“The abundance of cheap food with low nutritional value in the Western diet has wreaked havoc on our health; in America, one third of children and two thirds of adults are overweight or obese and are more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
In Ayurveda, diabetes comes under the broad heading of ‘Prameha’. This word is said to be derived from the root ‘Mehi Sechene’ meaning watering and, in this context, it means passing urine. As such, in Ayurveda, diabetes is defined by excessive urination, both in quantity and frequency. The other signs and symptoms of diabetes are excessive sweating with foetid odour, flabbiness of body, sedentary habits, excessive mucosal discharge, obesity and flabbiness, rapid growth of hairs and nails, thirst, sweetness of mouth, burning sensation in hands and feet and swarming of ants on the urine.
We believe that there are two types of diabetes: the first is where the patient acquires the diseases and this is called ‘Apathyanimittaja Prameha’. The second is where the patient is born with the disease and is called ‘Sahaja Prameha’.
One of my patients, Arun Jacob, didn’t seem to suffer from all the usual signs and symptoms of diabetes. Being over six feet tall, Arun weighed about 86 kilograms, which seemed reasonable. Suddenly, in the space of six weeks, his weight plummeted to 70 kilograms. As he had a family history of diabetes Arun went and had a blood test done.
“Dr. Siby, I almost fell off the chair when I read that my blood sugar level was 22,” he said when he came for his first consultation. “How can this be? I think it’s getting worse.”
I needed to know how far his disease had progressed and asked him a few questions. “Arun, when you go to urinate, what is the colour of the urine?”
“Er… I am not sure. I haven’t really looked.”
I explained to him that when the urine is either blackish (Kalameha), bluish (Nilameha), contains blood (Lohitameha) or is pink and has a putrid colour (Manjishthameha), the patient is usually in the acute stages of diabetes.
“Actually, I don’t think it’s any of these. I think it’s more like the colour of turmeric. It’s not putrid. Maybe, it’s pungent. And, there is a burning sensation when I pass urine.”
Put together, these were all I needed to confirm that Arun was suffering from the last form of acute diabetes called Haridrameha.
“What happens when it becomes chronic, Dr. Siby?”
I told Arun that in such cases, the patient’s Vata has been vitiated. Also, together with the urine, different body tissues are also removed from the body. For example, in Vasameha, the urine will contain fat. For Majjameha, the urine will contain bone marrow and in cases of Madhumeha, the essence of the body which we call Ojas is also passed in the urine. When the flow and frequency of the urine is almost continuous, we know that the patient is probably suffering from chronic diabetes.
“What do you do, Arun? What is your occupation?”
“I am an investment banker. In one month, I am travelling at least for a whole week.”
I said to Arun, “That could be the reason for your diabetes. It’s all the travelling and unhealthy lifestyle.”
“No lah. Cannot be,” he dismissed what I said with a wave of his hand. “When I travel, I am still eating healthy. Wherever I go, I also find a place that has a gym. So, I can exercise.”
“You don’t understand what I mean, Arun. I am trying to get you to see that 20 per cent of your disease can be attributed to your family history. But 80 per cent is your lifestyle. Yes, you eat healthy, but what are you eating? And how are you going about doing things in your life? Do you have time to sleep properly? Or, because you have to work, you force yourself to keep awake?”
By forcing himself to keep awake, he was suppressing what Ayurveda calls a ‘natural urge.’ There are 14 types of natural urges of the body. The others are, sleep, hunger, thirst, faeces, flatus, urine, belching, sneezing, coughing, yawning, gasping, tears, vomiting and semen.
“You see,” I added, “in Ayurveda, we believe that the body needs time to adjust. Frequent travelling affects the body’s temperature. Say you travel from Malaysia, which is humid, and go to a cold country where the air is dry. All this has a part to play and the body doesn’t have time to adapt to these changes.”
“Alright Dr. Siby. But what can we do? I want to avoid taking medication.”
I took a deep breath before I said, “Well, we can try. First of all, you must have only vegetarian meals and eat only at home. No more outside food.”
He thought about this for a while then said, “I can have breakfast and dinner at home. But lunch, Dr. Siby, I have to have outside.”
“Ok. We start with that. For the next two weeks, you have breakfast and dinner at home. Keep your breakfast light – stick with fruits. No egg, meat, yoghurt, fish, mutton, cheese, tofu, soya milk, cashew nuts, peanuts, brinjal, mango—“
“Dr. Siby,” Arun interrupted me, “that’s practically everything. There’s nothing left.”
I laughed. This was a common thing I heard. And I gave him an answer that I give most people: “You have things like idly, thosai, oats and rice noodles.”
“But, Dr. Siby. All these have rice. Doesn’t rice increase the sugar level in the blood?”
I nodded. “Yes, rice does raise your sugar levels. But your body will be able to manage that amount of sugar. In fact, we believe that every person needs to eat carbohydrates, proteins and all the other nutrients. Or else, the meal is incomplete. I am asking you to focus on the quality of food. Whatever food you take, it should be digested, not become a burden on your system.”
“OK. But what about lunch? That is outside. I need to eat somewhere near the office.”
“Try to stick with vegetarian and eat half the portion.”
“You mentioned oil massage. What is this?”
I reached for a bottle each of Mahanarayana Thailam and Shudbala Thailam. I poured a little out and showed him how to massage his body, especially his extremities. Such massages helped to improve the peripheral circulation and metabolise the sugar in his blood.
Arun left my consultation room a little happier.
Three months later, Arun came to see me bearing good news. His blood sugar levels were now 7.2 mmol/L and his HbA1C reading (for glucose) was 6.6 %. His doctors also didn’t see the need for him to start any medication. Arun, had, effectively, reversed his diagnosis of diabetes. As an added benefit, now that he was determined to have dinner at home as often as he could, Arun has become a very good cook.
(17 May 2017)
This story is an excerpt from Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurvedic Practitioner (ISBN 978-967-415-4004) by Vaidya C.D. Siby and Aneeta Sundararaj. It is an enlightening book published by MPH Publishing that dispels the myths surrounding this ancient medical system.