I wanted to start this article by defining the term ‘allopathic medicine.’ I failed. Simply because there is no such thing as ‘allopathic medicine.’ The term ‘allopathic’ is commonly used in India, especially by the proponents of alternate medicines – Ayurveda and homeopathy. However, the term ‘allopathy’ is not scientifically recognized or accepted. Contrary to the common belief, modern medicines do not have any special category of substances that must be used in their formulations. The basic philosophy of modern medicine is that the treatment should be evidence-based, not belief based. The following evidence must be provided for a treatment to be accepted as effective:
- Clinical trials should demonstrate that the administered medicine does improve wellbeing/health when compared to a placebo. There should be a high degree of confidence that the improvement in condition is due to medicine and not just by chance.
- Every medicine will have some side effects. Before a medicine is released in public, there should be a clear understanding of the risks and how do these risks weigh against benefits.
- The science behind how a medicine works needs to be demonstrated. Does the medicine really treat the disease? Or does it just alleviate the symptoms of the disease?
Practices of alternate medicines such as Homeopathy or Ayurveda fail in all above three tenets of modern medication. These practices are generally based on abstract concepts and flawed understanding of the mechanism of diseases and physiology of human body. The ‘germ-theory’ ( the theory that diseases are caused by microorganisms) is not even mentioned in Ayurveda or Homeopathy.
Many people carry this misplaced notion that Ayurveda is natural and thus has no side-effects, whereas Allopathy uses chemicals for treatment and has very severe and negative side effects. The argument is flawed in two ways. First, being natural does not guarantee that the product is safe and has no side effects. Snake venom is very much natural, but how safe is it for you if you have a drop of it in your blood? Tobacco is very much natural, how good is it for your health? Second, it is wrong to believe that modern medicine uses only unnatural chemicals in its formulations. Modern medicine has no particular preference for unnatural substances. The only condition that needs to be satisfied is that there should be documented evidence of the effectiveness of a proposed treatment and that the benefits of the treatment should outweigh the risks. The antibiotics and the vaccines are as much natural as the fruits you eat. If a substance, considered to be ayurvedic as per traditional belief, can be proven to be effective against a disease or ailment, practitioners of modern medicine will have no qualms in accepting the ayurvedic substance as part of their treatment. Homeopathy is a different story altogether because homeopathic medicines do not contain any active agents that can treat diseases; homeopathic medicines are just water, sugar, and/or alcohol. Therefore, it is waste of time to even consider homeopathy.
Both Ayurveda as well as Homeopathy have no understanding of how a disease initiates and spreads. The abstract reasons for the occurrence of diseases mentioned in the philosophy of these practices have no physical significance. Ayurveda was being practised long before modern medicines came into the picture. Ayurveda did not eradicate plague, it did not help us against smallpox, and it did not provide us with the treatment of heart diseases. Modern medicine did. Hence, it is better to spend our money, energy, and effort on developing treatments that work, rather than on treatments that do nothing more than just promote misplaced national pride.