The use and safety of non-allopathic Indian medicines

Drug Saf. 2002;25(14):1005-19. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200225140-00003.


Non-allopathic Indian medicines, referred to elsewhere in the world as complementary and alternative medicine have gathered increasing recognition in recent years with regard to both treatment options and health hazards. Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani and homeopathy are practiced in India as non-allopathic systems. These systems comprise a wide range of therapeutic approaches that include diet, herbs, metals, minerals, precious stones and their combinations as well as non-drug therapies. Ayurveda is the oldest system of medicine in the world and by far the most commonly practiced form of non-allopathic medicine in India, particularly in rural India, where 70% of the population lives. The difference between modern medicine and these systems stems from the fact that the knowledge base of many of the above systems, unlike Western medicine, is based on years of experience, observations, empiricism and intuition and has been handed down generations both through word of mouth and treatises. The focus on non-allopathic systems of medicine in India can be attributed to various causes including a need to revive a rich tradition, the dependency of 80% of the country's population on these drugs, their easy availability, increasing worldwide use of these medicines, the lack of focused concerted scientific research and the abuse of these systems by quacks. Elsewhere, the increasing use of herbal products worldwide and the growth of the herbal product industry has led to increasing concern regarding their safety. The challenges in these non-allopathic systems relate to the patient, physician, regulatory authorities, the abuse/misuse of these medicines, quality and purity issues. Safety monitoring is mandated by a changing ecological environment, the use of insecticides, new manufacturing techniques, an as yet unregulated pharmaceutical industry, the availability of combinations of herbs over the counter and not mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic texts, and the need to look at the active principles of these medicines as potential chemotherapeutic agents. The Indian traditional medicine industry has come a long way from the times when it was considered unnecessary to test these formulations prior to use, to the introduction of Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines for the industry. However, we still have a long way to go. The conflict between the traditional practitioners and the purists demanding evidence of safety and efficacy needs to be addressed. There is an urgent need for the practitioners of the allopathic and non-allopathic systems to work together to optimise the risk-benefit profile of these medicines.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / standards
  • Humans
  • India
  • Medicine, Ayurvedic*
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Metals, Heavy / adverse effects
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Plants, Medicinal / adverse effects*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Risk Assessment


  • Metals, Heavy