In this newsletter we interview the herbal research pioneer and author of Freedom from Disease, Hari Sharma, M.D.
Q: Today we will be interviewing 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 done over ten years of groundbreaking research on herbal medicines and a prevention-oriented approach to well-being called Maharishi Ayurveda. Dr. Sharma has published more than 100 scientific articles and has authored three books. He has presented his work worldwide, including to the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration (USA). Also, Dr. Sharma is the only U.S. physician to be honored by being named Fellow of the National Academy of Ayurveda under the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs, Government of India. So, without further ado, Dr. Sharma, welcome to our program.
Dr. Sharma: Thank you.
Q: In your book, Freedom from Disease you say that we're in the midst of a medical revolution. Could you describe for us that revolution?
Dr. Sharma: Yes. I wrote that book a few years ago, and at that time we were talking about a basic, common underlying mechanism of disease process. We talked about free radicals. We discussed free radicals as the main chain of events causing the majority of disorders.
Q: Could you explain for the listener what free radicals are, and their significance for health and disease?
Dr. Sharma: Free radicals are those elements which are produced in the body. These are either atoms or molecules which have one electron missing in the outer orbit. Usually, in the outer orbit, in the outer shell, there are two electrons. And in a free radical molecule one of these electrons is missing. You need two of them to balance each other. Free radicals are the by-products of the metabolic process. So free radicals are produced all the time in our bodies and cells. And the body uses free radicals to defend itself against infection. However, if free radicals are produced in large numbers, then they start attacking the body and cause damage.
Q: Thank you. And what are the implications of free radicals for the medical revolution you were describing in Freedom from Disease?
Dr. Sharma: Free radicals are an underlying mechanism, because they damage the cells, they damage the mitochondria which produce the energy for the body, they damage the DNA which controls all the functions of the cells, they can damage the cell membrane, they can damage the lining in the cell. Similarly they can damage different organs, joints, the heart, the pancreas. Many scientists now believe that 80-90% of disorders are related to free radicals.
Q: Eighty-ninety percent of all medical disorders are related to free radicals. Can you explain this story? This is, I think to most listeners, rather astonishing.
Dr. Sharma: Free radicals are produced all the time. If they're produced in large numbers, instead of protecting the body from damage due to outside forces, they start attacking the cells. Let's look at it this way. If you have a large home, a large palace, and you have your own private security force, they are there to protect you. Then you go on vacation, and the security guards invite their friends and their relatives to rob you. Similarly, this is what happens with free radicals. They are essential to life, but if large numbers are produced, then they attack you and cause a lot of damage. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ulcers, aging — the most common disorders — liver disorders, kidney disorders — these are all related to free radicals. So if we can prevent and balance the generation of free radicals, we can really wipe out the majority of disorders.
Q: As an MD and scientist, what would you suggest can be done for this excess production of free radicals so that people can truly experience freedom from disease?
Dr. Sharma: There are two things. One thing is to know what causes increased production of free radicals. The second is to utilize the factors which balance the increased production of free radicals. So let's discuss the increased production of free radicals. The most common cause, which is frequently ignored, is mental pressure. Mental pressure, tension, hostility, anger — emotional disturbances such as these — all create or generate hormones like catecholamines, epinephrine, distress hormones, etc. which act on the cell membrane and create free radicals. And their byproducts also act as free radicals. So one thing is this mental aspect. It has to be taken care of.
The other causes of increased production of free radicals include the diet. Polyunsaturated fats create free radicals. Meat and aged cheeses create free radicals. Chemicals, radiation, environmental pollution, and drugs create free radicals. Alcohol and smoking also create free radicals. So making an adjustment in any of these areas will help to decrease the amount of free radicals we generate. Of course, there are some things we have no control over — for example, the pollution in our environment — so we need to take steps to help the body combat the free radicals this generates.
Q: As a research scientist, what attracted you to ayurvedic medicine in your search for a solution to free radical cell damage?
Dr. Sharma: Before we discuss that, let me talk about how the body balances the increased production of free radicals, and then I'll come back to your question. There are certain enzymes in the body, and if there is increased production of free radicals, these enzymes can help take care of it. There are also certain items in our food which can balance free radicals. These we call antioxidants. Many people are now becoming aware of the antioxidant properties of vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene.
The most powerful antioxidants in nature are in the herbs. When we have the proper mixture of herbs, they can really control a large amount of free radicals. Fruits and vegetables are also a good source of antioxidants. So, if on one side we indulge in activities which create more free radicals, and on the other side we have enzymes and antioxidants, then there's a balance. But if there is yet more production of free radicals, you have to really balance it further; otherwise there will be increased damage. So this is what led to my investigation of ayurveda as I became interested in the possibility of the support that traditional herbal ayurvedic formulas could provide.
Q: I see. Perhaps you could explain what ayurveda is for our listeners.
Dr. Sharma: Ayurveda is a very ancient, very comprehensive health care system. This health care system does not focus on the various organs. Ayurveda does not have a cardiac specialist and a liver specialist, etc. Ayurvedic physicians look at the body as a whole. They take care of the mind, the physiology, what you're eating, what you're affected by, your senses, your emotions, and also the environment you live in. So the total picture is taken into consideration when somebody is sick, in order to set it right. Ayurveda uses more than 20 different technologies, one of which is the use of herbal mixtures.
Ayurveda did not originate in present-day India — it originated in ancient India, a long, long time ago. There are written texts that the ayurvedic physicians use as the basis for their treatment programs. And there is a tremendous amount of clinical experience which demonstrates the validity of this health care system. Also, a great deal of research has been done, mostly in the East, but in the West also, which validates these ayurvedic technologies.
Q: Fantastic. And what's the distinction between ayurveda and Maharishi Ayurveda?
Dr. Sharma: Basically, overall, ayurveda is the same. But with the passage of time, the way ayurveda was practiced in India became fragmented. Many of the technologies were lost and the totality was not taken into account. Ayurveda was reduced to the use of herbal mixtures. What Maharishi did was to gather the scholars and scientists together and put back the totality of ayurveda. The mind, the consciousness, the physiology, senses, environment, the total picture is taken into account. This is known as Maharishi Ayurveda, but this is the ancient, original ayurveda.
Q: I see. And how does this consciousness-based system of medicine relate to modern science?
Dr. Sharma: Modern science .. that is a very good question. If you really want to talk about modern science, we should compare it with physics. There is Newtonian physics, which is based on a cause-and-effect relationship. For everything you see outside in the relative world, there is a cause-and-effect relationship. Then there is the recently-discovered quantum physics, which goes beyond the subatomic particles to a substratum known as the unified field. Everything in creation originates from this unified field, so if you work from the level of that field, you can effectively manage the outside field of the relative world. But today's medicine is still working on the level of cause-and-effect relationships, which is Newtonian physics. It has not gone beyond that to the level of quantum physics. In the human physiology, from the outside level we see various organs and their disorders.
But what is the basis? It goes beyond all this, to the quantum level. At that level, the relevant factor is the consciousness. From consciousness, all of creation emerges. So if you are going to treat a disorder effectively, you must work at the level of the basic cause of the disease process — which is consciousness. Consciousness must be taken into consideration. That is where the mind comes into play. If you ignore the mind, you're ignoring a big chunk of the problem, so the problem is never solved. If you treat only the symptoms of a disease, you find that the health problem keeps coming back. Symptomatic treatment is incomplete and ineffective.
Q: I'm very excited to hear your description of consciousness-based medicine because, as a physician, as a psychiatrist, I've been very intrigued with holistic medicine. But, clearly, ayurveda is the fulfillment of holistic medicine. It is a body-mind-spirit system of health care. And I'm wondering if you can tell us how ayurvedic herbs are similar or dissimilar to prescription medications. Because most Americans now have become very disenchanted with the toxic side effects from many prescription drugs. There are more Americans going to see alternative health practitioners rather than their MD/GP for the first time in our history. But how would you compare ayurvedic herbs to prescription drugs?
Dr. Sharma: The prescription drugs, as you know, have now become the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Q: That's right.
Dr. Sharma: And so, the majority of people now don't want to take drugs unless they really have to take them. Prescription drugs are very powerful because they are single substances that have been isolated and concentrated — the so-called active ingredient. A prescription drug which is given, for example, to treat heart disease will work on the heart, but will also affect other areas. It has an indiscriminate action. And this indiscriminate action results in toxic effects. Every drug has a toxic effect. Sometimes these toxic effects are so powerful that they can actually kill the patient.
On the other hand, in Maharishi Ayurveda the approach of totality is used. Ayurveda has all the knowledge of the various herbs and their medicinal properties. And these properties differ, whether in the root or the stem or the flower or the fruit, so you have to know which part to use. Ayurveda has this knowledge. It also has the knowledge of which chemicals are present from season to season in the herbs, so the herbs are harvested at the proper time. And now, using the latest technology, a special technique known as HPLC can identify whether those chemicals are present or not in the harvested herbs. So when you use the totality of the plant products and herbal mixtures, you effectively treat the disease which you want to cure, and at the same time, side effects are prevented by the other chemicals in the mixture. There are also chemicals in the herbs that produce synergistic effects. So, we have two advantages occurring. There are synergistic effects which increase the potency of the treatment, and toxic effects are negated. People everywhere are finding this out. That's why there is an increase in the use of ayurvedic technologies and herbal mixtures.
Q: I've been fascinated to read in medical journals the research you've conducted on the Maharishi Amrit Kalash herbal formulas. Could you tell us about that specific research and what the implications are for what you were describing earlier in terms of free radical cell damage and looking for a more holistic solution?
Dr. Sharma: There is a very interesting story behind it. I attended a conference on ayurveda in the late 80's in India. Maharishi was giving the whole conference, with some very renowned vaidyas.
Q: Can you describe what they are?
Dr. Sharma: Vaidyas are ayurvedic physicians. In India, there is a five-year course to become an ayurvedic physician. And then, of course, there is postgraduate training and all that. At this conference there were many ayurvedic experts — deans and professors and experienced physicians and Maharishi. Of course, they were saying that ayurveda can do this and this and this — very high-sounding claims that it can cure anything. It was very difficult for me to swallow because I've been trained in Western medicine, where everything has to be tested by research and verified. So then this idea came out, that we should do research. And after a lot of discussion, Maharishi asked me to carry out this research, because a lot of the people who were there were practitioners who had no research background. These practitioners were giving their ideas on how the research should be done. Finally, I spoke up and told them how it should be done. So Maharishi picked up on that. He said, "Okay. You go ahead and plan and execute the research."
At that time, I had no idea of what I was getting into or what results the research would produce, because there was no background of research at that point. One of the things which was discussed was that Amrit Kalash basically prevents the aging process. So I said it is very difficult to do research on the aging process. And even if you do, you'd be long gone before you get the results! So we considered what should be done. During the aging process, several things happen: the blood vessels become thick and you can get heart disease; the immunity decreases and you can get cancer — all these things happen.
So I suggested we conduct research on cancer, on immunity, on atherosclerosis (thickening of the blood vessels) and on platelet aggregation, which is part of the blood-clotting process. The blood becomes thick, and there are many problems associated with that. So we planned all these experiments. When the research results started coming out, it was really very fascinating. It surprised me completely. We did not expect such profound results from one mixture. Usually, one drug gives one result. But this one mixture showed anti-cancer properties, increased immunity, prevention of atherosclerosis which causes heart disease, and prevention of the toxic effects of chemotherapy. And then we found out it's a very powerful antioxidant. So, a large number of positive results came from this herbal mixture.
Q: And would you say that Amrit Kalash actually can solve the free radical problem that is so ubiquitous?
Dr. Sharma: I think this is one of the most powerful mixtures which, as far as I know, is available in the world today which has such powerful effects. And the Amrit Kalash mixture is not limited to antioxidant effect. It also has an anti-cancer effect. It helps prevent cancer and also dissolves the fully-formed tumors. At the same time, it also helps prevent the toxic effects of chemotherapy.
Q: It dissolves tumors?
Dr. Sharma: That's right. There is work going on, and they have found that apart from helping to prevent the toxic effects of chemotherapy, the addition of Maharishi Amrit Kalash has an anti-cancer effect that is much more than chemotherapy alone. We had previously seen this anti-cancer effect in animal experiments with Amrit.
Q: Wow. Very exciting!
Dr. Sharma: This research is now being conducted in humans. From animal and lab experiments, we know that Amrit Kalash has anti-cancer effects in breast cancer and lung cancer, and in a tumor of the nervous system, called neuroblastoma. Now we are finding very fascinating clinical results in patients in these same areas.
Q: Wow. Is there other research going on, on this remarkable herbal formula because, clearly, this ought to be trumpeted around the world.
Dr. Sharma: Oh, yes. Apart from the U.S., research is going on in India, in Russia also, in Japan, in Holland, in various places around the world. And it's really fascinating. Some clinical work is being conducted on heart disorders also. Amrit Kalash helps prevent heart disease. It helps prevent arteriosclerosis, the hardening of blood vessels. And if somebody has angina — pain in the heart on walking or some other activity — it reduces that pain, and increases the work activity of the heart. So that's why I think Amrit Kalash has a much more far-reaching effect than a lot of herbal mixtures I know of, and any pharmaceutical I know of. Without any toxic effects.
Q: I'm fascinated because, in 1977, I went on ABC News 20/20 show to talk about the research on St. John's Wort, which was very exciting, electrifying, to Americans at that point. Last year, in 1998, I went back on ABC News 20/20 and talked about Kava Kava, which is a natural tranquilizer. But, clearly, the research you're telling us about on Maharishi Amrit Kalash is much more exciting, is much more profound, has much larger implications than even St. John's Wort and Kava Kava, because it really applies to staying healthy and avoiding disease. Why aren't we seeing this on the front page of the New York Times, and where people are informed of an exciting opportunity to practice prevention-oriented medicine at its very best?
Dr. Sharma: Yes. Well, I think it's because experts like you have talked about Kava Kava and St. John's Wort. We have not talked about Amrit Kalash. The time has come for you to go on ABC and NBC and CBS and talk about Maharishi Amrit Kalash.
Q: Well, I'll do that with you. Because it is time, you're quite right. Can you tell us more about any studies that have been done on Amrit and the brain?
Dr. Sharma: Yes, there is some excellent work which we did on Amrit and the brain. We made microsomes from the brain cells and then tested whether we could prevent the oxidant damage, the free radical damage, and we found Amrit prevented that. So Amrit definitely has an effect in the prevention of ongoing damage to the brain itself.
Q: There is a mixture I've heard about here in America — it can be found in Indian grocery stores — called Chavanprash. Is that the same thing as Amrit, or is it different?
Dr. Sharma: Chavanprash is not the same thing as Amrit. A lot of people get confused that anything which is a paste and looks dark and brown in nature must be Amrit. That's what Chavanprash looks like, but this does not make it the same as Amrit. Chavanprash is a nice mixture; it's an ayurvedic mixture. I have no problem with that. Chavanprash is usually given in India in the winter because it helps prevent colds and coughs. So it is good for that. However, I'm not aware of any kind of extensive research which has been done on Chavanprash which details the same kind of benefits that we see in the scientific research done on Amrit.
Also, the herbs which are in Amrit Kalash are not in Chavanprash. There may be one or two which are common, but basically they are different mixtures. And many of the mixtures you see marketed as Chavanprash are not actually the traditional formula for this mixture, as many of the ingredients detailed in the ayurvedic texts are very hard to locate. So the manufacturers substitute other cheaper, less effective ingredients. Basically Chavanprash and Amrit Kalash are two very different herbal mixtures and Amrit has much wider effects which have been validated scientifically.
Q: So for someone who really wants to have the scientifically-researched holistic benefits, then Amrit Kalash is the way to go?
Dr. Sharma: That's right. That would be my first choice.
Q: Can you describe to us a little bit more how an individual would take Amrit. I mean, I'm thinking about our readers. How would the average person know that they're getting quality Amrit? And how would you go about taking it? And how soon could you expect results?
Dr. Sharma: Let me talk a little bit about some research we did, then I'll tell you the dose and all that. At Ohio State, we had a whole division working on research on high lipids. As you know, the whole nation is talking about high blood lipids and high cholesterol. And one of the main factors involved is that cholesterol causes a great deal of damage when it gets oxidized, when the fat becomes rancid. Just like in a car, the oil becomes bad. That's why we change the oil, because it will damage the engine. So one of the things which has to be done when somebody's lipids are high is to prevent oxidation of that lipid, oxidation of that cholesterol. We put patients with high lipids on Amrit to see what the effect would be. Usually when you do a study like this, you get 20% positive results, maybe 30%. If you get 40%, you feel really excited that a lot of things are happening. In the Amrit study, in three months, every patient was showing a very significant, positive antioxidant effect.
Q: Every patient?
Dr. Sharma: Every patient. Which I've never seen, really. You normally don't get 100% results. This was 100% success. We published all that work. And during this work, we had a placebo group and a group which was taking Amrit. The problem which arose was that the placebo group found out that Amrit was very effective, then we couldn't keep the placebo group. Because they will go and buy it themselves and start taking it! So, the participants acted as their own control in this study. We compared their oxidation of lipids before they started Amrit, to the results after they had been on Amrit. Now, coming to the dose of Amrit. There are two forms of Amrit. One is a tablet and one is paste. The name is the same — Amrit Kalash — but the two are not the same thing. They are mixtures of different herbs. We have used in our research the name MAK-4 for the paste (or Maharishi Amrit Kalash Nectar) and MAK-5 for the tablets (or Maharishi Amrit Kalash Ambrosia). And they are both very powerful.
Q: They're different herbs literally?
Dr. Sharma: They are different herbs. MAK-5 (Ambrosia) is one mixture of herbs and MAK-4 (Nectar) is a different mixture. The basic difference, apart from the herbs, is that the MAK-4 also contains clarified butter (ghee) and honey and whole cane sugar. And it's a powerful mixture. The dose is one teaspoon twice a day for this paste. Some people like the taste, and some people have trouble with the taste because of the herbs. But most people get used to it. To help with taking the paste, you can mix it with water or with juice or with milk or with tea or coffee or whatever. The dose of MAK-5 (Ambrosia) is one tablet twice a day.
When you're looking for the results of taking Amrit, remember that it is not working on the level of the emotions, so you won't feel any highs or lows or anything like that. We did a survey of 60 or 100 individuals who had been taking Amrit for more than six months. We also did blood tests to see if there were any toxic effects. We did not find any toxic effects. We did biochemical tests for the whole body — for the liver, for the pancreas, for the kidney — everything was normal. What we found very interesting was that those people who had been taking Amrit felt, in general, more healthy. And they did not get sick. Usually people get a cold, a cough, or a minor sickness here and there. They didn't. Or if they did get something, they recovered from that illness very quickly. And they felt that, overall, their sense of well-being and health was much better.
And we know, from the research, that when you take Amrit, you help improve your immunity, you help improve your overall body functions, you help prevent cancer, and you help prevent heart disease. This we know from experiments we have conducted. Also, clinical studies on patients show that overall health is much better. So Amrit is really taken as an anti-aging agent. Amrit is not just vitamins, it's not just minerals, it's much more than that. So Amrit is not a kind of replacement for taking vitamins and minerals. It is something else which is needed in the highly stressful and highly polluted environment in which we live.
Q: Which is what we have in America.
Dr. Sharma: That's right.
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.