Doctor flags popular herb for causing liver injury, gets notice from Kerala AYUSH council

Dr Abby Philips who warned against the use of a herb widely used in alternative medicine, has been sent a letter from the Kerala State Medical Council for Indian Systems of Medicine.
Dr Abby Philips
Dr Abby Philips
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An interview given by a Kerala hepatologist on the ill effects of ingesting a widely used herb Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia) has landed him in trouble, with the Kerala State Medical Council for Indian Systems of Medicine sending him a notice. For the past seven months, Dr Abby Philips has been receiving several letters, with the most recent one from the Council, for an interview he gave to a Malayalam YouTube channel on Herb-Induced Liver Injuries, in June of last year.

In the video, the Aluva based doctor speaks about liver injuries that are specifically caused by consuming unsafe or toxic herbs as treatment. Speaking to TNM, he said that he referred to published evidence regarding all pseudoscientific practices and specifically some herbal drugs which are toxic to the liver. “I specifically spoke about Giloy, which is very liver toxic, based on a paper from Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Bombay,” Philips said. He is a faculty of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver (APASL), and has authored guidelines and recommendations to specifically treat ‘herbal liver injuries’, specifically on how to treat and diagnose drug induced liver injuries. 

Soon after the interview was released, a complaint was filed and the issue was kicked from one department to another. “A complaint was sent to the Prime Minister’s grievance redressal cell, stating that I was denigrating Ayurveda and causing a split in public opinion. This letter was sent to the AYUSH ministry, which forwarded it to the National Medical Commission (NMC),” he said. 

The letter, pointing out Philips's statement in the interview, stated that ‘the said derogatory and misleading clause be immediately removed…otherwise the Ministry shall be compelled to initiate defamatory proceedings against the contravening doctor.’ The NMC’s department of Ethics and Medical conduct forwarded it to Kerala's Ayush department saying that some action should be taken. The state Ayush department forwarded it to the Travancore Cochin Medical Council (TCMC) asking to take specific action as needed. “Finally, I got a letter from the Kerala State Medical Council for Indian Systems of Medicine,” he said and added that the ‘funny’ part is that he is not even a part of the said council, but is a member of TCMC in the Modern Medicine division.

Philips said, “They have not identified or informed me about the kind of professional misconduct I am accused of. One cannot defame a ‘system’ or a ‘supposed science’. I have been asked to respond in my personal capacity but there is no mention of a deadline or what the misleading clause is.” He clarified that there is no separate clause under the Medical Code of Ethics for saying alternative medicine is pseudoscience. While the notice mentions a punishment clause, there is no mention of the crime committed. Dr Philips is now planning to reply through a lawyer asking the Council for proof of what his professional misconduct is, according to the Code of Ethics.

“Just this month, our group alone reported 43 Giloy liver injury cases all over India from 13 hospitals, which was also published in the official journal of the American Association of Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD). I am talking with evidence, so how can they say it is demeaning or degrading?” he asked.  

Dr Philips said that he did not have a problem with AYUSH being an independent body, but complained there was no regulation. “Ayush is a regulatory body which is supposed to regulate all alternative medicines and their practice in India. But when a study states that a particular herb is potentially toxic, AYUSH should make the public aware of the issue and caution them. Instead, they are defending the concern and further promoting its sale,'' he alleged.

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