Due to the critical studies of Saper et al. on the safety of Ayurvedic medicines, on herbal remedies as well as on metal-based preparations (Saper R. e., 2008), (Saper R. e., 2004), (Ernst, 2002) rejection, uncertainty, and misunderstanding with regard to metallic therapeutical products grew in the West. After these studies were published strict controls with regard to metallic additives in Ayurvedic medicaments and products were employed in Europe and USA. All medicaments with metal contents or metal by-products are prohibited in the West (Germany, Switzerland, UK, USA etc.). Here, no distinction is made between products polluted with poisonous heavy metals and those which were prepared according to the strict regulations of the pharmaceutical production of Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia. The uncertainty and “fear“ in the West with regard to the Rasa Shastra products are strong, – so strong that in the training program of Ayurvedic Medicine the subject of Rasa Shastra was cancelled, although, according to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Rasa Shastra is an official part of the educational training of Ayurvedic Medicine. At present sufficient studies on humans that prove the efficacy and safety of rasa-preparations do not yet exist.
These critical studies on Ayurvedic medicaments containing heavy metals and having health-damaging effects led to an increased rejection. Many people in the West do not know that there is a difference between a pollution of heavy metals or pesticides and a consciously produced medicament that contains metals in accordance with classical rules. A medicament which is polluted with heavy metals is harmful. It is either improperly prepared or it contains heavy-metal polluted by-products due to the environment or poor production. Already the ancient scholars warned of such medicaments, and this was confirmed by Saper et al. Reports about these studies and the hidden dangers of Ayurvedic medicines went all over the world.
The ancient Rasa Shastra scriptures like Rasaratna Samuchhaya, Rasa Hridaya Tantra, Ayurveda Prakasha etc. mention that a poorly manufactured rasa-medicament is poisonous for the body, whereas “without impurities it is a nectar” (“amrita”). These pure agents have an effective therapeutical effect and can be employed for many serious chronic diseases. Mercury is considered the master element of Rasa Shastra, which is highly effective against disease, decay and death. (Ayurveda Prakasha, 1999) It is surprising that mercury cannot be found in India but Indians have obviously found its utility in medicine and therefore used mercury maximum for medicinal purpose.
Unpurified mercury “possesses many blemishes and they can cause many disorders in the body. Hence, Parada (mercury) should be subjected to different samskaras (mercurial operations).“ (R.R.S., 1998)[i]
Since the 8th century, Rasa Shastra has become a systematic science. Since then, many pharmaceutical processes were introduced in the field of Ayurvedic therapeutics, i.e. shodhana, marana, murchana, patana etc. The conversion and division of metals and minerals into such fine, easily digestible and absorbable states was increasing in practice, particularly that of mercury. (Kumar S, 2003) This science was imparted from generation to generation. During the course of time a lot of experience was gathered, the methods were refined, completed and the therapies were adjusted respectively.
The eight purification steps of mercury (astha samskaras of Parada) represent the long, profound and highly specialized processes that remove the large number of impurities or natural blemishes of mercury and that produce positive, therapeutical and healing properties. During the eight purification processes (samskaras) mercury is subjected to steam heating (svedana), to various types of triturations (mardana) and to sublimations and distillations (patana). In almost all processes freshly prepared Kanji (sour gruel) is used. At each process certain plant materials, minerals or metals are employed. After the completion of all eight processes mercury is clean and “all blemishes are eradicated from it”. (R.R.S., 1998)[ii] Mercury is now pure and can be further processed into an effective medicine. Depending on the indication, it can be combined with respective plants, minerals, metals, etc. and can thus be selectively employed in therapy.
The inherent qualities of rasausadhis (bio-mineral preparations) include quick action, smaller doses, tastelessness, prolonged storage life and better palatability. (R.S.S., 2003) Due to these advantages and because of their lasting, strong and deep effect with minimal doses, rasa-medicines may often be preferable to other medicine and can therefore be frequently employed for a range of diseases.
Various studies in rats show that properly produced metallic medicaments are safe for internal consumption and show no toxic effects at all. “It may be concluded that in therapeutic doses the drug (Makaradhvaja, a preparation with mercury, gold, sulphur, minerals and herbal powders. [S.A.]) is non-toxic to the body tissue and also stimulates the body tissues for better activity”, states Pradeep Kumar Prajapati in his pharmaceutical “Study on Makararadhvaja”. (Prajapati P. K., 1998) Lavekar et al. states, “Mahayograj guggulu[iii] was found to be safe at all dose levels tested. No major alterations were observed in haematology, serum biochemistry, necropsy and histopathology at the therapeutically advocated dosage. The test drug is well tolerated as no changes of a serious nature could be observed in any of the parameters assessed.” (Lavekar, 2010) These pro-rasa studies are so far based on experimental animal studies. For the future it is very important that more clinical studies are conducted on this topic as well as specific research on humans as a next step.
With the aid of nanotechnology, it can be proved today that the bhasmas, which have been used in Ayurveda for a long time, are biologically produced nanoparticles, safe agents in therapeutics. (Sarkar P. K., 2010 a) These drugs (bhasmas) are delivered directly into the target tissue and are effective at the core of the disease. The study of Mohapatra and Jha on Svarna makshika bhasma (iron, copper, sulphur, chalcophyrite), a medicament which is used for anaemia (pandu), insomnia (anidra), convulsions (apasmara), poor digestion (mandagni), skin diseases (kushtha) etc. and also as a potent rasayana-drug indicated that “the the particle size of raw material was between 6 and 8 µ, while that for bhasma particles was 1 – 2 µ”. The result of the study is, “this can be one of the important factors for the standardization of bhasmas. Thus, modern technologies can assist in the proper characterization of Ayurvedic dosage forms and standardization of Ayurvedic medicines“. (Mohapatra S., 2010) A further study was conducted for the evaluation of the effect of conventionally prepared Svarna makshika bhasma (SMB) on different bio-chemical parameters in experimental rats, for providing a scientific data base for logical use in clinical practice. It came to the conclusion that the use of SMB in experimental animals shows no significant changes on the parameters of liver function, which indicates that the use of traditional metal/mineral bhasmas is safe, even in long-term administration. “Hence the conventionally prepared bhasma is a noble dosage form of Ayurvedic treatment and can be used very effectively if manufactured following the standard operative producers and following the traditional quality control parameters strictly.“ (Mohapatra S. , 2011)
In order to promote the possible application of rasa-preparations in the West and also to spread the teaching of this ancient science in the West – as demanded by the WHO – the following demands are necessary:
- Strict quality controls have to be carried out by the Indian government.
- Only strictly controlled and pure rasa-products are allowed to be traded.
- Worldwide studies should be set up in order to investigate the effect, the safety and toxicity of the metallic and bio-metallic preparations of Rasa Shastra-medicine.
- The effect of the different purification processes and the cleaning steps of the metals on tissues must be examined in general and in the therapeutical sense.
- In future research, the changes that are brought about by the eight purification processes (samskaras), shall chemically and physically be explored, understood and proved by appropriate research methods. On this basis, laboratory quality standards can be determined – an issue of essential importance for the integration of Rasa Shastra in Western science.
- International cooperation of scientists, physicians, physicists and chemists is required in order to examine and investigate the pharmacological use of mercury and other metals and minerals (Rasa Shastra) by means of modern technologies and scientific research. Consideration should also be given to the history and keen observation, theories, beliefs and experiences of the great ancient scholars. (Sarkar P. K., 2010 b)
May future scientific research on Rasa Shastra medicines be conducted for the benefit of mankind with the aim of alleviating diseases and suffering and for the promotion of the health of people of the rest of the world. If a big population of India is benefited with this science, its utility should not be ignored, of course with keeping safety of the patients on the priority.