Part Two of: An Interview With Dr. Hari Sharma, Author of Freedom from Disease
This issue continues the interview of the herbal research pioneer and author of Freedom from Disease, Hari Sharma, M.D. (listed below as Dr. Sharma).
Q: I'm so curious. When you discovered that Maharishi Amrit Kalash is a thousand times more powerful antioxidant than vitamins C or E, how did your colleagues at The Ohio State University College of Medicine respond to what is really a remarkable discovery?
Dr. Sharma: Well, we did this work when people were really not into free radicals or antioxidants. So we knew that we were way ahead of time and this thing is going to come out some time in the future. Now you hear about antioxidants; at that time when I was talking about antioxidants and free radicals, scientists pooh-poohed it as not that important. Now you're finding out it's very important.
Q: You were truly ahead of your time.
Dr. Sharma: Yes. That's what happened.
Q: You mentioned that Amrit contains ghee or clarified butter, as well as some sugar. Some Americans would find that confusing, because they usually associate butter and sugar with disease, as opposed to promoting health. Can you explain that?
Dr. Sharma: Yes. That's a very good question. Now, the ghee is clarified butter, so it is not seen as butter, because of the way it is prepared. It's a long process, but basically, you heat it and you filter it. The material which rises to the surface is discarded, so the rest of the material that is left is the ghee. Which, when you use these herbs with ghee, it facilitates the entrance of the herbs to the inside of the cells. So activity is much more enhanced. And you're not using a large amount of ghee, and we have tested that Amrit Kalash does not increase the cholesterol. It does not increase the blood lipids. So people should know, if this is one concern they have.
Q: What about the sugar in Amrit.
Dr. Sharma: The sugar is used so Amrit can remain at room temperature. You don't have to refrigerate it. The second quality of sugar is that it acts as a carrier to help facilitate the assimilation of the herbs by the body. The sugar also acts as an antioxidant.
Dr. Sharma: The only thing is, those who have diabetes should not take the paste because it contains the sugar. And for them, I think they have this preparation which is without sugar. The same formula but with no sugar, which comes in tablets.
Q: Dr. Sharma, can you explain to our readers exactly how Amrit can strengthen the immune system; and would Amrit, therefore, be valuable for people who are simply interested in preventing the common cold, and for others who have AIDS and are looking for some other additional benefits?
Dr. Sharma: Yes. We did these tests on animals, and they were repeated in Kansas City and also Indiana and then also in, I think, Tokyo, Japan. So several studies have been done on immunity. With the immune system, we have cells and the plasma. Plasma contains the antibodies which are dissolved. Basically, what they found was that the capacity of the cells increases. So there's immune enhancement between two to four times. And when the cells are stimulated by some foreign antigen or attacker, then the response is much more profound as compared to those who are not taking Amrit.
Q: And when you say much more profound, on what level of magnitude are we talking about?
Dr. Sharma: At least two to four times higher. But if you just count the immune cells in a person who is taking Amrit and one who is not taking Amrit, you won't find any difference. But if the cells are challenged, then you find the difference. So they maintain normal status, but if something comes up, the person who is taking Amrit, his body reacts in a very strong way to prevent the attack of the foreign agents.
Q: Dr. Sharma, I'm amazed. How can one formula have all of these health benefits — on the heart, in preventing cancer, the effect of chemotherapy — how is that possible?
Dr. Sharma: That's a very good question. This comes up from time to time. Remember when we talked about free radicals being involved in more than 90% of disorders, either initiating or promoting disease?
Dr. Sharma: If we have something which can balance these free radicals, prevent the increased production of free radicals, then we should see beneficial effects in a large number of diseases. Now, when you test antioxidants, free radical negating effects of different herbs, most of the people, when they talk about effects, are talking about test tube results. We did the tests in the test tube, then we did the tests on animals, then we did the tests on the whole human body also. We did clinical research. We have tested the whole way through, from the very basic side all the way to the clinical side.
I think the basic underlying mechanism is preventing the increased production of free radicals. Because if you do that, you wipe out most of the problem — free radicals are involved in cancer, they're involved with heart disease, they're involved in chemotherapy, they're involved in immunity. It is a very powerful common theme in all these areas, which is free radicals. But apart from that, I think it has other effects also, which have not been investigated yet.
Q: When we say that Amrit is a thousand times more powerful an antioxidant than vitamins C or E, can you clarify that? Are we talking about per unit of weight? Are we talking about compared to a standard dose of vitamin C, say 1000 milligrams, or 400 units of vitamin E? In other words, what's the comparison?
Dr. Sharma: Obviously these tests were in a test tube to test the antioxidant effect of Amrit and vitamin C, vitamin E, and there were some pharmaceutical drugs also which were tested. And, finally, after testing, we dried each one of these mixtures to make a powder, and then took the weight. Then we compared weight-to-weight mixtures.
Q: I see. So it's per unit of weight?
Dr. Sharma: Per unit of weight, that's right. And per unit of weight, you take a very little amount of Amrit, which will have such a powerful effect as compared to other things which are available.
Q: Fantastic. And of course, that's a very practical measure, because when people are taking, say, vitamin C or vitamin E tablets on a daily basis, they could be taking equal weight of the vitamin or an equal weight amount of Amrit Kalash and with Amrit be getting a thousand times more antioxidant power. But the question I have is, would you therefore recommend that people who are taking Amrit, that they no longer need to take any vitamins?
Dr. Sharma: No. Vitamins, in general, have some other role. So I cannot say that you should not take vitamins. But if you compare the activity of vitamin C or E as antioxidants, with Amrit — if you are taking those things as antioxidants, you don't need to take them.
One other thing which we did not talk about is that antioxidant effects, fighting free radicals, occurs outside the cell and inside the cell. Now, inside the cell, you have to go through the cell membrane which is made of fat. But you would have to have a fat-soluble mixture which can go inside. On the outside of the cell you need a water-soluble mixture. So when you talk about vitamin C, it is only water soluble, so it can help only with the free radicals which are outside the cell. And when you talk about vitamin E, it is only lipid soluble, fat soluble, so it can help only with free radicals inside the cell. But the Amrit mixture has both antioxidants, both water soluable and lipid soluable. So it gives the total spectrum of antioxidant effect. It works outside the cell; it works inside the cell. That is why is has such wide-ranging effects.
Q: I understand that there are different classes of antioxidants, and that we can benefit from having a broad-spectrum antioxidant. Is Amrit a broad-spectrum antioxidant?
Dr. Sharma: Yes. It is the broadest-spectrum antioxidant I know of, because it works on both water-soluble and lipid-soluble free radicals. It's very powerful because it's a mixture of a large number of different bioflavonoids. These are the chemicals which are present in the plants.
Q: Excellent. With the kind of research that you've shown on Amrit Kalash — a thousand times more powerful as an antioxidant than vitamins C or E — have you been approached by the pharmaceutical companies? Because usually they're looking for this kind of breakthrough product.
Dr. Sharma: You're absolutely right. They are basically opposed to it. And the reason is because this kind of preparation they cannot patent, because it's a natural preparation. They would like to really isolate the active ingredient. And there's not a single active ingredient in Maharishi Amrit Kalash, because it's a mixture of different nutrients which are working in synergy. So you cannot really isolate one thing and use it. So basically, that's why they really are not interested.
Initially, I tell you, about ten or fifteen years ago when people heard of Amrit at a conference, there were some specialists, some investigators from a major drug company. I'm not going to name it. And they were very excited. And I asked them, "You will be interested in research on this?" They said, "No, no, no. We are not interested in research. And as a matter of fact, if this thing becomes big, we'll try to show that this thing is no good. Because if it really becomes a competitor, then we'll try to fight it out." But I think times have changed.
Q: Hopefully. Hopefully, consciousness-based living is on the rise. Can you describe for us how Amrit Kalash is prepared? Because people have concerns sometimes, perhaps that India does not have state-of-the-art production methods in terms of how the herbs are cultivated and then refined, and that the product is made with modern manufacturing standards.
Dr. Sharma: I think that's a very good question. I've been there in the manufacturing plant where it is in India. And this area in India is an export zone. Whatever is being manufactured there goes outside the country. It is not consumed by the country. So there are very strictly-monitored quality control measures there. And all these different herbs, when they're collected, when they come into the manufacturing plant, each one is identified by an herbalist, by a botanist, to make sure this is the herb they are looking for, and it's the proper part of the plant. If it's not, it is discarded. The herbs are also tested for contamination by bacteria and heavy metals. Because if they find contamination, they discard it.
Then they are also tested by this HPLC chemical process to make sure the different chemicals are there in the herbs. When the herbs pass all these parameters, then they go through the process.
As far as the technology and equipment is concerned, they have state-of-the-art equipment. They imported the equipment from outside the country, and they manufacture under hygienic conditions and they have a very strict quality control. I know of different companies which are manufacturing ayurvedic mixtures, and I think the MAPI facilities are the best.
When it comes to the North American consumer, it's tested again here in the US for heavy metals and bacterial contamination to make sure everything is proper. Otherwise it will not pass, even through the FDA and the customs department. And then it is of course distributed here by MAPI.
Q: Magic wand for the moment. If every person in America was taking Amrit on a daily basis, what kind of changes would we see in American health care?
Dr. Sharma: I think you would see a tremendous change. However, if you really wanted to see a change in health, we would have to do more than just take Amrit.
Q: Of course.
Dr. Sharma: We would need to also change our behavior. We would need to do something for the mind also — like meditation, for which I think Transcendental Meditation® is very good. But Amrit alone will change a lot for the health of the people who take it, because it has a lot of good qualities in a variety of different areas.
Q: That's great. And what has been the history of Amrit? Were there people who lived into their hundreds practicing meditation and taking Amrit on a daily basis?
Dr. Sharma: Yes. Those who did really all these things, they lived a long life. But at the same time, people say, you go to India, people are dropping dead all the time. The thing is they are not practicing these things in everyday India. So you cannot hold India up as an example of these things because, unless people practice authentic ayurveda, they cannot reap the benefits.
Q: That's really an important distinction, because you're quite right. Americans look over at India and they say, "But aren't these people doing the ayurvedic practices that are being talked about?" And what you're saying is that, to a very large degree, they are not?
Dr. Sharma: They're not.
Q: Right. And that this knowledge of ayurveda has really only recently come back into its wholeness and its purity.
Dr. Sharma: That's right. It is very important to really give out this knowledge to as large a number of people as possible, so they know what is available. If they don't know, they're missing the whole thing.
Q: Dr. Sharma, you grew up in India, and I understand that you had your training in Western medicine. But as a child, did you show any interest in ayurveda? And the ayurveda that you were exposed to, is this the ayurveda that now is becoming so popular in this country?
Dr. Sharma: It's a very interesting thing. When I was growing up, I was really taken over by the Western medical system. And that was my total education. And I was introduced to ayurveda because ayurvedic physicians are all over India. My father-in-law was an ayurvedic physician. And when I was in medical school, he tried to teach me, but I sort of ignored it. So I didn't learn anything.
And it's only after I came in contact with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation® program, that I learned a lot about ayurveda and vedic medicine. Then I did a lot of research. The effect is total transformation. Now, I've given up allopathic (Western) medicine completely. I was learning all those things at Ohio State and gave it up. So I took early retirement to do work full-time in ayurvedic medicine.
Q: And so you're now continuing to explore, both personally and professionally, ayurvedic medicine.
Dr. Sharma: Yes.
Q: Wonderful. Very exciting. Hopefully that will be the future of medicine in America, that more and more allopathic physicians get training in ayurvedic medicine.
Dr. Sharma: I hope so.
Q: When you give lectures, are people in North America really interested in this knowledge?
Dr. Sharma: The interest in ayurveda is really rising. I mean, all the conferences I'm involved in giving, and there are more and more people coming to those conferences, more physicians and more interest.
Q: When you address physician groups across the country and let them know about the research on Amrit, how do they respond? Are they interested? Are they excited? Do they want to see their patients, whose health they are charged with, taking Amrit on a daily basis? What's the pulse of the medical profession?
Dr. Sharma: They want to know where they can get it.
Dr. Sharma: The one thing is, they want to get it for their family, and then comes the patients. I think, when the knowledge is there, and they know the importance and the scientific basis, they want to have it, and they want to give it to their patients too.
Q: How many people in the United Sates, do you estimate, are currently taking Amrit Kalash on a daily basis?
Dr. Sharma: To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea.
Q: Because it'd be fascinating to compare that group over time, a kind of Framingham study, to controls of the same age, and follow the morbidity and mortality.
Dr. Sharma: That would be a fascinating study. But a long-term study like that is quite expensive.
Q: I'm trying to picture your days at The Ohio State College of Medicine. I know how conservative medical schools and medical universities can be, and here you are, a professor of pathology and director of cancer prevention, and you say that you want to start researching Maharishi Amrit Kalash. That must have raised a few eyebrows. Did you get much resistance to your research proposals?
Dr. Sharma: I think, in general, there was resistance not only at Ohio State, but at every other place. But I must say that Ohio State left me alone because I was interested in investigating. And if you're investigating something, they don't really concern themselves with what you're doing as far as the research. But the other researchers, they were talking behind my back that he's gone off the deep end. He has done all this work for all of his life, he has a nice career, and now he's working on this. They were concerned and they were sort of laughing behind my back. But when the results started coming, very good results, then they stopped talking behind my back. And when the results got published, then they wanted to join the team.
Now, the publication of this material was not easy, I can tell you that. When the results came out, I had to literally pick up the phone and fight with the editors, because they were not prepared to publish it. The first thing was, "Well, it's not allopathic medicine. It's herbal medicine. This is not in our field, so we cannot publish it." So it took some time, after fighting, that these things got published. The same thing happened with presentations also. And now you have all these alternative medicine journals and all that. So a lot of things have changed. But it was, initially, not an easy thing to do research in herbal mixtures. And, even if you find something, it was not easy to get it published.
Q: Right. Well, on behalf of American medicine and the general public, I thank you for persisting because, really, you set the standard no only for researching ayurvedic medicine, but also, really, ushering in the herbal medicine revolution in this country. And it's easy to forget how way out there you must have been perceived in coming up with such a radical answer to free radicals.
Dr. Sharma: Thank you.
Q: Let me have you step back for a moment, and perhaps you and I can dialogue about where the future of medicine is going. You know, what we hear about is still mainly in terms of high-tech, the genome project, organ transplantation, but what do you see as the future of medicine, and where we can be in the next century, in the new millennium?
Dr. Sharma: I think where medicine is really going to go forward now is in those areas it is receiving pressure from the consumers. And consumers are basically not very happy with what is going on. I know it's high-tech medicine and there are a lot of pharmaceuticals, but the outcome is results. And the results show the diseases which were really giving a lot of trouble before, are still there. Also, many of the pharmaceuticals cause other problems. And the only way to come out of this rut, in my opinion, is to have a medicine based on consciousness. If the underlying mechanism is based on consciousness, from which everything comes out, and if we have that knowledge and then introduce that knowledge into the medical system, that is the future of medicine. And slowly but surely, I think it will get incorporated. I mean, in your field, you know psychiatry has changed, and more and more people are now interested in mind-body medicine. More people are jumping into this.
Q: You know, it's interesting. Most of the potent medicines that we had even in the allopathic tradition are plant-derived, whether we're talking about aspirin, which comes from the bark of the white willow tree; or penicillin, which is mold, a primitive plant-like structure; or digitalis — digoxins are coming from the foxglove plant; tamoxifen coming from a tree in the great Northwest. Plants have always been a significant source of healing. And, certainly, 80% of the world still relies on herbal products for healing disease.
It seems new to most Americans, because we have been sold such a bill of goods by the pharmaceutical companies, who have been looking to isolate magic bullets, so to speak. But the future of medicine, I think, is going to come back to a realignment with Mother Nature once again, including our diets having less fat, fewer highly-processed foods, and more fruits and vegetables. And ayurvedic tradition pays a great deal of attention to various spices and foods that are important with the change of seasons and with optimizing health.
And the other shift I think we're going to see in the medicine of the millennium is the medicine of optimum health. How do we recreate individuals who can live at their full human potential? And I certainly have been excited for the last 30 years about the research on the Transcendental Meditation® technique, which has been researched in over 600 universities around the world in over 26 countries. And with research and science, the Scientific American, the American Journal of Physiology, showing that it produces a very unique state of restful alertness, a state of consciousness, transcendental consciousness that has profound health benefits. And we will see more and more Americans looking to practice Transcendental Meditation® on a twice-daily basis, and turning to ayurvedic medicine to help them stay in an optimal state of well-being so they will need less medical care during their lifetime.
Dr. Sharma: Very nicely put. I totally agree with you.
Q: It's been my great pleasure to have as our guest today Dr. Hari Sharma, a professor emeritus at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, a professor of pathology and former director of cancer prevention and natural products research, who has been one of the leading scientists and researchers of the herbal medicine revolution.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.