Dubai: Her family runs a leading healthcare group with allopathic medical facilities across the GCC and India. But Dr Zeba Moopen, the youngest daughter of Dr Azad Moopen, founder and chairman of the UAE-headquartered Aster DM Healthcare, has opened up about how an alternative medicine system came to the rescue of her from a genetic autoimmune disease.
So, what has prompted Dr Zeba to root for Ayurveda, a traditional holistic medical stream from India? A new lease of life from the painful Psoriatic Arthritis apparently. In a freewheeling interview with Gulf News, she said she decided to go public with the painful journey she had suffered after she received a massive response to an anonymous post she shared on an online discussion platform recently.
“I didn’t really want to talk to anyone about it other than my close family and friends even as I was going through it,” said Dr Zeba, an allopathic doctor herself and an ocean advocate.
“I posted the photos and wrote the story anonymously. From the kind of response that I got from people, I was like, I have to share this story with more people because I realised many people just don’t know they can get help. People don’t know the options that are available to them. And I felt it is a disservice to not talk about my experience as it is a story that I thought hopefully can help at least someone.”
It all started when Dr. Zeba started developing itchiness in her hands and feet in 2017 when she returned to Dubai after finishing her medical education in India. It was followed by severe back pain which she first thought was due to her sedentary lifestyle.
She recalled working on some initiatives for which she was not trained for. “I know now in hindsight that I was very stressed out because it was new to me and it wasn’t a work that I was trained for. At the same time, I didn’t have a great lifestyle in terms of taking care of myself, the nutrition I had and my sleep hygiene as an average 26-year-old working woman. So, there were a lot of factors in hindsight.”
Dr Zeba said she had never had any symptoms of any kind of skin disease or arthritis prior to that. “And then in September 2017, seemingly out of nowhere, within about two to three weeks, my palms and soles started shedding. I developed lower back pain. It was swollen and I was finding it very hard to get through my day-to-day life. I kept popping pain killers.”
Then she consulted a rheumatologist at MIMS Calicut, a hospital in Dr Moopen’s hometown in Kerala, run by the Aster group.
Her doctor there diagnosed it as a condition of Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA), a chronic, autoimmune form of arthritis that causes joint inflammation and occurs with the psoriasis skin condition. The disease often appears between ages 30 and 50. For many people, it starts about 10 years after psoriasis develops, but some develop PsA first or without ever developing or noticing psoriasis.
Walking on forefeet
“I didn’t have enough skin on my soles to walk. I was walking on my forefeet and I couldn’t even open a bottle of water with my hands. That’s how bad it was,” Dr Zeba recollected.
She was then put on allopathy medication. When she came back to Dubai and in October 2017, she started homeopathy treatment as well. However, the condition started to flare up and her nails started falling off (separating from the nail bed).
“It was then my dad recollected that his mother used to have this issue of her nails coming out decades ago. Apparently, she did not have other symptoms that I had. Dad also remembered my grandma getting effective treatment from Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala in Kerala.”
Doyen of Ayurveda
That is when Dr Moopen himself advised Dr Zeba to consult Dr P.K. Warrier, then 97, who was known as the doyen of Ayurveda in the south Indian state in January 2018.
The then managing trustee of Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Saala, an over-a-century-old Ayurveda institution in Kerala, Dr Warrier admitted Dr Zeba for a two-week treatment with ayurvedic medicine and diet including liquid diet to detox her system.
“He said whatever I’m giving you and whatever we’re doing, will do 20 per cent of the job and 80 per cent of it will be what you put in your mouth…and what you put in your mind will determine the outcome. That for me was a message that completely shifted my perspective about health.”
Food and mental health
With the Ayurvedic treatment, almost 70 per cent of the medical issues that she was undergoing were taken care off. Dr Zeba said maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with primary focus on food and mental health, gave her hope and strength to overcome the disorder. The medication and diet empowered her body to heal.
By May 2018, she was healed of the impact of Psoriatic Arthritis after the first round of treatment. In August 2018, she went for the second round of treatment.
She continued to follow Ayurvedic medication and managed her lifestyle and food and paid an annual consultation in 2019 as well.
“I was independent again and I wasn’t reliant on my mom to help me on daily things. My condition remains 99 per cent under control.”
In the process, Dr Zeba said she went completely vegetarian till two years ago when she reintroduced fish into her diet. “I also started going down the route of spirituality, reading Vedanta and going deeper into more spiritual practices. I got into yoga and meditation and I started exploring acupuncture, Chinese medicine and functional medicine that is coming up in the US.”
She said her experiences became an “eye-opener” and “the entire family started exploring different supplements and protocols we weren’t very open to before.”
“There is increased awareness that there is a lot you can do to yourself with nutrition, with lifestyle and with exercise. People are more attuned to that anyway. I think it’s only right that we are part of that voice as well. At the end of the day, you know, we might be in the illness industry, but what we want is for people to be well. It is not about creating a patient who is dependent on us. It’s about creating a patient who actually feels well.”
The change in their perspective also resulted in the establishment of Wellth Clinic in Jumeirah, which offers holistic wellness solutions.
PsA in Ayurveda
With COVID-19 pandemic and the passing of Dr Warrier when he was 100 in 2021, Dr Zeba now goes for her periodic checkup at Wellth Clinic and consults Ayurvedic physician Dr. M.S. Mahadevan.
In Ayurvedic consultation, Dr Mahadeven said pulse reading, physical examination and getting a thorough report about the patient history are important. “For diagnosing the disease, we identify the body constitution or Prakruti of the patient based on the Vikruti, the vitiated doshas (imbalances).”
This is based on the foundation of the Ayurvdic treatment according to which the world is made up of five elements—space, water, earth, fire, and air.
According to the principles of Ayurveda, Vata is the combination of air and space or ether, Pitta is the combination of fire and water and Kapha is the combination of Earth and water.
“Once the physician identifies the body constitution and actual imbalance of the Vata, Pitha or Kapha, he is able to diagnose the root cause of the ailments. Then he advises modifications to lifestyle, diet and routine and the medicines and treatments to be followed and the duration of the treatment course, all based on the severity of the ailments and fully customised for each individual.”
Regarding Dr Zeba’s case, he said PsA was a condition of the imbalance of Pita and Kapha in a person with the Vata-Pitha body constitution. “Hence the treatments followed was to balance the imbalanced Pitha and Kapha without disturbing the Vatha.”