MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Guest post by Ken McLeod

‘Ayurvedic Medicine,’ or Ayurveda, is an alternative medicine system which originated in India as long as 5,000 years ago, according to its proponents.  Science-based medicine refers to it  as pseudoscientific and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterises  it as quackery. [1] Ayurvedic practitioners claim that its popularity through the ages vindicates it as safe and effective.

That last bit is of course the appeal to antiquity, or the appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem. [2] This proposes that if something was supported by people for a long time it must be valid.   That is bunkum; many ancient ideas have long since been discredited; the Earth is not flat, no matter for how long people thought it was.

Nevertheless, ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ has many practitioners and supporters in the supposedly rational West, including Bondi Junction here in Australia.  Despite the many warnings about it, [3] people still go to practitioners, and occasionally they are injured.

One such injury and the consequent complaint to the New South Wales regulator, the Health Care Complaints Commission, (HCCC), has resulted in a Public Warning dated 18 September concerning levels of heavy metals in Ayurvedic Medication.  [4]

The HCCC said:

‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission is concerned about a complaint received regarding the prescription of “Manasamithra Vatika,” (Manasamitram Pills) an Ayurvedic medication.

‘The complaint related to prescription of this medication to a child for treatment of autism.

‘This medication was found to contain concerning levels of lead and other heavy metals.’

That’s all very bland, no headlines there.  But then it got into:

“The Commission strongly urges those individuals seeking alternative therapies to be vigilant in their research prior to proceeding with any natural therapy medications or medicines and to discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.”

Not so bland there; that’s very comprehensive; ‘any natural therapy medications or medicines’ and ‘discuss any such proposed therapies with their treating registered health practitioner.” ‘Note the HCCC’s emphasis on “registered.”  That rules out Ayurvedic Medicine practitioners, homeopaths, and other assorted cranks; go to a real doctor.

Surely that is headline material; a regulator responsible for promoting the health of citizens warns them to go to real doctors before going to these quacks.

Then it gets better, (or worse if you are an Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner).  At the same time the HCCC issued an Interim Prohibition Order against Mr Rama Prasad (“Ayurveda Doctor Rama Prasad.”) [5] The HCCC’s Order says:

‘The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (“the Commission”) is currently investigating Mr Rama Prasad in relation to his prescribing of the Ayurvedic Medication “Manasamithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) to both children and adults and about his claims that his treatments can reverse several aspects of autism in children.

‘The Ayurvedic Medication “Manasmithra Vatika” (Manasamitram Pills) was found to contain elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals.

‘One case with mildly elevated blood level was notified to the South Eastern Sydney Public Health Unit after consuming this product.

‘Clients residing in NSW who are considered to have been placed at possible risk have now been contacted by NSW Health public health personnel.

‘The Commission has issued an interim prohibition order in relation to Mr Rama Prasad, under section 41AA of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 (‘The Act’). Mr Prasad is currently prohibited from providing any health services, either in paid employment or voluntarily, to any member of the public.

‘This interim prohibition order will remain in force for a period of eight weeks and may be renewed where appropriate in order to protect the health or safety of the public.’

That should send chills down the spine of any Ayurvedic Medicine practitioner.  A complete Prohibition Order ordering Prasad not to engage in providing any health service as defined in the Act  [6] for eight weeks, which may be renewed or even made permanent, depending on what the investigation finds.  The Act includes a comprehensive list of activities that comprise a ‘health service’:

‘health service includes the following services, whether provided as public or private services:

  • (a)  medical, hospital, nursing and midwifery services,
  • (b)  dental services,
  • (c)  mental health services,
  • (d)  pharmaceutical services,
  • (e)  ambulance services,
  • (f)  community health services,
  • (g)  health education services,
  • (h)  welfare services necessary to implement any services referred to in paragraphs (a)–(g),
  • (i)  services provided in connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practices and medical radiation practices,
  • (j)  Chinese medicine, chiropractic, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, physiotherapy, podiatry and psychology services,
  • (j1)  optical dispensing, dietitian, massage therapy, naturopathy, acupuncture, speech therapy, audiology and audiometry services,
  • (k)  services provided in other alternative health care fields,
  • (k1)  forensic pathology services,’

Note the inclusion of ‘health education.’  This is where so many cranks fall foul of the law;  setting yourself up as a health educator makes you subject to the Act.   Even if you claim to be a master chef, homeopath or Ayurvedic Medicine Practitioner, you are not exempt.

It’s early days yet in this particular saga, and there are many questions to be answered, for example:

  • – How did this “medicine” get past Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, (Australia’s equivalent to the US FDA)?
  • – Did the TGA list or register it?
  • – If not why not? If it was who is responsible?
  • – Was this detected only after a child was so sickened that they were taken to hospital?
  • – Why is the practitioner concerned still advertising his Ayurvedic medicine courses? [7]  Is this a breach of his Prohibition Order which prohibits ‘health education services’?’

So stay tuned for updates as this case progresses.  In the meantime note that an Australian Health regulator is advising the public to seek advice from real doctors before going to alternative therapists, including ‘Ayurvedic Medicine’ practitioners.  That is a real headline.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_tradition

[3] Such as from the Victoria Dept of Health at https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ayurveda

[4] https://www.hccc.nsw.gov.au/decisions-orders/public-statements-and-warnings/public-warning-under-s94a-of-the-health-care-complaints-act-concerning-levels-of-heavy-metals-in-ayurvedic-medication

[5] https://www.hccc.nsw.gov.au/decisions-orders/media-releases/2020/mr-rama-prasad-ayurveda-doctor-rama-prasad-interim-prohibition-order

[6] Health Care Complaints Act 1993 https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1993-105

[7] https://www.enlightenedevents.com.au/events/certificate-in-clinical-ayurveda-dr-rama-prasad

7 Responses to THE REGULATOR AND ‘AYURVEDIC MEDICINE’

  • but isn’t there a danger with all these services recommending that patients seek advice from a “real” doctor that the vast majority of properly qualified medics will sadly be ignorant of the dangers of ayurveda, homeopaths, chiros and all the other quacks and happily think of them as harmless “complementary” practitioners simply adding a few nice smelling herbs to what their qualified GP has prescribed?

    They won’t recognize these misinformed buffoons as the anti-vaxx, neck-breaking, reality denying, confused, anti-science and deluded creatures they really are – folks who believe that pure water and lactose tablets, non-existent “energy” or invisible “chi” and meridians that have never been identified can miraculously cure people. That patients can be cured by thoughts alone at a distance or by looking at a photograph – or in defiance of all known laws of physics and chemistry.

    Will these doctors expect that these loonies may advise patients to cease life-saving medication or chemotherapy in favour of magic? Will they know to expect the totally irrational? I doubt it? Sadly most medical schools don’t prepare you for the sheer lunacy of these fringe groups. Who would seriously expect anyone to be poisoning a child with heavy metals?

  • Nothing like this would happen in the UK. There are of course hordes of similar quacks, but they mostly get away with whatever they do. The General Medical Council only regulates doctors, albeit weakly (see https://bit.ly/3iQJwHM), and ignores people who effectively practise unlicensed medicine. Chiropractors and osteopaths are regulated by law, but this is largely useless (see https://bit.ly/3cu7Z3r). Advertising of consumer health products and services ultimately depends on enforcement by Trading Standards, which is unable or unwilling (a bit of both) to take robust action. We have the Care Quality Commission, which basically ignores quacks. The quacks themselves have various regulators, which only exist to support their members and not the public. There is an over-arching Professional Standards Authority, and – you guessed it – it never asks member bodies for evidence of effectiveness, and gives them all a very easy ride. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency rarely bothers with quacks, although it has taken action occasionally against traditional Chinese medicines, and ignores unlicensed medical devices such as `bioresonance’ machines. If you’re a quack wanting an easy market entry, come to the UK!

    • Warning: The GMC is about to also regulate Physician Assistants (PAs – although in the UK they like to style themselves as ‘physician associates’.)

      I know of no other professional ‘associate’ who is not actually a member of the defined profession (albeit in a junior role). Which, in the case of medicine, PAs are not.

      Are they trying to pass off, or be passed off by the GMC and or the government?

      Does anyone know of another professional ‘associate’ who is not a member of the profession?

  • I’d say prescribing lead-bearing ‘medicines’ to children is nothing short of severe child abuse, and any person doing so should receive more punishment than a temporary ban on practising this sort of dangerous quackery.

    There is extensive evidence that even small amounts of lead can cause noticeable and sometimes even severe developmental impairment, especially in young children.
    One aggravating factor is that quack treatments for autism are often administered for extended periods of time, simply because autism can’t be cured (but that is something that these quacks of course will never say). In the case of this ayurvedic rubbish, this automatically means a prolonged exposure to lead, and thus more extensive neurological damage..

    On a related note: regulatory bodies here in the Netherlands are finally directing their attention to another quack autism treatment, so-called ‘CEASE therapy'(*), offered by homeopaths. It would appear that government officials are contemplating a full ban on any SCAM treatment claiming to be effective against autism spectrum disorders. So I’d say that this at least is one step in the right direction.

    *: CEASE being the acronym for ‘Complete Elimination of Autism Spectrum Expression. The idea is that autism is caused by vaccination (which of course is proven nonsense), and that administering homeopathically diluted vaccine preparations will reverse this ‘vaccine injury’ and thus the autism. And once again, treatment typically takes many months to sometimes several years – during which period, desperate parents are expected to shell of thousands of euros for this useless quackery.
    And as most children with autism exhibit some natural developmental progress over the course of a few years, these homeopaths of course claim that their intervention was the reason for this success.

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