Indian scientists seek to prove genetic basis of Ayurvedic Prakriti

Study shows phenotypic classification by traditional Indian medicine has a genetic basis and ancient medicine in a way is personalized medicine


Previous efforts to link Prakriti classification with genetic information and variations have not made much way. Photo: Mint
Previous efforts to link Prakriti classification with genetic information and variations have not made much way. Photo: Mint

As part of Ayurveda, Indian medical practitioners have for centuries categorized individuals under three major types under the umbrella concept of Prakriti—Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Now, a team of Indian scientists, using genome analysis, have published a paper in Nature journal showing this phenotypic classification by traditional Indian medicine indeed has a genetic basis and ancient medicine in a way is personalised medicine. For their study, researchers conducted a genomewide SNP, or single nucleotide polymorphism, analysis on 262 men.

“We carried out a thorough assessment of normal individuals and put one million genetic markers to analyse and segregate on the basis of Prakriti,” said Kumarasamy Thangaraj of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, which works under the state-run Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The scientists found 52 SNPs, or genetic variations, which could be used as distinguishing factors for the three Prakritis. Using principal component analysis of these SNPs, the individuals were categorized into the three categories. For comparative analysis, researchers used data from 297 Indian samples, including 150 Dravidians, 80 Indo-Europeans, 35 Austro-Asiatics, 27 Tibeto-Burmans and five Great Andamanese. In addition, 15 trios of Dravidians, and 15 trios of Indo-Europeans were used for imputation.

The three constitutional types (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) are based on physical, psychological, physiological and behavioural traits. In Ayurveda, a person’s treatment is based on her Prakriti.

“Interestingly, although we had individuals from different ancestries and communities, they all got classified into these three classifications. This was a sign there is real science behind this Ayurvedic classification,” said Thangaraj, who is one the co-authors of the paper.

Previous efforts to link Prakriti classification with genetic information and variations have not made much way. An important finding in this paper was that a gene called PGM1 correlates with the phenotype of Pitta, as is described in the ancient Ayurvedic text of Charak Samhita. With this, the researchers concluded the phenotypic classification of India’s traditional medicine has a genetic basis.

“Scientifically speaking, they are looking at principal components of variation and three of the most common variations could be Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Now, these are useful as they describe normal people, giving us an efficient way of classifying people to find risks of disease. This classification is worth studying in genomics,” said Anurag Agrawal, principal scientist, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi, which also works under CSIR. “It is not enough if an ancient text defines classification; it has to be studied and proven scientifically. Ayurgenomics is a nice marriage to use old knowledge and define it further using modern tools,” Agrawal added.

The institutes involved in the study included Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Indian Institute of Science, Institute of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Sinhgad College of Engineering and Shri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara College of Ayurveda.