So, for those of you who have read any earlier pieces from this blog, all know that Hippocrates, the earliest founder of modern medicine had found a link between morbid obesity and infertility/ shortened lifespan. The man had a few odd ideas of what constituted as a treatment for the condition, but ultimately, he was on the right track with the idea with a change of diet and exercise being useful in the prevention of morbid obesity.
But Hippocrates wasn’t the one who came up with the idea of surgery. He wasn’t even the first person to describe obesity as a problem, like I had originally thought.
The person who deserves all the credit for modern surgery, and by extension weight loss surgery, was Sushrutaa, the author of the leading medical text of India, the Sushrutaa Samhita.
First: Some Context
Unless you are a person already fascinated by the Hindu religion, chances are you might not know about the Vedic period of Ancient India and how they document things. So, here is a bit of context so you can understand the importance of the man and his contributions to the fields of medicine as we know it today.
First, any written documents in this period that are considered to have an important purpose are compiled into religious text called Vedas, which literally translates to the word “knowledge”.
Second, these Vedas are broken into 4 distinct categories of literature:
· Rig-Veda- Philosophy and Historical Record of Dieties
· Sama-Veda-Songs to Dieties
· Yajur-Veda-Rituals for Dieties
· Athara-Veda- Procedures for Daily Life
Any medicinal cures and contributions, magical or physical, would be stored and recorded in the Athara-Veda, and this is where we find Sushrutaa’s body of work.
Who was Sushrutaa?
Sushrutaa, a name meaning “well-heard” was a man who lived 150 years before Hippocrates.
Some historical accounts about his lineage was meshed with parts of Hindu mythology. This is because his work was an important contribution of the Athara Veda, a holy text that provides daily life instructions. He also contributed to the oldest form of Indian medicinal practice, Ayurveda, which is a mix of spiritual and physical treatment that is comparable to a more advanced form of medieval alchemy. His contributions to the scripture had essentially given him some sort of divine status in the past, not unlike a Catholic Saint, so it is a little hard to pinpoint how much of his life is historically accurate.
What we do know about him comes from firsthand accounts in a series of texts of which he claimed authorship, The Compilations of Sushrutaa.
What is known about the man from his own account, was that he was a passionate about medicine and taught his medical students in Varanasi, Northern India, a city that is located by the banks of the Ganges river, a holy site in modern day Hinduism.
Sushrutaa was a lifelong student, who understood the importance of learning every aspect of his field of study. According to a modern-day publication,” Sushrutaa emphasized in his text that unless one possesses enough knowledge of relevant sister branches of learning, one cannot attain proficiency in one’s own subject of study.”
The man had taught his medical students the importance of surgery, how the tools worked, created workshops that were still carried into modern day practice, such as practicing surgical procedures and suturing on watermelons, and wrote down over 300 surgical procedures, including rhinoplasty and other forms of cosmetic reconstruction.
No wonder people thought he had divine ancestry!
How did he contribute to Obesity Research?
Aside from inventing and describing the first surgical procedures that carried on into our modern day lives, Sushrutaa was the first person to link obesity with diabetes. No, Really.
In his book, the Sushrutaa Samhita, he had described over 1,100 diseases that ranged from chronic to mental to physical. One of the ones that he described was (madhumeha), as a disease characterized by passage of large amount of urine, sweet in taste, hence the name “madhumeha” — honey tasting urine.
According to another researcher who had read a translation of his work, “He goes on to say that diabetes primarily affects obese people who are sedentary and emphasized the role of physical activity in amelioration of diabetes.”
This is a revelation that has taken us ages in the western world a hundred plus years to figure out.
Why we haven’t heard much about him up until now is most likely due to a lack of translation from ancient Sanskrit, to English. But this is proof enough that maybe those of us from the Western world could stand to let go of our pride, occasionally, and look at the accomplishments of other countries and older cultures. There might be answers already to the questions we have.