AYUSH ministry threatens Kerala doctor with defamation, for ‘denigrating’ Ayurveda
Dr Cyriac Abby Philips, a hepatologist (liver specialist) who is based out of Kochi, tweeted a letter sent by the ministry to medical associations across the country, accusing him of “tarnishing the image” of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) systems.
“Ministry of AYUSH, the watchdog of alternative systems of medicine in India WARNS me to SHUT UP and NOT talk about herbal drug toxicities and quack medical practices,” Philips wrote in his tweet Saturday.
Philips told ThePrint that his interview with Kerala-based YouTube channel ‘Lucy’ in June this year, where he discussed liver injuries that could occur with the use of herbs, and which went viral in the state, evoked this response from the ministry.
In the letter, dated 10 September, the AYUSH ministry states that Philips defamed Ayurvedic medicine, calling it “unscientific, hepatotoxic (harmful to liver)” in a YouTube video.
The ministry further said “the act of giving derogatory interview or publishing it is derogatory, malafide and uncalled for”, adding that the “dissemination of such misleading information in such a manner (is) tantamount to deliberately tarnishing the image of AYUSH systems and infringe the faith of people in this traditional use of medicine”.
The letter also notes that the ministry will initiate defamatory proceedings against Philips if the video is not removed.
The notice was not sent directly to Philips, and was addressed to the National Medical Commission. It was also copied to Travancore Cochin Medical Councils, Director General Health Services, Ayurveda Medical Association of India, and Principal Secretary, Department of AYUSH, Government of Kerala.
Philips said he was apprised of the letter only on 17 September, seven days after it was issued.
ThePrint has reached the AYUSH ministry for a comment through the Press Information Bureau, and this report will be updated when a response is received.
Philips, 39, has published several peer-reviewed papers linking the use of traditional medicines with liver damage, and is also a vocal critic of traditional medicine practices on social media. He hosts regular Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse rooms on the topic.
According to Philips, he’s systematically trolled and targeted after his Spaces and Clubhouse interactions, which, he claims, almost feels like a “toolkit” has been deployed against him.
“You should see the kind of tweets homoeopaths and traditional medicine practitioners share every time I publish an interview or host a Twitter Space on the harmful effects of herbal medicine. It looks organised,” he told ThePrint.
This is also not the first time the doctor has found himself under the AYUSH ministry’s radar.
After a study conducted by him on the association of Ayurveda with severe liver damage was published in the Indian Journal of Gastroenterology in 2018, he was summoned by the ministry in person to discuss it.
Philips claimed he was summoned by the ministry thrice for this study, but he refused all three times.
“This is a peer-reviewed paper; for me if they wanted to discuss it, it had better be in the presence of experts like other doctors, people who work in pharma etc. But the ministry never took my suggestion. They wanted to meet me alone, which I never agreed to,” he said.
According to him, people are not aware of the damage herbal drugs can cause, and use them indiscriminately without being informed of their potential adverse effects.
“There are three ways Ayurvedic herbal medicines can harm your body. First is direct herbal toxicity, as in ashwagandha can directly damage your liver. Second is production of secondary metabolites from herbal components in the body, which take the form of compounds that can indirectly harm the liver or kidney. Giloy is one such herb…that can cause immune-related liver injury. Third is using multiple herbs or multi-herbal products, which can cause toxic effects as they interact with each other in the body,” he said.
“Drug discovery happens through translational research, you can’t go prescribing medicines based on ancient texts and experiential learning. Ayurveda needs to conduct evidence-based research for its medicine. The mantra should be: First do no harm, then you go on,” said Philips, who currently works at The Liver Institute, Center For Excellence in GI Studies, Rajagiri Hospital.