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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 53-54

Ayurveda and postcolonial studies: A brief comment

Program in Liberal Studies, Antioch University Seattle, Seattle, WA, USA

Date of Web Publication23-May-2013

Correspondence Address:
Mary Lou Finley
Antioch University Seattle, Seattle WA USA, 2326 Sixth Ave. Seattle, WA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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How to cite this article:
Finley ML. Ayurveda and postcolonial studies: A brief comment. ASL Muscuskel Dis 2013;1:53-4

How to cite this URL:
Finley ML. Ayurveda and postcolonial studies: A brief comment. ASL Muscuskel Dis [serial online] 2013 [cited 2021 Apr 11];1:53-4. Available from:

Dear Sir,

I am writing in regard to a study recently conducted at the Ayurvedic Trust in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India -the results of which recently appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Rheumatology [1] and the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases. [2] This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study compared classical Ayurvedic treatments with the usual allopathic medicine, methotrexate, and a combination of both treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. The study results indicated that both treatments were approximately equivalent, while adverse effects were fewer in those patients treated with classical Ayurveda.

I am certain that this study will be of importance to those treating rheumatoid arthritis and a significant step forward in medical research. Particularly notable in the study was the development of a series of appropriate placebos for Ayurvedic treatments, which succeeded in maintaining the blinding of the study. [2] Furthermore, this study was recognized as a 'blueprint' for clinical studies of complex traditional medical modalities providing individualized treatment and using numerous pharmacological forms. [3]

However, I would like to suggest that it has an importance beyond its clinical implications. It is, first, a milestone in what we might identify as postcolonial studies in medicine. In the postcolonial era, the revival of traditional knowledge systems has been a long struggle. This study shows that the methods of Ayurveda, derived from a 3000-year-old tradition, are at least equivalent to the standard treatment that is offered by Western medicine. This is a very important step in the efforts to strengthen public respect and acknowledgment of the wisdom of Ayurveda, especially among those who have accepted the 'superiority' of Western allopathic medicine in India and elsewhere in the world.

It is well known that one of the strategies of colonialism was to undermine traditional knowledge systems in general, [4] and traditional medical systems in particular, both by propagating a negative attitude toward these forms of knowledge and by making the practice of them difficult through the closure of schools and through legal changes. Although colonialism is long gone from India and from most other places in the world, these attitudes have often become entrenched, and have been difficult to change in many societies. [5] This study is a very important step forward in the decolonizing process.

The study design involved collaboration between allopathic and Ayurvedic physicians, as did an earlier, recently published, World Health Organization (WHO)-sponsored study on classical Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, which was also conducted under the auspices of the Ayurvedic Trust. [6]

Furthermore, the international team of investigators utilized a research design - the double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study - which represented the 'gold standard' in medical research. Thus, this study used the methods most trusted by Western science to show the strength of Ayurveda, thereby providing a new kind of evidence for those who have remained skeptical in India and elsewhere. This is an important step in reclaiming the wisdom of India, not only for the practical purpose of offering effective healthcare to suffering patients, but also because India deserves credit for having developed a powerful knowledge about medicine long before the West: in fact, nearly 3000 years earlier.

This study is also important as part of a larger paradigm shift in medicine, particularly in the West, prompted largely by the medical traditions of Asia gaining greater public acceptance. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and more recently Ayurveda, have made a substantial impact, particularly in the United States. It is a shift to a holistic paradigm of medicine and health, a perspective that takes a systemic approach to the body, focuses on individualized treatment, on the mind-body connection, the energy systems of the body, and utilizes traditional observational forms of diagnosis. The holistic approach can address forms of illness that may not respond well to allopathic treatment regimens, thus offering new opportunities for healing as well as maintaining health. The results of this research investigating classical Ayurvedic treatment provide further support for this shift to a holistic paradigm.

This is a highly significant study, breaking new ground in the research on Ayurveda. Further research in this area is clearly warranted. Moreover, I would hope that the wider implications of the research, as discussed here, would also receive attention in India and elsewhere.

   References Top

1.Furst DE, Venkatraman MM, McGann M, Manohar PR, Booth-Laforce C, Sarin R, et al. Double-blind randomized, controlled pilot study comparing classical Ayurvedic medicine, methotrexate, and their combination in rheumatoid arthritis. J Clin Rheumatol 2011;17:185-92.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Furst DE, Venkatraman MM, Krishna Swami BG, McGann M, Booth-Laforce C, Manohar PR, et al. Well-controlled, double blind, placebo-controlled trials of classical Ayurvedic therapy are possible in rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis 2011;70:392-3.   Back to cited text no. 2
3.Ernst E, Furst DE. A blueprint for placebo-controlled double-blind studies of complex, individualized interventions. Focus Altern Complement Ther 2011;16:49-50.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Nandi A. Colonization of the Mind. In: Rahnema M, Bawtree V, editors. The Post-Development Reader. London/New Jersey: Zed Books; 1997.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Packard R. Post-colonial medicine. In: Cooter R, Pickstone J, editors. Companion to Medicine in the 20th Century. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers; 2000.   Back to cited text no. 5
6.Krishna Kumar PR. The efficacy of Ayurvedic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis: Cross-sectional experiential profile of a longitudinal study. Int J Ayurveda Res 2011;2:8-13.  Back to cited text no. 6


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