Personalized, Holistic Healthcare Isn’t as New As We Thought
In an age of a rapidly increasing number of pharmaceuticals and prescriptions, we often forget how our everyday food impacts our health and can be used to treat many chronic diseases. While Western medicine has been focusing successfully on the battle against cancer and infectious diseases, and on diagnosis and treatment, it has traditionally relied on the principles of a reductionistic biomedical model for problem solving.
Interestingly, the current emphasis on personalized medicine, is beginning to show some convergence with some key concepts of ancient traditional healing traditions, which were not based on scientific discovery, but rather on centuries of astute clinical observations. Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional form of medicine that originated in South Asia over 3,000 years ago, views health both in a holistic and in an individualized way, positing that each person’s mind, body, and spirit must find balance with the world in order to reach a healthy state, and that the path to this goal differs between individuals.
Aruvedyic medicine views health and “being” in terms of happiness, longevity, and contentedness (Payyappallimana, 2016). This holistic viewpoint greatly differs from that of Western medicine, which tends to study only the physical self, and focuses on diagnosing and treating a particular organ or symptom. This unique view is illustrated by the concept of Prakriti. Prakriti refers to an individual’s physiological, psychological, and spiritual attributes, which shape her or his eating habits, tastes, and preferences (Dey, 2014).One’s tastes can be understood as sour/salty, sweet/bitter, or pungent/bitter, and therefore shape the effect of food on one’s body and mind. In the Aryurvedic view, similar to the views of traditional Chinese Medicine and the Hippocratic prescientific concepts, food is considered not only as a means to satisfy our metabolic needs, and our personal cravings, but as an important form of medicine. Many Aryurvedic remedies, such as turmeric, ginger and ashwagandha have been rediscovered as modern “superfoods”.
Ayurvedic medicine doesn’t only follow food at what one is consuming, but how and when it is consumed. There are specific instructions in an Ayurvedic Diet as to when to consume certain foods – yogurt, for example, is not to be consumed at night. In recent studies, the microbiome and metabolic function have been found to be different during day and night (Uhr, 2019). The timing of food intake has become a popular topic in microbiome science and in clinical dietary recommendations in the form of time restricted eating. An extensive preclinical literature supports the concept that timing of food intake, gut microbial function and metabolism are closely connected.
While traditional medicine, particularly Aruvedyic, has been pushed to the side in the light of Western scientific achievements and breakthroughs, there are many ancient general concepts about health, disease and the importance of diet that are being rediscovered by cutting edge science. What we ingest impacts the health of our gut microbiota, and in turn the neurological signals that they send to our brain. Several aspects of the Aruvedyic diet, such as the timing and personalization of food intake are mirrored in modern research, as they are becoming better understood and applied in integrative medicine.
The next time you stop by to pick up a prescription, also take some time to think about your diet and your lifestyle, and what role they may play in the serious medical problems you are dealing with, be it high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease!
Emily Noronha is a student at UCLA studying Human Biology & Society and Food Studies. She’s interested in gut health, nutrition, and understanding where our food comes from.