Sunday, 17 November 2013

Traditional Knowledge, Natural Growth

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at

Nature is a great leveler. She rules not only our environment but also our being. She exerts both external as well as internal influence on us, the creations of the Almighty.

Ayurveda has always fascinated me. It is there in my blood. My forefathers were Ayurvedic practitioners and maybe that is what got me interested in this topic “Traditional knowledge, natural growth.” So let us first explore the meaning of Ayurveda .

Ayurveda is a traditional system of medicine. Here “Ayur” or “Ayus” means life whereas “Veda” means divine classical knowledge. This system of medicine is incorporated in the last of the four Vedas i.e. Atharva veda. Ayurveda is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems. The approach is holistic. Here Nature plays a vital role not only in the treatment of bodily ailments, but also in developing the immune system and providing a healthy constitution. Unlike chemically processed/ synthetic products, Ayurvedic medicines/ products are processed from natural ingredients and hence are relatively harmless when compared to chemically processed/ synthetic products. 

The human body is a combination of the ‘panchatathvas’ or five elements i.e. ether, air, fire, water and earth and each individual is governed by ‘tridosas’- Vatha, Pita, Kapha. Any change in equilibrium of any of these five elements or the ‘tridosas’ has a direct bearing on the human body and mind. The ratio of these elements varies from person to person. Ayurveda views each person as a unique individual and prescribes different treatment / care protocols for different people.

Now let us take a look at chemically processed /synthetic products. Unlike Ayurvedic products, chemically processed/ synthetic products are formed during chemical reactions as reagents are consumed. They are produced by chemical synthesis and not by a natural process. Unlike the Ayurvedic products that rarely have any side effect when used/ consumed over a long period, majority of the chemically processed/ synthetic products are known to have disastrous consequences/ side-effects if used/ consumed continuously over a period of time. Now let us take the example of Baby powder.

Baby powder contains talc. What is talc? Talc is a mineral produced by mining talc rocks. This is then processed, dried and milled. Studies have revealed that talc is toxic, in fact carcinogenic. It is harmful when inhaled and is known to cause respiratory problems. When applying talcum powder the babies are always at a risk of inhalation of this carcinogen. Furthermore this April the FDA suspended the licence of a major baby powder manufacturer in India temporarily, following the detection of ethylene oxide in 15 batches of baby powder manufactured at its Mulund plant.

Ethylene oxide is carcinogenic, mutagenic and irritating. Constant, unprotected exposure to this chemical can damage the lungs and cardiovascular system and can also, cause genetic mutation or DNA alteration thereby leading to cancer. Same is the case with many other chemically processed/ synthetic personal products like shampoos, soaps etc used in both child and adult care.

We all know that cod liver oil is rich in Omega -3 fatty acids, EPA, DHA, Vitamin A and Vitamin D. It is known to prevent rickets and Vitamin D deficiency in children. However are all brands of cod liver oil available in the market today, really safe? Well, the method of manufacture has certainly undergone a sea change. I happened to read an article wherein the author an avid fan of cod liver oil, narrates her experience with the oil. She tells us that her entire family including the babies used to take cod liver oil of a particular brand daily and they found it to be truly beneficial. The product was processed and manufactured in the traditional way i.e. by filling a wooden barrel with fresh cod livers and sea water and allowing the mixture to ferment before it was marketed. However, the manufacturers later following the footsteps of other manufacturers discarded the traditional method and took to the method adopted by most other cod liver oil manufacturers wherein the natural vitamins were removed in processing and synthetic vitamins were added back. The end result was oil far- far removed from its original quality and something that did not appeal to both children and adults alike. It is imperative that cod liver oil supplements given to babies and children are free from contaminants like mercury, cadmium; lead and PCBs or else the effects of the intake will be negative.

If a toddler does not crawl, sit or take his/ her first steps at the right time, it is but natural for the parents to worry. Exceptions aside, a baby well fed on a nutritional diet and well oiled and massaged regularly should keep the parents miles from worry. Today we have a range of ayurvedic oils as well as chemically processed/ synthetic baby oils to choose from. This often is very confusing. So what should we look for when trying to make the right choice? Let us try to analyze the difference between the two.

Babies are more prone to the side effects of harmful pollutants. Their organs being underdeveloped are incapable of fending off the side effects of chemicals. Damage to their organs in the developing years can cause serious complications in later life.

Synthetic baby oil is 100% mineral oil. It is in fact a petroleum product made from crude oil and is used as a metal cutting fluid. It is also known as paraffin oil. An article by Scot Maline at Ezine opened my eyes to the disastrous side effects of mineral oil especially in the context of babies. Parents with good intention apply this oil on their babies little knowing the ill- effects. Mineral oil interferes with the skin’s ability to breathe naturally. It coats the skin like a plastic wrap thereby clogging the pores. This in turn reduces the skins ability to eliminate toxin. Skin function and cell development is negatively impacted. There are also chances that the oil is contaminated with cancer causing PAHs i.e Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. Regular use of the oil may also affect the functioning of the liver.  Chronic use of mineral oil in the treatment of constipation too is found to cause side effects.

Now compare this with Ayurvedic baby oil preparations. Ayurvedic products are neither bleached nor chemically processed. Passed down through centuries, these ayurvedic preparations are laced with the goodness of nature. Ayurveda strongly advocates Abhyanga or massage with baby oil. Babies are often prone to irregular food habits, mood swings, disturbed sleep patterns, etc. This according to Ayurveda is on account of Vata Dosa.  Regular massage helps promote growth and development along with balancing the vata dosa. It also helps the baby relax. In ancient times these oils and other ayurvedic preparations were brewed in earthen vessels on fire wood. Today things have changed with the setting up of factories and introduction of mechanization. However, the herbs, the proportions, the method remain the same. The goodness of nature was captured then and the goodness of nature is captured now too.

Balathailam, Ksheerabalathailam, Shashtika Tailam Balaswagandhadhi Thailam, Lakshadi Tailam are some of the traditional ayurvedic massage oils readily available in traditional ayurvedic pharmacies. Apart from these we have some others like Dabur Lal Tail,  Himani Sona Chandi Healthy and Fair Ayurvedic Baby Masage Oil, Burt’s Bee Baby Bee Nourishing Baby Oil, etc. All these oils are enriched with natural herbs and ingredients like sandal, almonds, basil, neem, ratanjyot,shankha pushpin, camphor and oils   like virgin coconut oil, till or gingelly oil, olive oil, apricot oil, grape seed oil, etc. The ingredients each in their own way contribute to the baby’s growth and development. While some protect the baby from skin infections, some improve blood circulation, some nourish the muscles and bones, and some relax the body thereby helping the baby get good sleep. And the best part of these ayurvedic preparations is that they are said to be free of phthalates, petrochemicals and parabens.

The Ayurveda system of child care being all encompassing, all elements impacting a baby’s health are taken into account while recommending measures for it health and development. Combination of Brahmi, Vacha and Shankapushpi with honey and ghee is recommended for improving overall immunity and intelligence. There are similarly many other herbal combinations, rasayanas, aasavas, arishtams that cater to the needs of the growing child.  

In the end I would just like to add that it is always better to avoid the use of chemically processed/ synthetic products for babies and growing children.

This post is written for the   Dabur Lal Tail  contest on indiblogger

Here we were required to write a post on our understanding of Ayurvedic and chemically processed/synthetic products, and their role in a baby's early growth & development. 

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