Home Home Ayurveda: Gaining currency – Special Report News

Ayurveda: Gaining currency – Special Report News


When Prakhar Chopra’s 61-year-old father was diagnosed with acute gout, he was adamant about only considering allopathic treatment options. However, the medication he was prescribed to reduce his uric acid levels—the main cause of gout—also caused digestive complications. “Instead of curing him, the medicine made him worse because he had severe acidity; he lost a lot of weight and his energy levels fell drastically,” says Chopra. “On the advice of a family friend, we tried Ayurvedic remedies.” These remedies included a high-alkaline diet, with lots of fresh fruit juices, green vegetables and rice and curd. Foods that increased uric acid levels were cut out completely. “It made a huge difference,” says Chopra. “His uric acid levels reduced and his acidity became better too. I used to be sceptical about Ayurveda, because I felt there was no research and no science-backed evidence. When the Ayurvedic doctor we consulted explained the cures to me, I learned more. I now feel that there is an equal science behind both [allopathy and Ayurveda],” says the 36-year-old Mumbai-based fashion designer.

According to a 2019 report by Research and Markets, the Indian Ayurveda market was valued at around Rs 33,000 crore in 2018 and is expected to more than double in size to Rs 71,000 crore by 2024. Experts say the growth is a result of increasing public awareness, an increasing preference for natural ingredients and the government’s push to improve R&D (research and development) in Ayurvedic products. “Increasingly, customers are incorporating Ayurvedic [principles] into their daily routines,” says Yash Birla, chairman of Birla Ayurveda. “The pandemic has made people realise the enormous value of Ayurveda and its potential to keep people healthy.”

Covid has certainly played a big role in popularising the use of Ayurveda. For example, in Kerala, the state government’s Covid Care kits, distributed to people in quarantine, included Ayurvedic drugs like indukantam, sudarshanam, vilwadi gulika, shadangam and aparajitha choorna dhoopam. Medications were also tailored to patients’ specific conditions. So far, around 215,389 people have received bheshajam, an Ayurvedic medicine for mild cases of Covid. Another 200,000 received punarjani to manage long-Covid symptoms. The pandemic has also led to an increased focus on personal healthcare. “Earlier, people would discount Ayurveda in Tier 1 and 2 cities because life is so fast-paced here,” says Arjun Multani, vice-chairman of Multani Pharma, which manufactures a range of herbal/ Ayurvedic personal care products. “Ayurveda takes some time to show its effect, and it also requires dietary changes. Since Covid, the overall interest in immunity-building has grown and people are now willing to invest the time. I feel this is the driving force behind the growing demand—the increased focus on health.”

While demand for Ayurvedic services, like those provided at resorts and mass­age parlours, dropped due to the Covid lockdowns, demand for Ayurvedic products, specifically those for immunity boosting and stress-relief, have seen rapid growth since 2020. The growth in sales of FMCG immunity products in India rose to 13.5 per cent in 2020 from 3.9 per cent in 2019, data from market researcher Kantar shows. The study also found 91 per cent of surveyed households had purchased immunity-boosting products in the past year. “The demand for Ayurvedic products has been rising for a few years now, riding on the increasing popularity of natural and herbal medicines,” says Mohit Malhotra, CEO of Dabur India. “Rising health concerns and an awareness of the side effects of western medicines have been driving consumer preference for Ayurvedic products in India.” The company has a 60 per cent share of the branded Chyawanprash market in India and reported over 50 per cent growth in its Ayurvedic products business in the quarter that ended in June this year. Sales of Chyawanprash grew over 694 per cent that quarter, while sales of Honitus grew by over 80 per cent. Dabur Honey ended Q1 2020-21 with a growth of over 60 per cent. “The demand surge led to a significant increase in the [market] penetration of Ayurvedic products such as Chyawanprash. However, there’s still a lot of potential for growth. Though it has doubled in the past year, Chyawanprash penetration still remains at just around 8 per cent,” he adds.

Similar trends for chyawanprash were witnessed by other firms too, the most surprising of which was that it sold well in the summer as well. Patanjali Ayurved pegged the growth in its chyawanprash portfolio at over 400 per cent between March 6 to April 6 as compared to the previous month. “I don’t see Ayurveda as a market or as products,” says Acharya Balkrishna, CEO of Patanjali. “It is more than pills and products—it is about holistic and preventive healthcare. It places emphasis on ensuring that people don’t fall sick in the first place. Curing diseases comes after preventing them.” He adds that managing one’s daily routine is integral to Ayurveda. “What time one should eat, what to eat, how much to eat, what one should eat in which season—it all matters in Ayurveda. Treatment is very individualised and specific. I am collecting over 10,000 Ayurvedic recipes to show the breadth of this science.” At Patanjali, Ayurveda is considered the law and science of nature. “When we break the rules of nature, we fall sick,” says Balkrishna.

Indeed, immunity building is at the core of Ayurveda. One of its principles, vyadhikshamatvam, deals with preventive care. Experts say embracing this principle equips the body to fight not just Covid, but other major diseases as well. “Since immunity loss is a major [risk factor for contracting] Covid, there has been a rise in the number of people seeking Ayurvedic medication. In my case, there has been a doubling of the number of daily patients,” says Anindya Bhattacharya, medical officer of Suri Sadar Hospital’s Ayurveda department in Kolkata. “Even people who have got both doses of the vaccine are coming in for immunity boosters, because vaccinations don’t [fully] shield a person from Covid. Patients also come for post-Covid treatment—the fall in immunity levels and the propensity to catching colds. There’s a classical medicine—subarna-basanta-malati-rasa—which is highly effective and can be [used to keep] immunity levels high.”

However, Bhattacharya says he has reservations about people using Ayurvedic medicines off the shelf. “Certain kadas (medicinal teas) are not suitable for everyone. People who are prone to hyperacidity show symptoms of dysentery after having [some] kadas. There are complaints about people with piles suffering from episodes of bleeding. Similarly, tulsi, which is considered good for coughs and colds, is highly unsuitable for people with excess bile. It’s best to consult a doctor before taking Ayurvedic medicines.”

One Ayurvedic product that saw major consumer interest this year was stress-relieving balms. In New Delhi, the sale of Zandu balm grew 20 fold between April and May 2021, which is typically off-season for the product. Mohan Goenka, director of Emami, which makes Zandu balm, says the second wave of Covid cases saw sales of anti-stress products soar, with the company gaining 2.6 million new customers in just three months.

Another reason for the growth in Ayurvedic products is the improved marketing of remedies in everyday products. “While medicines require an Ayurvedic practitioner and a pharmacy, if you use Ayurvedic principles for skin care or oral hygiene products or in beverages like detoxifying teas, Ayurveda becomes highly accessible and appro­achable,” says Neha Ahuja, founder of Kaashi Wellness, a wellness destination in Varanasi that has a collection of Ayurveda-based products that include beverages and skin care.

Indeed, Ayurveda can today be found in a variety of products. From moringa masala tea to ashwagandha hot chocolate and turmeric coffee, the range of products has grown more diverse and unique post-pandemic. In January 2021, Eureka Forbes, India’s largest water purifier brand, introduced a new product—a ‘Dr Aquaguard’ with ‘Ayurfresh technology’, that infuses water with ayurvedic ingredients. Rooh, a Delhi-based restaurant, now offers cocktails infused with ‘tastes of Ayurveda’, while Hempstreet India recently launched an Ayurvedic cannabis product to reduce menstrual cramps, now available in 650 clinics in 21 states.

Larger brands in the Ayurvedic market have also followed this trend of product innovation. Since March, Dabur India has launched 40 new products, including tulsi and haldi (turmeric) drops and amla, aloe vera and wheatgrass juice. The company, which grows medicinal herbs on 6,000 acres across India, is also experimenting with herbs in tablet form such as haldi, giloy and ashwagandha. “We introduced a slew of innovations in the Ayurvedic immunity-boosting [segment] to cater to the growing consumer need,” says Malhotra. “We have not only increased our R&D spending, but are also ensuring that innovations are targeted and quick to market. This shift in our inn­ovation strategy is the reason why we have been able to roll out over 60 new products in the past year, the majority of them being in the healthcare category.”

Start-ups have also found investing in Ayurveda to be rewarding. Awsum, which sells dark chocolate infused with Ayurvedic herbs, is one example. The company has created four variants—to boost sleep, for daily energy, active immunity and to deal with stress. “We saw an inclination towards adoption of Ayurveda by millennials and GenZ, who are essentially our target group and also form the majority of the consumption class in India and across the globe. We wanted to create a preventive healthcare product that’s all-natural. Ayurveda was something we had to explore,” says Pranav Sharma, the founder.

A major structural push arr­ived in 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi established the Ministry of Ayush to promote and regulate the use of traditional remedies and yoga. Experts say having regulation as well as incentives to boost this field of study has helped change its image from one of pseudoscientific knowledge to evidence-backed science. “With the government and companies like ours investing in clinical trials and studies, we are scientifically validating the time-tested benefits of Ayurvedic medicines and remedies,” explains Malhotra.

For years, Ayurvedic practitioners only had texts to rely on, with little research being conducted in modern laboratories. “What our focus should be today is to take this traditional written knowledge and, firstly, make it more accessible and, secondly, prove its efficacy in a lab,” says Balkrishna. According to the WHO (World Health Organization) ‘General Guidelines for Methodologies on Research and Evaluation of Traditional Medicine’, published in 2000, “the concepts in the use of traditional medicine should be taken into account with its cultural aspect as well. When there is no documentation of long historical use of a herbal medicine, or when doubts exist about its safety, additional toxicity studies should be performed”.

Today, such studies are being performed across the country. In November 2020, the WHO selected India to set up a traditional medicine centre to strengthen research, training and awareness of Ayurveda. After the ann­ouncement, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated two Ayurveda institutions—the Institute of Teaching and Research in Ayurveda in Jamnagar, Gujarat, and the National Institute of Ayurveda in Jaipur, Rajasthan. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the new centres would support the WHO’s 2014-23 traditional medicine strategy, which aims to support countries in developing policies and action plans to strengthen the role of Ayurveda. “Today, Ayurveda is not just an alternative—it is one of the key bases of our country’s health policy,” said PM Modi at the launch. He added that studies are being performed by several organisations, including the All India Institute of Ayurveda (AIIA) under the Ministry of Ayush, which has conducted immunity-related research on about 80,000 Delhi Police personnel.

A visit to Patanjali’s flagship research institute reveals just how advanced research on the subject has become. The lab uses tools like liquid chromatographymass spectrometry machines for the detection of residual chemical compounds, confirmatory identification of small organic molecules and confirmation and quantitation of contaminants and adulterants in pharmaceutical and food samples. This machine is used on thousands of herbs every month to confirm the active compounds in each. These compounds are then tested in in-vitro settings to confirm their efficacy against conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cramps, stress, and so on. The institute also has a field studies branch; recent expeditions have seen its team identify 53 new plants in the Morni hills in Haryana. “We have around 300 scientists—botanists, microbiologists and biotechnologists,” says Balkrishna. “Our aim is to conserve, identify and do research on the plants in the country.” To make knowledge of Ayurvedic herbs more accessible, the institute is translating Latin plant names to Hindi, translating vernacular scripts into Hindi and English, as well as publishing a World Herbal Encyclopaedia. “It will describe 60,000 plants, have 1.2 million references and be packed in 180 volumes so that the knowledge of the properties of various plants can be accessed by all,” adds Balkrishna.

Toward the end of last year, a committee headed by Niti Aayog’s Dr V.K. Paul was formed to propose a framework for a new Integrative Health System, in order to achieve ‘inclusive, affordable, evidence-based, person-centric healthcare’. The committee will set up working groups in core areas—education, research, clinical practice and public health and administration. These groups will study how other countries, particularly the US, China and European nations, have integrated traditional medicine into their healthcare systems.

“Why should India forget its rich history in plant-based medicine?” asks Balkrishna. “A decade ago, it felt like we had [already done so], but now we see a growing interest in Ayurveda. Today, many allopathic doctors come to us for training—they want to merge both disciplines in their treatments.” Patanjali currently has 600 students enrolled for undergraduate degrees in Ayurveda, with another 120 doing postgraduate research. “There are so many employment opportunities available to them in mainstream hospitals today as well. This has added to Ayurveda’s popularity as a taught course,” adds Balkrishna.

At Medanta, one of the largest private hospitals in the NCR (national capital region), Ayurvedic treatments are used by major departments such as cardiology, neurology and for dengue. For example, after open heart surgery, patients often experience intense nerve pain when nerves become compressed between bone and scar tissue. The hospital uses Ayurvedic treatment to manage this pain. Yoga is also advised as a treatment for many cardiac patients. Similarly, those who are treated with radiation for head or neck cancers often suffer mucositis, a painful inflammation and ulceration of the inner lining of the mouth and gastric tract, as a side effect. Decoctions made of medicinal plants like triphala and kiratatikta are given to these patients to gargle with. Many report positive outcomes. “Our goal is to bring all branches of modern medicine together under one roof. Ayurveda helps reduce the side effects of some treatments and the recurrence of some diseases. At Medanta, we are also conducting trials to confirm the efficacy of various Ayurvedic treatments as well as helping in [identifying] their proper usage,” says Dr Naresh Trehan, noted cardiologist and chairman of Medanta.

However, there are times when the branches do clash. When Patanjali recently launched its ‘Covid-cure’ product Coronil, the Indian Medical Association expressed shock at the tall claim, publishing a public statement opposing Coronil’s claim to being a ‘cure’ for Covid. Experts say the road to full integration will be long and complicated, especially due to the decades of preference for allopathic treatments.

Several Ayurvedic brands have also tapped into social media to improve their visibility. There is clearly a large potential benefit. In June this year, after a video on the preparation of ‘kabasura kudineer’—a traditional formulation used by Siddha practitioners in Nellore to fight viruses—went viral, the herbal remedy nearly sold out across Andhra Pradesh. “Ayurveda has the ability to revolutionise healthcare and make the medical system more sustainable. As there is a huge hike in demand for [Ayurvedic products], it may be a good idea to [tap into] the e-commerce front. Companies should also consider upgrading their social media presence. Switching over to virtual platforms for consultations with doctors can help. Methods like influencer marketing can help to an extent as well,” says Birla.

More recently, the AIIA has also taken to social media to popularise its immunity-boosting ‘Bal Raksha Kit’. The kits aim to protect children up to the age of 16 from viral infections. As many as 10,000 kits will be distributed free of cost on National Ayurveda Day, November 2. The kit’s ingredient list has also been published online. It includes a syrup made of basil, giloy, cinnamon, liquorice and dry grapes, apart from Annu oil, Sitopaladi and chyawanprash, the regular consumption of which reportedly increases children’s immunity levels. AIIA members say that without social media, they would have immediately faced a backlash from allopathic doctors. “Connecting directly with the public through digital technologies has helped fight back against myths and misinformation,” says a source involved in the development of the Bal Raksha Kit.

Nonetheless, despite the rise in sales, many brands feel it is not time to celebrate just yet. The challenge is to keep public interest alive. “Without research, interest will be short-term. For full acceptance, Ayurveda must be backed by scientific evidence gathered in a transparent manner. As practitioners, we shouldn’t care about labels and fancy packaging—we should consider authenticity and quality,” says Balkrishna. If Ayurveda is indeed a manual to holistic health, incorporating its treatments into mainstream medicine will benefit many. This is one of the driving reasons the Modi government plans to roll out a ‘One Nation, One Health System’ policy by 2030. A policy which will bring modern and traditional systems of medicine such as allopathy, homoeopathy and Ayurveda together in medical practice, education and research.

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