Shilajatu: a traditional Indian panacea

Shilajatu: a traditional Indian panacea

Among the different medicines lauded in Ayurveda is a curious resin called shilajatu (‘shilajit’ in Hindi, pictured above), found as an exudate from steep rock faces in the Himalayan mountain range. Shilajatu is not only among the most unique of remedies utilized by Ayurveda, but among the most valuable as well. Shilajatu is found at altitudes of between 1000 and 5000 meters, typically when the hot summer sun beats down upon the rocks, causing the resin to liquefy and exude, and then harden again upon cooling. Similar exudates have also been found in other mountain ranges in what is called the Tethyan mountain system, including the Caucasus, Urals, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Tian Shan and Kunlun Shan ranges. As its older common name of bitumen suggests, shilajatu was once thought to be the ancient fossilized organic material from what was once the coastline of the tropical Tethys Sea region that existed between the subcontinent of India and Eurasia some 200 million years ago. As … [Read more...]

Lifestyle therapy in Ayurveda

Lifestyle therapy in Ayurveda

In the ancient Indian medical science of Āyurveda, the basis of all positive and sustainable action is rooted in dharma, a Sanskrit term that refers to the natural way of things. This ‘natural way’ applies to all facets of our lives, including diet, lifestyle, and medicine. Literally meaning to ‘follow the day’, dinacaryā is a series of ancient practices based on the principle of dharma, designed to optimize different aspects of health, including metabolism, digestion, and memory. Considered the ‘missing link’ absent in many different systems of medicine, both ancient and modern, the practice of dinacaryā in Āyurveda forms the basic structure of a happy and balanced life, and hence is also known as ‘the regimen of the wise’. The daily regimen in Āyurveda is described in the very earliest of its teachings, including the Suśruta samhitā and Caraka saṃhitā, which originally date back to before 1000 BCE. Dinacaryā is extolled through the history of Āyurveda, as the single most important … [Read more...]

Love, death, and magic mushrooms

Love, death, and magic mushrooms

Some of you that know me closely, or have been apprised of my personal situation over the last few months, know that the health of both of my parents underwent a sudden decline at the end of last summer. About three years ago my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but the cancer came back with a vengeance this fall, and just a couple weeks ago, she finally succumbed to the disease. To add to this complication, my step-father has late-stage Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, neither of them is particularly old: my mother died just before her 68th birthday, and my step-father is just 73. It has been an exceptionally challenging time for all involved. Layered into the situation is the reality of our family history, which to say the least, has been very painful. My mother met my biological father in 1968 when she was 20, and after a few weeks of dating my mother got pregnant. They weren’t in any sense a stable couple, and my mother after much deliberation decided to have an … [Read more...]

Antibiotic resistance: a herbalist’s perspective (2)

Antibiotic resistance: a herbalist’s perspective (2)

Last week I reviewed the issue of antibiotic resistance, and why unlike the perspective held by government, the medical profession and industry, I do not believe the issue is simply a technical problem that can be solved by finding the latest and greatest drug. Such a fantasy underlies much of what unfortunately motivates us as a species, that what we're looking for is just around the corner, instead of seeing the opportunities all around us. It is this same fantasy that drives drug development, and medical innovation is part and parcel of that which drives the economy, which itself is predicated on limitless, unending growth. The great irony, of course, is that this aspiration of growth is exactly the same as that held by cancer, a disease which is now the leading cause of death in countries such as Canada. But think of the cancer cell for just a moment: ignorant and naive, just a-trying to be the best little cancer cell it can be. It's all a matter of perspective: on the one hand, a … [Read more...]

Antibiotic resistance: a herbalist’s perspective (1)

Antibiotic resistance: a herbalist’s perspective (1)

If you have been keeping abreast of science news as of late, you might have come across a recent article published in the journal Nature, which again raises the emerging specter of antibiotic resistance. In a nutshell, antibiotic resistance describes a phenomena in which bacteria that were formerly susceptible to antibiotics are now resistant to them. Antibiotics were developed in the early 1900s, first with the development of the sulfonamides in the 1930s, the penicillins in the 1940s, shortly followed by an ever-growing list of antibiotics, including the tetracyclines, glycopeptides (e.g. vancomycin), metronidazole, cephalosporins (e.g. cefadroxil), and fluoroquinolones (e.g. ciprofloxacin). The development of antibiotics has been hailed as one of the great achievements of modern medicine, but as a herbalist, I have always found the boastful crowing of advocates rather high-pitched, particularly as how I have treated many cases of serious infection using methods that predate Western … [Read more...]