the theoretical foundations of Svasthya and algorithms in future to provide a better scope for projections and healthcare applications in the area of wellness.
Recent national survey indicates that more than 50% of the population, particularly the pregnant women, is anemic. Iron deficiency anemia is looked at as a physiological disorder in Ayurveda, including deranged metabolism, rather than a nutritional deficiency alone. The interventions suggested include the use of herbs and plants like ginger, pomegranate and amla. We have demonstrated how pomegranate not just increases iron bioavailability but also enhances absorption to functional biological forms like the heme. It also reverses mitochondrial ageing. A poly herbal formulation has also been developed that is useful in the management of iron deficiency anemia, especially in children and adolescents. The idea for outreaching this is to make it as a part of the product profile of community based organisations, so the CBOs can make and sell to their communities.
Standards scientific tools such as pharmacognosy, chromatographic and other techniques are used in QC/QA of allopathic medicines. In traditional medicines, more often the quality of herbs and formulation is monitored using the five senses and the mind. Identity, collection time, processing and storage practices determine the quality of herbs and the knowledge regarding this is known to traditional practitioners. These have been named by us as Traditional Quality Standards (TQS) and Reverse Pharmacognosy, ie., understanding the herb quality through traditional wisdom. E.g., we have demonstrated that turmeric collected at night has 1.5 times better activity than that during day time. Traditional methods of purification of the deadly poisonous plant like Dhatura (Datura metel) renders them safe. What are the phytochemical changes that happen in the plant? In future, transcriptomics and metabolomics tools will be used to get a comprehensive understanding of the scientific basis of TQS.