Nagarjuna, the father of Rasashastra asserted that he would make the word free from the poverty and diseases. He mastered the art of converting low metals into precious metals like gold and number of mercurial therapeutic preparations for eliminating diseases.
In brief Rasashastra means Ayurvedic metalo-mineral pharmaceuticals and therapeutics as such, it deals mainly with the drugs of mineral origin, their varieties, characteristics, processing techniques, properties and therapeutic uses. The term Rasasastra is composed of two words i.e. Rasa and Sastra. In general the word Rasa represents for many things, however in this context it has been used for two meanings. The first meaning is an "absorbable form of drugs" and the second meaning is "mercury". The word Sastra means the science or the "knowledge". Thus the technical term Rasayana means the science or the knowledge, which may teach to convert the drugs, irrespective of their nature (i.e. herbal, mineral or animal) in Rasa or absorbable form. As per the second meaning the term Rasasastra is to denote a science or the knowledge related to mercurial processing.
In the context of Rasasastra two term denoting concepts are generally referred to i.e. Lohavedhat Rasavedhal Dhatuvedah or Rasayanavedah, Actually these are the two main objectives of Rasasastra. A Dhatuvedah is converting low metals into precious heavy metals. B Dehavedha is making the body very strong, free from diseases, and stable for longer duration with the use of mercurial preparations.
The actual development of Rasasastra as an independent branch of learning and therapy was started from the S'" century A.D. But before that period in Caraka and Susruta Samhitas also there is a good deal of description of prathiva type of drugs, their processing techniques and their principles.
There is a need of standardization of preparation of metalo-mineral drugs (SOP) and also their validation for safety as there is an undue fear about the toxicity of these drugs. This therapeutic branch is neglected though it has high potentials.
Number of mineral, animal and marine products find place in ancient as well as in contemporary literatures of Ayurveda for therapeutic purposes. I am very happy that the matter is compiled and systematically presented in this book, "Ayurvedic Minerals, Gems and Animal Products for Longevity and Rejuvenation". I hope this compilation will be very useful for the students, researchers, academicians and doctors.
Recent researches have indicated now that most of the items used for rejuvenation and longevity (Rasayana) may have antioxidant, immunomodulater, or adaptogenic properties, and by virtue of these effects, they help in stress, ageing and even in sexual inadequacies. Rasayana is a Sanskrit word, consisting of two parts: Rasa which means- extract and ayana is path. The primordial tissues of the body, formed by the assimilation of dietary items is called Rasadhatu (rasa is extract and dhatu tissue so Rasadhatu means the tissue formed by the extract of nutrients). The products, which improve the quality of this Rasadhatu by utilizing the extracts of the nutrients in a proper way are Rasayana. According to Carak Samhita (written about 100 AD), by the use of Rasayana " One obtains longevity, regains youth, gets a sharp memory, intelligence, freedom from diseases, lustrous complexion and strength (sexual) of a horse." This diverse action of Rasayana may be due to their property of modulating an endogenous system of the body, setting into motion a cascade of events leading to the multiple effects due to psycho-neuro-immunology. Some recent studies have shown that Rasayana act primarily on the components of the immune system such as macrophages and activate the cytokine network. Pretreatment with Rasayana is effective in protecting animals to a varying degree from different infections. If used after infection, with or without antibiotics, they reduced mortality as compared to the control. These have significant immunomodulater, cytoprotective and anticanerous effect also. Oral administration of four Rasayana preparations significantly increased total leukocyte count, bone marrow cellularity, natural killer cell activity and antibody dependent cellular toxicity in mice exposed to gamma radiation. These also reduced radiation induced lipid peroxidation in the liver. This action could be due to increased stem cell proliferation and effect on free radical induced injury produced by radiation. One of these Brahma Rasayana inhibited methyl cholanthrene induced sarcoma development in mice. They delay ageing, and strengthen the tissue to withstand both endogenous and exogenous stress by blunting stress induced rise in plasma steroids and suppression of peritoneal macrophage functions. In the case of obstructive jaundice it was seen that some of the Rasayana not only activate the immune cells of the liver but also increase bile flow into gut. The immune cells of the liver deactivate the endotoxins while bile salts in the gut adsorb the toxins. This reduced the movement of the toxin into circulation and prevented the complications associated with obstructive jaundice. When Chavanprasha avleh- a well known Rasayana preparation, was used in old age patients, there were immense beneficial effects.
Rasayana are of many types, and may consist of single herb (ekdravy) or may be compound preparations. The compound preparations may be prepared from a large number of herbs, minerals, gems and animal products. In my earlier book, a detailed account of herbs used as Rasayana, is given. In the present work other materials used as Rasayana are described.
In last a few decades, quite a number of books have been published on Indian medicinal plants, showing the importance of herbs in day to day life of various cultures, but very little information is available on the use of gems, minerals from various sources and also on the animal products. It is interesting to find that the use of the fresh flesh and organs of various animals is given in the Ayurvedic literature for various treatments and great importance is attached to them even now as a rich source of energy for the body but in Rasayana preparations these have been used to a limited extent. In various Rasayana preparations mostly animal products used are coral, shells, pearl, horns etc., which are rich in minerals, and musk, amber, civet, the fragrance of which has a strong effect on nervous system. The milk products and honey act as direct nutrients.
For minerals deficiency, many metals have been mentioned, but for the present purposes details of those items, which have Rasayana like effects, are given. In due course of time, some important gems also became a part of this treatment. All these water insoluble materials were processed in various ways to form complex organo-metallic compounds so as to make them bio-available. The processed minerals mainly consisted of heavy metals, which are now known to cause widespread damage to the immunity system, but all the minerals were used after processing and that also in compound preparations in a very limited quantity, which chelated these out of the body without causing any toxicity.
A general account of processing of these animal, mineral and gem has been given in the general introduction in each case.
Shilajit, which has recently come into prominence again, is a complex organo-mineral compound of unknown origin. With the further development of metallurgy and gemology, Ayurvedic physicians incorporated a number of these and other products in their compound herbal preparations. The result of all these activities is that now we have a large number of formulations used as Rasayana, both in the Ayurvedic classical literature and in the commercial products.
The therapeutic efficacy of most of the minerals, gems and animal products is not very well known at the present. It has been seen that these minerals and animal products, particularly mercury, fortify the therapeutic efficacy of the herbs but only further research will throw light on this not so well known aspect of ancient Indian medical science. It will give a new stimulus to search for new safe and effective therapeutic agents for some of the incurable diseases. Some of these non-herbal products are being used for last several centuries for wasting diseases and for rejuvenation (kaya kalp) purposes and there is every possibility that these may provide a new lead to the discovery of new therapeutic agents. Some recent surveys have indicated that information obtained from ethnopharmacological studies provide a better clues for search of new drugs, as compared to random studies of plants and chemicals
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