Diabetes, Old disease in a new form

Diabetes is often considered a disease of the new modern world. Often it is associated with stress and our killer sedentary lifestyle similar to one I am leading as I write this piece out for Healthcare India. My grandfather had diabetes, so does my father and most probably I will have it and it is a matter of when and not if. It is believed that more than 80 million people have diabetes in the country and numbers are going to increase as we head to 2020.

Often it is wrongly said, that the disease pattern in India has changed. We were beset by infectious diseases earlier and today we deal with lifestyle diseases as well. That may be true if we had a narrow view of history (Last 300 years). But a look at ancient history shows that diabetes was rampant in India earlier. So common were the cases that the father of Indian medicine, Charaka called it ‘Madhumeha’ or Honey Urine as the urine passed by those affected by diabetes had the ability to attract ants due the high level of sugar in it.

Charaka not only identified both types of Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2), but he also documented in detail the symptoms. Charaka was a man of science and he was against superstition and the belief in ghosts or spirits spreading illnesses.

He believed that most diseases were spread due to physical causes. And he was correct in encouraging all his students to study the symptoms of the patients and look for causes in habits, diet and other areas. His work in the field of diabetes is path breaking. He correctly identified, diet and exercise as the management therapy for keeping Madhumeha at bay. He also worked on the differences between the two. Acording to Charaka Samhita, there were two ways that a person fell prey to Madhumeha, one was Sahaja, or aquired, Charaka and the other physicians knew that genetics was the key to acquiring Madhumeha and the other way was Apathyannimitaja or acquired.

Lack of activity, consuming carbohydrates laden diet, excessive sleep and a high comfortable life were all the causes for acquiring Madumeha.

A lot more details can be found in this PDF version of the book Diabetes in Ancient India by T Parivallal that I found online.

What amazes me about this disease and so many others in the country is that we are looking outside for answers while the true answer very much lies within us. India has a rich heritage and being a country that controlled Global GDP, I am sure we had the best of cures as well. The Charaka Samhita, was divided into 20 chapters and remained the standard text book of choice for over 2000 years, having been converted into many languages including Persian, Latin and Arabic.

Sometimes taking a step back is the best way forward, and this seems so true as we look to manage diabetes in India and across the world.

Dr. Vikram Venkateswaran

Management Thinker, Marketer, Healthcare Professional Communicator and Ideation exponent

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