Ayurvedic Medicine

Traditional Medicinal Systems’ Roles in Healthy Aging

Consumers are looking to ancient health care practices to address ailments that occur later in life.

The aging process is complex, and the science behind the process is still being developed. Several anti-aging solutions have been propounded over the years, each supported with research. The role of antioxidants, gene-splitting-based solutions and telomere elongating to retard the aging process have been explored.

Most of us accept death will more likely come on the back of an ailment. Few just die of old age. The focus today is on identifying ailments early in their cycle. Preventive care, active lifestyle and reasonable quality of life are aspirations most older people have.

According to Euromonitor International Ltd. in 2015, 606 million people were 65 or older. This number is projected to reach 1 billion by 2030. This group is culturally heterogenous, and geographically and economically diverse.

This is indeed a huge market. The health care industry is targeting this segment quite aggressively, spending substantial dollars on research and new products. A range of products and services aimed at improving one or more aspects of quality of life for the aged are now available in the market.

Comprehensive holistic life management solutions are probably best described in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). These include a full range of products and services from nutraceuticals, medicine, meditation, exercise and diet.

In Ayurveda, the body and disease are products of food and lifestyle. An individual’s lifestyle, personality, physiology and psychology are viewed in its totality while prescribing a health management solution to an individual. The brain, nervous system and hormonal secretions, according to Ayurveda, influence an individual’s personality. They go on to describe three types of personalities, each of which are further subdivided into various subtypes.

The holistic offerings from Ayurveda can be relevant to healthy aging. Diet and lifestyle management, which includes exercise, are personalized, unlike in Western medicine. The body is said to possess self-healing capacity. When afflicted with an ailment, the body’s self-healing processes kicks in. Ayurveda prohibits a physician from prescribing a diet, food, medicine or yogic practice that will cause any disruption of the body’s auto-healing process.

Yoga is an important component of a holistic, healthy aging, Ayurveda-based offering. Yoga helps calm the mind, and is said to liberate it from suffering. There are eight limbs of yoga. These eight limbs are further subdivided into three subparts.

The first part is the ethical component. The focus is on moral behavior (yamas) and healthy habits (niyamas). The second and the most popular is the physical aspect which includes physical postures (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama). The third major subdivision of yoga focuses on meditation. The comprehensive focus on mind, body and spirit through yoga is said to help individuals with ailments like pain, cancer, general debility, mitigating physical and mental stress, etc.

The emphasis of Ayurveda on the mind and neural system is interesting. The connection between healing and the mind is now being supported by modern science. Modern science accepts that the brain and neural system is constantly going through a cycle of death and renewal. Kandel, the neuropsychiatrist awarded the Nobel Prize in 1990, found that if we do not use neural connections, they shrink and die. We do appear to have the ability to reshape our brains.

These findings, if found to be adequately scientifically supported, will be particularly valuable for healthy aging management. Cognitive function decline is one issue commonly observed in older people. The scientific solution is yet to be discovered.

TCM healing principles have similarities to Ayurveda. The focus is on holistic healing. TCM believes the world, including human beings, are all interconnected and interdependent. When they are in harmony, things work. A ripple in one part disturbs the whole system.

A healthy body is a result of maintaining a balance between the body and mind. The focus of TCM is also on thoughts, emotions and the psychological state of the individual.

TCM seeks to correct imbalances between organs and inner human energy. Treatment involves use of herbal remedies, acupuncture or acupressure, moxibustion (burning dried herbs), massage, Feng shui, breathing and movement exercise called qi gong, tai chi (another form of exercise) and diet.

For healthy aging, more options are available now than any time before. As understanding and scientific support to holistic and personalized care increases, product and solution manufacturers will seek to leverage the holistic lifestyle features in Ayurveda and TCM, and invent comprehensive offerings for the aging population.

The future for healthy aging providers and their clients lies in a mix of ancient offerings from Ayurveda, TCM, modern precision medicine and gene-based therapy. In a few decades, these hybrid holistic lifestyle management solutions will enable many to lead a reasonably acceptable quality of life at the age of 100 years and beyond.

Would we then claim that we have effectively pushed the boundaries of aging management as far back as we can? Or, will we then put our sights on a much higher number? How long will an average human be able to live a reasonable quality of life is a question that is unlikely to be answered any time soon.

The business opportunity for healthy aging solution providers is still in the early stages of the market business cycle. The growth curve will continue to be steep for many decades in the future.

For more information on ingredients used in healthy aging products, download INSIDER’s Healthy Aging Digital Magazine.

Sudhir Ahluwalia is a business consultant. He is management consulting head of Tata Consultancy Services, an IT outsourcing company in Asia, serves as a business advisor to multiple companies, is a columnist and authored the book “Holy Herbs.” Ahluwalia was also a member of the Indian Forest Service.

 

 

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