It’s an approach to medicine that, like other Asian medical systems, looks at the individual, addresses diet, lifestyle and spirit, and strives for balance in each person, It focuses on prevention, and sees, many illnesses not as a collection of symptoms but as imbalances within the body, mind or spirit that, once balance is restored, eats disease at its root.
It’s called ayurveda – a 3,000- to 5,000-year-old holistic healthcare system trickling westward from India with its emigrants, as did Chinese medicine with workers who came to build the railroads here early this century. And while it’s not widely available in New Jersey, some people are seeding it out as word about it spreads as the alternative medicine of the moment.
One such person is Marie Pizarro-Ferrante, 40, of Belleville. She had experienced some health problems eiidometriosis and lupus – but a difficult pregnancy with lingering side effects from medication and hospital procedures pushed her from self-administered, alternative health care into the office of a Western-trained and ayurvedicary trained physician. “I’m able to live a normal life because of him,” says Pizarro-Ferrante, who now takes her 4-year-old daughter Mariah to Scott Gerson for ayurvedic care, though she depends on a pediatrician for immunizations and other Western health care needs.Westerners find ayurveda through any number of philosophical, New Age or alternative lifestyle venues. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi touts it, along with his mind-focusing Transcendental Meditation. Dr. Deepak Chopra, the Harvard-trained endocrinologist, reinvigorated interest in ayurveda by preaching his blend of Western medicine, meditation, diet and exercise in public appearances and various books.
Gerson came to it after becoming interested in Eastern philosophy and spiritual issues while growing up in Sayreville. He liked the healing aspects of it, went to India, mastered Sanskrit and graduated from an ayurvedic university there. After returning to the United States with a bachelor’s degree in ayurvedic medicine and surgery, he graduated from New York’s Mount Sinai medical school and completed his residency in internal medicine. He’s passionate about ayurveda and its potential. He calls his practice a ministry.
“I was not interested in getting the medical degree at first,” says Gerson, who, to his knowledge, is the only Westerner to hold joint degrees. “But it was pointed out to me by a very wise advisor that, for at least the next 50 years, in order to best propagate ayurveda out of India, it would be best to couple it with the prevailing medical training of the west. In that way, I could create the reliability and confidence that people will need to enjoy ayurveda.
“There is a need to demystify the central concepts of ayurveda and put them into terms that the Western mind can understand.” At Gerson’s New York office, patients are likely to receive pulse, tongue and a urine diagnosis in the ayurvedic tradition. If necessary, they undergo X-ray, EKG, stress tests and other conventional medical diagnostic tests.” Ayurvedic medicine does not compete with or replace modem medicine, but rather completes it,” says Gerson, who attends and participates in both conventional and ayurvedic medical conferences, and is conducting pioneering scientific research on medicinal properties of herbs used for ayurveda. His practice is pulling in many people with stress or chronic disease – disorders for which Western medicine has no answers. In Ferrante’s case, Gerson spent about an hour with her for the first appointment, interviewing her about her lifestyle, diet and problems. In subsequent visits, she began an herbal regimen to control the lupus and, at one point, underwent panchakarma (deep tissue massage and other cleansing techniques).
John Platt, 50, of Bloomsbury, says he lives a healthy lifestyle, but Gerson has helped him with occasional minor problems – bursitis and a shoulder ailment. “He is excellent with pharmaceuticals and herbology,” says Platt. “He knows when I should take a pharmaceutical and when I can replace it with an herb, and when not to nix one with the other.” And, says Platt, Gerson knows how to mitigate the side effects of drugs and how to rid the body of to3dns through panchakanna. Most practitioners of ayurveda feel that, ideally, it works as a complement to Western medicine. Western (allopathic)
What are the elements of ayurveda?
Doshas: There are three basic constitutions, vata, pitta and kapha, in the body. When they are out of balance, it can cause disorders or disease in the body.
Diet: The foods you eat help to keep the body balanced, or could create an imbalance. Some foods work better for vatas, some for pittas and some for kaphas.
Lifestyle: Ayurveda, khich means the knowledge of life, offers many conimon-sense suggestions on quality-of-life issues – not eating unless you’re hungry, sleeping when you’re tired, staying warrn and out of drafts if you have the flu, regular exercise and meditation.
Herbal medicines: Usually, these are a combination of dried and powdered herbs taken in capsule or brewed into a tea, and used to enhance everything from relaxation to liver function. They also are used in “panchakarma,” a blend of massage, sweating and purging for detoxifying the body. The herbs are classified as dietary supplements and are sold without prescription in the United States.
There’s also the mystical, spiritual side of ayurveda, which sees all intelligence and wisdom as flowing from one source.