This year’s Nobel prize for medicine has gone to a Japanese scientist Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi for his research on autophagy. Autophagy means to “self eat”. In other words, the process by which the human body eats it own damaged cells and unused proteins. Autophagy is a natural process and also one which occurs in cases of starvation. The failure of autophagy is one of the main reasons for accumulation of damaged cells which eventually leads to various diseases in the body. Autophagy is important to prevent/fight cancer and also plays a vital role in degrading and ‘consuming’ cells infected by bacteria and viruses.
I have to observe here that ancient India had recommended a practice of fasting (Ekadasi) one day in a fortnight. Many of us religiously follow this practice to this day as a penance for spiritual progress without any idea of the biological and therapeutic benefits of this practice. Through this process of fasting induced autophagy, our body repaired its damaged and degenerated cells or used up the proteins of the damaged cells for its survival.
Whenever modern science conquers a frontier in any field, it somehow relates back to a quaint spiritual practice followed in India for generations.
A day in a fortnight spent in prayer and divine contemplation was a tonic for the mind and soul while the practice of fasting ensured that the body would heal and rejuvenate itself.
Clearly, our ancients believed in a process of holistic healing of both the body and the mind. They were able to, quite remarkably, connect the yearning for spiritual progress in a human being with the biological necessity of the human body. One cannot but marvel, and bow our heads with admiration and reverence, at their wisdom and deep scientific understanding of the body and the mind.