doi:10.1038/nindia.2015.148 Published online 1 November 2015
Treatment by Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine in India, has a genetic basis, according to an exhaustive study1 by a combined team of scientists and Ayurvedic physicians in India.The study has been led by the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad.
The centuries-old practice is based on the concept that one's constitution is made up of three bodily humours or 'doshas' (vata, pitta and kapha) which control the functional aspects of the human body. When the doshas are balanced, one is healthy; when they are not, one develops diseases. Although all three doshas exist in every human being, one of them is dominant based on which an individual’s 'prakriti' is determined. Ayurveda considers that prakriti is formed at birth and usually does not alter during the later phases.
Ayurveda holds that prakritis underlie an individual’s predisposition to disease as well as response to treatment. Therefore, it is essential in Ayurvedic practice to identify the prakriti of a patient before treatment because treatment for the same disease can vary markedly depending on the prakriti.
"The concept of prakriti in Ayurveda and its relationship with genomics was hypothesized over a decade ago," CCMB's Kumarasamy Thangaraj who led the study told Nature India. While some studies have shown the association of specific genes with the phenotype of a particular prakriti, "the association of genomic variations with prakriti classification was lacking," he said. "Ours is the first attempt to classify the prakritis using genome-wide Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) markers and to provide a scientific basis for prakriti classification."
For this, Ayurveda physicians, who were part of this study, recruited 3,416 normal healthy males aged 20 to 30 and assessed their prakriti constitution using various anatomical, physiological, psychological and behavioral characteristics, as described in Carak Samhita, an early text on Ayurveda. These men were further assessed using 'Ayusoft', a prakriti software, which contains a comprehensive questionnaire that had been developed based on the information from original Ayurvedic literature.
Out of the total screened, 262 individuals with single prakriti dominance — 94 vata-dominant, 75 pitta-dominant and 93 kapha-dominant — were selected for the study. DNA isolated from their blood samples was subjected to genome-wide analysis using about one million genetic markers (SNPs). Data obtained from this analysis was subjected to various statistical analysis that led to the identification of 52 SNPs that are unique to the three prakritis (vata, pitta and kapha) and can differentiate them.
"Our preliminary study suggests that the prakriti classification, as a foundation for the practice of Ayurveda, has a genetic basis and resonates with personalized medicine," Thangaraj said. "And the present findings provide basis for future Ayurogenomics studies."
Besides CCMB, the study drew researchers from Manipal University, Shri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara College of Ayurveda, Udupi; Sinhgad College of Engineering, Pune; Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions, Bangalore; University of Pune and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.