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Son of TM : Ayurveda, an Ancient Natural Health Care System, May Be Next Wave in New Age Medicine

Times Staff Writer

Despite the stock market crash on Oct. 19, for money manager Monty Gild, there was no Black Monday.

Gild, who says his Malibu investment management firm was only 20% invested in the stock market at the time, credits an ancient Indian system of preventive medicine with helping him nearly “avoid the crash.”

He and several of his associates are practitioners of Ayurveda (pronounced eye-your-VAY-dah), a natural health care system currently being revived by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his followers and quietly working its way toward the popularity of transcendental meditation (TM), the maharishi’s first major Western success story.

As a result of making dietary, exercise and life-style changes prescribed by an American MD trained in Ayurvedic principles--and then receiving detoxifying treatments such as oil massages periodically over the last four years--Gild claims he has dramatically improved his “stability, clarity and energy.”

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He was so impressed by the results that his firm now subsidizes Ayurveda treatments (at the Maharishi Ayurveda Medical Center in Pacific Palisades) for employees.

Though diet, exercise and life style adjustments recommended by Ayurveda are inexpensive, costs for outpatient treatment are relatively high. A single, two-hour detoxifying massage runs about $130; a year’s worth of the recommended purification treatments and nutritional supplements can easily exceed $5,000. And a stay at the luxurious Ayurveda facility in Lancaster, Mass., the only residential center in the United States, costs anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 a week.

Still, Gild thinks Ayurveda is worth the expense. “If (an employee’s) judgment is clear,” he said, “it can save a client--in one day--many times the $5,000 spent on Ayurveda in a year. When we perform better for our clients we perform better for our company.”

The maharishi, the television guru who introduced TM to the West in the early 1960s, considers Ayurveda so beneficial that it’s a major factor in his “Global Campaign to Create a Disease-Free Society in Every Country.”

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Though Ayurveda has been criticized by Western physicians for having no published scientific studies to back up its claims, it has drawn a stellar following since its launching in the United States about four years ago. Just as TM attracted such star practitioners as the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Ayurveda has its own list.

Actor George Hamilton, Beach Boys singer Mike Love and magician Doug Henning have all been treated by MDs using Ayurvedic medicine, which claims to eventually retard the aging process. Actress Elizabeth Taylor has repeatedly visited the Ayurveda Center in Lancaster (though her publicist says she only goes there for “meditation and the country air.”)

Love, who met the maharishi in Paris in 1967, became an Ayurveda enthusiast about two years ago. “I tell people I may be 46 years old but I have the body of an 18-year-old Adonis,” he says. “People who know me and know that I’ve been meditating for 20 years see me and say, ‘What have you been doing?’ With this Ayurveda, you look younger in your skin and body. What it’s done is enhance a feeling of restfulness. It’s given a feeling of complete balance and harmony and actual bliss in my physiology.”

Actor Marty Kove, who plays detective Victor Isbecki on TV’s “Cagney & Lacey,” began regular Ayurvedic treatments in April of this year.

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Kove used to routinely eat warm foods during warm seasons, which, in Ayurvedic practice, is not recommended for his body type. (The system distinguishes seven basic constitutional types, based on physical examination, medical history and pulse diagnosis. Recommendations are then made on everything from what type of exercise an individual should do to how hot his bath water should be to what specific herbs and spices and foods are to be eaten during each season.)

Kove found by seasonally changing such things as the temperature of his food that “my body and my mind are more balanced.”

Kove also visits the Pacific Palisades outpost--one of five such centers in the country--for massage treatments at least once a month.

“I can feel the difference in how I respond to disappointments, relationships, work load and traumatic situations like the cancellation of ‘Cagney & Lacey,’ ” he says. “Now I have more compassion. It levels you out.”

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But celebrities and high-income professionals aren’t the only ones to have sampled Ayurveda.

Roxie Teague, a former elementary schoolteacher who now tutors pupils, visits the Palisades center two to three times a year for outpatient treatments.

Improved Health

“Being a schoolteacher, I had a cold every winter for 20 years,” she recalls. “Since I started Ayurveda three years ago I haven’t had a cold. I don’t get them any more.”

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Even those with good health say they have noticed improvements. Vegetarian Keith Thompson, a vice president of public broadcast marketing, had blood chemistry tests done before he started treatments four months ago.

“My cholesterol level was 330 then. Now it’s 120,” he said. “I thought I had an excellent diet before.”

The diet recommended for Thompson’s constitutional type called for him not to change what he ate, only to change the times when he ate certain foods. “I have more strength, greater resiliency,” he said, “and a marked improvement in my perception and a greater ability to concentrate.”

Dr. John Canary, a professor of medicine and director of endocrine research at Georgetown University Medical School, is one of the few U.S. physicians who has studied Ayurveda without first being a follower of the maharishi’s. (Indeed, the specialty is so new in this country that the American Medical Assn. has no official position on it.)

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Canary looked into Ayurveda as part of his work on the World Health Organization’s committee on natural medicine.

“Ayurveda is one of two major traditional medicine systems in the world, the other being Chinese medicine,” he said.

Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda employ similar techniques such as pulse diagnosis and herbal remedies, Canary added, “and the patterns of the allopathic (Western) system in many ways come out of Ayurveda.”

Canary has not personally undergone Ayurvedic treatment but he has witnessed that of others. “I have a pretty fair idea of the quality of what is being done and I was impressed,” he said.

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Advantages, Disadvantages

Canary cautions, however, that the traditional Western system of medicine and Ayurveda both have advantages and disadvantages.

The disadvantage he sees with Ayurveda is that its low-tech diagnostic techniques may not detect all the maladies that high-tech Western computer technologies can find. “It behooves individuals to take advantage of both systems,” he advised.

Ayurvedic physicians wholeheartedly agree. Dr. Brian Rees, who treats patients with Ayurvedic techniques at the Pacific Palisades center, says he often practices conventional Western medicine there as well.

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A graduate of Tulane University’s medical school who did his residency as a family practitioner and was a U.S. Army physician for seven years, Rees says he is both Ayurvedic adviser and primary care physician for many of his patients. (Others retain their previous primary care physicians.)

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, an assistant clinical professor of sociomedical sciences at Boston University School of Medicine and former chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital, U.S. physicians tend to be less critical of Ayurveda than indifferent to it.

Chopra, an Indian-born endocrinologist who opened the Lancaster Ayurveda Center in 1986, toured the country that year lecturing on Ayurveda at such places as Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, Harvard University’s School of Public Health and the UCLA School of Medicine.

“By and large, the response has been one of indifference,” he reports. “I haven’t had any criticism so far. Actually, I would welcome some criticism so we can generate some controversy. I think we always get some knowledge when there’s controversy.”

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After the UCLA lecture in June of 1986, some physicians stayed afterward for more discussions of Ayurveda. While several said they were favorably impressed by what they heard, North Hollywood internist Saul Matlin was not convinced.

Even after Matlin had his pulse diagnosed and was informed he suffered from a specific malady, which he acknowledged he did have, Matlin found the impromptu diagnosis too “non-specific.”

“The bottom line is you either believe what he (Chopra) says or you don’t believe what he says since he isn’t giving you any (scientific) basis for proof,” Matlin said. “He didn’t give you any criteria to compare how often he’s right. All he would say is we need research for this.”

There is Ayurveda research currently under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Dr. Tony Nader, a visiting physician in neuroendocrinology at MIT and a fellow in neurology at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Nader reports that his studies are “positive and encouraging” for Ayurveda but he declines to discuss specifics until they are published. He adds however that there are now about 30 Ayurveda-related research projects under way at medical schools and health institutions in the United States.

Chopra estimates that 45 physicians throughout the United States are practicing Ayurveda either at one of the centers (in Washington; Fairfield, Iowa; New York City; Lancaster, Mass.; and Pacific Palisades) or privately. He also estimates that about 5,000 patients have been treated in the U.S. and “at least 200,000 throughout the world, via Ayurveda centers in London, Rome, Sydney, New Delhi, Perth and other cities.”

Among patients, there is typically agreement that the most delightful aspect of Ayurveda is its “panchakarma” treatments, specifically the warm oil massages performed by a synchronized duo of massage technicians. For these two-hour long treatments, sesame oil with herbs prescribed for the patient’s constitutional type are gently but briskly massaged into the skin. For the last 15 minutes of one such treatment, oil is slowly but continually poured on the patient’s forehead. The procedure is said to “caress” the pituitary gland and to produce a state of near-nirvana.

“The oil has a salutary effect on the physiology,” Rees explains. “It opens subtle channels of circulation and it allows impurities to be mobilized and eliminated.”

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Such massage/detoxification treatments are not available to just anyone, however. They are only prescribed after a consultation with a doctor.

High Cost

Because such treatments are extremely labor intensive, their cost is relatively high, Chopra says.

Nonetheless, he argues that such an investment is cost-effective in the long run. “A prescription for an antibiotic can cost you more than $100,” he reasons. “Going to the hospital in this country costs you $400 to $500 a day. A coronary bypass costs $25,000.”

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At the moment, Chopra says, insurance companies only reimburse Ayurveda patients for the cost of physician consultations ($145 for the initial visit, $75 for subsequent evaluations at the Pacific Palisades center).

But he expects that to change with time. “Thirty years ago health insurance wouldn’t pay for medical services, only surgical services,” he points out. “Gradually, insurance companies began paying for medical services, then diagnostic services. They still don’t pay for preventive medicine, stress management and nutrition. It’s just a question of educating them. When they realize that paying for these things could save them billions of dollars in technological costs for treatment of chronic illness, this will begin to change.”

Lately, Chopra has found increasing receptivity in the preventive tenets of Ayurveda from those who wind up paying much of the U.S. health bills--large corporations.

In recent months, he has lectured at such companies as Arco Corp. and McDonnell-Douglas.

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Chopra contends that the most significant changes in medicine have not come from within the medical profession but from those outside the system who are disgruntled.

He cites, for example, the fact that it took “the U.S. and the surgeon general many years and several million dollars to document that smoking was harmful to our health. Even then, when it was made a policy there was a lot of controversy about it.”

A change in the way smoking is viewed did not come from organized medicine, Chopra says. And he feels it’s unrealistic to expect the medical profession to make the type of changes advocated by Ayurveda.

“These changes have to come from society,” he insists, with no trace of regret in his voice. “That’s the way it should be anyway.”

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