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HEALTH: AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF GANDHI’S LIFE
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 149  |  Issue : 7  |  Page : 5-23

Health File of Mahatma Gandhi: His Experiments with Dietetics and Nature Cure


Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission12-Oct-2018
Date of Web Publication22-Apr-2019

Correspondence Address:
Rajni Kant
Head, Division of Research Management, Policy, Planning and Coordination, Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi 110029
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0971-5916.251654

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How to cite this article:
Bhargava B, Kant R. Health File of Mahatma Gandhi: His Experiments with Dietetics and Nature Cure. Indian J Med Res 2019;149, Suppl S1:5-23

How to cite this URL:
Bhargava B, Kant R. Health File of Mahatma Gandhi: His Experiments with Dietetics and Nature Cure. Indian J Med Res [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 May 24];149, Suppl S1:5-23. Available from: http://www.ijmr.org.in/text.asp?2019/149/7/5/251654

Mahatma Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869. He travelled to London to study law between 1888–1891, returned to India thereafter, and after two years, proceeded to South Africa to work, where he lived for twenty-one years. There, he also worked to secure rights for Indians living there, and it was also where his experiments on Satyagraha took root, which later changed the face of the Indian freedom struggle. In 1915, he returned to India and spent the rest of his life here playing a crucial part in steering India towards independence.

Gandhiji was a leader of the masses and he spent his entire lifetime caring for the poor and the downtrodden, even though he himself struggled with health issues such as pleurisy (1914), acute dysentery (twice in 1918 & 1929), malaria (in 1925, 1936 and 1944), gastric flu (1939) and influenza (1945). He was operated on for piles (1919) and severe appendicitis (1924). But despite these recurring ailments, he was back on his feet every time, largely due to his disciplined lifestyle which included focusing on physical fitness and a balanced diet. (Details are given in [Table 1].)
Table 1. Detailed Chronology of Gandhiji's Health Conditions

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Though Gandhiji believed in all systems of medicine, he was particularly drawn to nature cure and believed in preventive techniques for disease management. When it came to his own health, he would treat himself through nature cure or by fasting and experimenting with dietetics. However, at the same time, he also consulted medical doctors like Dr. Jiv Raj Mehta, Dr. P.J. Mehta, Dr. Sushila Nayyar and others for health check-ups ([Table 2]).
Table 2. Gandhiji & His Associates in Medical Experiments & Health Care

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On the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, this is an attempt to look at his health profile, the ailments he suffered and the methods of treatment he opted for. This has been divided into two parts: Part 1 encapsulates the period from 1869–1924, and Part 2, from 1924–1948. The first part is based on existing literature – books and articles, his autobiography and other relevant sources. The second part has been gathered from Gandhiji's health file available at the National Gandhi Museum, Rajghat, New Delhi. These files allowed us a glimpse into his health reports which included ECGs, oscillographs, urine analyses, blood examinations, eye tests, his diet schedule and blood pressure examinations taken at regular intervals.


   Part 1: 1869–1924: Health Problems of Mahatma Gandhi Top


Experiments with Earth and Water Treatment

Gandhiji once said, with the growing simplicity of my life, my dislike for medicines steadily increased. While practising in Durban, South Africa he often suffered from debility and rheumatic inflammation. Dr. P.J. Mehta was the doctor who would treat him then. But while in Johannesburg, Gandhiji also suffered from constipation and was prone to frequent headaches. On those occasions, Gandhiji would turn to the occasional laxative and tried to follow a regulated diet. However, he wasn't happy with laxatives as a remedy. During this time he heard about the 'No Breakfast Association' in Manchester that worked towards improving the health of Englishmen who ate too much, and as a result, were forced to pay hefty medical bills. This got Gandhiji thinking. He wondered whether skipping breakfast would free him of his headaches. For the first few days, he found this new regimen tough, but gradually, the headaches disappeared completely, and it made him realize he was perhaps eating more than what was needed.

In order to find a remedy for his constipation, Gandhiji tried Kuhne's (1835–1901, Father of Detox baths) hip baths, which involved sitting in a cold water bath and rubbing oneself waist down with a cloth. However, this only provided temporary relief. During this time he came across Adolf Just's Return to Nature. In this book, he read about earth treatment and a natural diet consisting of fresh fruits and nuts. While Gandhiji did not resort to an exclusive fruit diet, he did experiment with the earth treatment, which required one to apply a bandage moistened with clean earth and cold water on the abdomen. Gandhiji did this every night, and it brought him much needed relief.

It was a decision he never regretted. In fact, he even got his friends to try it. Gandhiji wrote that he faced two serious illnesses in his lifetime but he believed men didn't need to drug themselves to feel better; in most instances, a well-regulated diet, water and earth treatment, along with household remedies, could fix ailments. He said, running to doctors, vaidyas or hakims for every little thing and consuming different drugs not only curtails life but turns men into slaves of their bodies rather than remaining its master.

At one point of time, when Gandhiji's son broke his arm while playing, he was advised that the wound should be dressed by a qualified doctor. At this time Gandhiji's faith in earth treatment had strengthened and he had also succeeded in persuading some people to try the earth and water treatment. Gadhiji's son was aware of this, so somewhat fearfully, he undid the bandage, washed the wound, applied a clean earth poultice and tied the arm up again. He did this daily for about a month until the wound completely healed.

Incidents such as these enhanced Gandhiji's faith in household remedies and it made him more confident in expanding the scope of such treatments. He tried the water treatment and fasting in cases of wounds, fevers, dyspepsia, jaundice and other complaints brought by patients, and on most occasions, this treatment worked. Most of these experiments were tried while he was in South Africa and he learnt from experience that these experiments involved certain risks. He also said that these experiments were not meant to simply demonstrate success, and that all experiments cannot claim complete success. He also highlighted that if one has to experiment, one must first begin with oneself. This was the only way to arrive at a conclusion and discover truth.

Treatment of Pleurisy

Mahatma Gandhi suffered from pleurisy during the first World War when he was in London. The condition, an inflammation of the lung lining, caused him some anxiety, but he knew that the cure for it was not in medicines but in dietetic changes along with external remedies. He called Dr. Thomas Allinson (1858–1918), a British doctor and well-known dietetic proponent, whom Gandhiji had met in 1890. Dr. Allinson championed wholemeal bread. Even today his name is used for a popular brand of bread available in Europe (Allinson). Dr. Allinson tried to change Gandhiji's diet. He was aware that Gandhiji had vowed never to drink milk. Dr. Allinson asked Gandhiji to stay away from fats for a few days and live on plain brown bread, raw vegetables such as beet, radish, onion and other tubers and greens, as well as fresh fruit, particularly oranges. The vegetables were not to be cooked, only grated to make chewing easier.



Gandhiji tried this for three days, but raw vegetables did not suit him and his body failed to respond to this new diet. Gandhiji was also nervous about eating raw vegetables. Dr. Allinson advised him to keep all the windows in his room open, bathe in tepid water, apply oil on the affected parts and take a walk in the open. These measures somewhat improved Gandhiji's health, but didn't completely cure him.

Lady Cecilia Roberts (1868–1947) tried to persuade Gandhiji to drink milk but he refused. She hunted for a substitute for milk and a friend suggested malted milk, assuring her that it was not milk, but simply a chemical preparation with all the properties of milk. Gandhiji mixed the malted milk powder in water and drank it only to realize that it tasted just like milk. He then read the label on the bottle and found it was indeed a preparation of milk, so he stopped drinking it.

Dr. Allinson, when he was next called, relaxed his restrictions and permitted Gandhiji to have groundnut butter or olive oil to make up for the fats and he was also allowed to eat cooked vegetables with rice. Gandhiji welcomed these dietary changes, but he was far from being cured. He spent most of his time in bed and had to be nursed.

Dr. Jivraj Mehta occasionally dropped by to examine Gandhiji and told him he could cure him if Gandhiji listened to his advice. During this time, Mr Roberts came to visit him and urged Gandhiji to return to India where he thought the weather might be more conducive to his condition. Gandhiji agreed. For the trip back to India, he carried dried fruits to eat. Dr. Mehta had bandaged Gandhiji's ribs with 'Mede's Plaster' and had asked him not to remove it till he reached the Red Sea. For the first two days, Gandhiji kept the bandage on, but when it got too uncomfortable, he removed the plaster in order to bathe. Gandhiji's diet consisted mostly of nuts and fruits. He found that he was improving every day and by the time they entered the Suez Canal, he felt much better and gradually increased his exercise regimen. He attributed this improvement to the fresh air. During this time, he wrote that he had noticed a certain distance between the English and the Indian passengers on the boat, something he had not observed on his voyage from South Africa. A few days later he reached Bombay. Gandhiji was happy to be home after an exile of ten years.

More Experiments in Dietetics

It was while Gandhiji was living in Durban that he started adopting simpler measures in his daily life. Instead of buying bread from the baker, he started preparing unleavened wholemeal bread at home according to Kune's recipe. Instead of using common mill flour, he used hand-ground flour. For this, he bought a hand mill as he thought this would encourage simplicity, good health and economy. Grinding the flour also proved to be very good exercise for the children. Gandhiji started cleaning closets as well, instead of asking servants to do the same, which served as a good example for the children.

Gandhiji said that fasting and restrictions on diet were a very important part of his life. Like most people, he attached a great deal of importance to the pleasures of the palate, and he found it difficult to detach himself from food. He considered himself to be a heavy eater. However, when he realized this, he made an effort to control his consumption of food. He started eating fruits and fasting on certain days such as 'Ekadashi' or the eleventh lunar day in the Hindu calendar, on 'Janmashtami', celebrated as the day when Lord Krishna was born, and on similar holidays. A diet comprising of just fruit, he found, was not any different from a diet of food grains. He said that fasting could be a powerful weapon of indulgence as well as of restraint. Mr Kallenbach was always with Gandhiji when he was fasting, or during dietetics changes. Gandhiji would discuss his new diet with him and said he derived more pleasure from the new diet than he did from the old diet he would follow. Gandhiji said, one should eat not in order to please the palate, but just to keep the body going. Gandhiji has also written about the time when he gave up milk and cereals and started experimenting with a fruit diet and began fasting as a means of self restraint.



No to Milk

It was Gandhiji's firm conviction that apart from one's mother's milk that one drinks as a child, people did not need to include milk in their daily diet. Gandhiji believed an ideal diet should comprise of just fruit and nuts. He said grapes and almonds in particular were enough to provide nourishment both for the tissues and the nerves. While he was immersed in a campaign in Kheda, Gujarat, he fell seriously ill due to an error in his diet. He sought the help of doctors, vaidyas and scientists to find a substitute for milk. Some suggested mung water, mowhra oil and almond milk. Gandhiji tried experimenting with all three, but nothing helped. He wrote that he had taken a vow not to drink cow or buffalo milk. However, given the condition of his health, he decided to drink goat milk. Another reason why he had decided, after years, to drink some sort of milk again, was because he was leading an agitation against the Rowlatt Act and his desire to fight made him end the greatest experiment in his life. He said later that he had learnt a great deal from his experiment without milk. He said, I should not only give the information but issue a grave warning against adopting it. He even said that those who had followed him in his experiment of staying away from milk should stop, unless they themselves found it beneficial or if they were advised to do so by doctors. Gandhiji said that his experiment had made him realize that for those who have a weak digestive system and who are often confined to bed, there is no light and nourishing diet equal to milk.

“It is my firm conviction that man need take no milk at all, beyond the mother's milk that he takes as a baby.”

“I sought the help of the doctors, vaidyas and scientists whom I knew, to recommend a substitute for milk. Some suggested mung water, some mowhra oil, some almond-milk.”

“I should be greatly obliged if anyone with experience in this line, who happens to read this chapter, would tell me, if he has known from experience, and not from reading, of a vegetable substitute for milk, which is equally nourishing and digestible.”


Towards Self-Restraint

“So long as I had not taken the brahmacharya vow I could not make up my mind to forgo milk.”

“I had long realized that milk was not necessary for supporting the body, but it was not easy to give it up.”

“While the necessity for avoiding milk in the interest of self-restraint was growing upon me, I happened to come across some literature from Calcutta, describing the tortures to which cows and buffaloes were subjected by their keepers.”

“Mr. Kallenbach said, 'We constantly talk about the harmful effects of milk. Why then do not we give it up? It is certainly not necessary.' I was agreeably surprised at the suggestion, which I warmly welcomed, and both of us pledged ourselves to abjure milk there and then.”


[Herman Kallenbach (March 1, 1871 – March 25, 1945) was a Lithuanian-born, Jewish South African architect whom Gandhiji met when he was working in South Africa and they became very close friends.]

Near Death's Door

Gandhiji writes that, in those days, his food consisted mainly of groundnut butter and lemons. He knew that too much butter could make him sick, however he persisted with this diet. One day, he had a slight attack of dysentery. Gandhiji decided to ignore it and, in the evening, even went to the Ashram. Those days he hardly took any medicines and thought he would get better if he skipped a meal. He decided to give his meal a miss the following day and indeed felt a little better. He knew he should prolong his fast and that if he had ate anything at all it should only be fruit juices.

As Gandhiji had taken a vow not to drink milk, his wife Kasturba had prepared a sweet wheaten porridge with oil instead of ghee. She had also kept a bowl of mung for him. Gandhiji decided to eat just enough to satisfy Kasturba and his own palate. However, he ate more than what he had bargained for. Within an hour he had an acute attack of dysentery.

The same evening, he had to go to Nadiad in Kheda, Gujarat. He walked with tremendous difficulty to the Sabarmati Station. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who joined Gandhiji at Ahmedabad, saw that he was unwell but Gandhiji didn't let on how ill he really was. He reached Nadiad at about ten o'clock. The Hindu Anath Ashram where he had his headquarters was only half a mile from the station but that day, for Gandhiji, it felt like it was ten. He somehow managed to reach the quarters but the pain was steadily increasing. Instead of using the latrine he usually used, which was a long way off, he asked for a commode to be placed in the adjoining room, as he couldn't walk the distance.

He refused all medical aid and preferred to suffer the penalty for what he believed was his foolishness. All his friends surrounding him looked on in helpless dismay. Gandhiji writes that he must have had thirty or forty motions in just twenty-four hours. He went on a complete fast, staying away from even fruit juices at first. His appetite had gone. He had thought all along that he was strong, but his body now felt like a lump of clay, it had lost all power of resistance. Dr. Kanuga came to visit and pleaded with Gandhiji to take medicines but he declined. He refused to even take an injection when the doctor suggested it. Those days Gandhiji believed injections contained some sort of serum. Later, he discovered that the injection that the doctor was trying to give him was a vegetable substance. The motions continued and, by the end of it, the exhaustion brought on a delirious fever. Gandhiji's friends got more and more nervous and called in several doctors. But there was nothing doctors could do with a patient who would not listen to them.

Sheth Ambalal with his wife came to Nadiad and conferred with the workers and took Gandhiji to Ahmedabad. Gandhiji wrote that he received the most loving and selfless service during this time. But a low fever persisted, making him weaker. He feared the illness could possibly be fatal. He was soon shifted to Sabarmati Ashram. Vallabhbhai Patel brought the news that Germany had been completely defeated in the war and the Commissioner had said that recruiting was no longer necessary. This news came as a great relief to Gandhiji.





By this time, Gandhiji had started hydrotherapy, which brought him some amount of relief, but his body was still weak. His medical advisers could not persuade him to take anything. Two or three of them suggested meat broth as an alternative to milk and even cited experts on Ayurveda who supported their advice. One of them strongly recommended eggs but to all of them Gandhiji had but one answer – no.

For him, the question of diet was not one to be determined by the Shastras. His diet was interwoven with his course of life. Gandhiji said this protracted illness in his life got him to examine his principles and to test them. One night, he gave himself up to despair. He felt that he was at death's door. He sent word to Anasuyabehn, who ran down to the Ashram. Vallabhbhai Patel came with Dr. Kanuga, who felt Gandhiji's pulse and said that his pulse was strong and he was in no danger. He said that what Gandhiji was feeling was similar to a nervous breakdown due to extreme weakness. But Gandhiji was far from reassured and spent a sleepless night.



In the morning when he woke up, Gandhiji could not get rid of the feeling that the end was near. So, he began to devote all his time to listening to the Bhagwad Gita that was read to him by the inmates of the Ashram. He was unable to read and was hardly inclined to talk, as uttering even a few words caused him strain. He seemed to have lost all interest in life and to him it was agonizing to live on in that helpless state, being able to do nothing but depend on friends and co-workers, and at the same time watching the body slowly wear away.

Dr. G.R. Talwalkar, in an article, “Reminiscences of Gandhi” (Gandhiji and Medicine) writes, “It was in about the middle of 1918 that I first came in personal contact with Mahatma Gandhi. He was then in a bad condition of health due to acute dysentery. Dr. B.N. Kanuga of Ahmedabad was treating him, and was feeling very puzzled as to how to persuade him to take a few injections of emetine which alone was the right remedy for Gandhiji's trouble. But Mahatmaji was firm that he would not allow his body to be injected with the medicine, and he asked for some nature cure method of treatment. We, doctors, have not, I must admit, paid sufficient attention to nature cure methods according to Mahatmaji's conception, but I must say that for acute amoebic dysentery there is no treatment so sure as a few injections of emetine hydrochloride. We were almost at our wit's end how to give Mahatmaji emetine. Suddenly it struck me that, if we proposed to him an enema, he would gladly allow us that procedure. So we proposed to him that we would only give him an enema. He at once agreed, and we added to the enema water a full dose of emetine and morphia. This little procedure had such marvellous effect on our patient within the next twenty-four hours that he voluntarily asked for a repetition of the same enema procedure for five successive days, with the result that his dysentery was cured and he was able to travel in a week's time.

“Soon, however, I discovered that he was taking no food and even no milk. He was under the impression that a dozen or two of oranges were enough for maintaining his nutrition; and when Doctor said that it could not support his body and strength for more than a few days, he challenged me to convince him about the fallacy of his fancy. So, we showed to him from a well-known authority on dietetics that, if a man wished to live entirely on oranges, he would require about 50 to 75 oranges a day to give him enough nourishment, but that would more certainly produce diarrhoea. Mahatmaji was at once convinced, and from that day he began to take rice and chapati as his daily diet, but he would not take a single drop of milk.

“We, doctors, believe that, for pure vegetarians as we Hindus are, milk is the most precious and indispensable animal protein diet. We tried our best to persuade Gandhiji to take milk, but he would not agree on this point. A few months later when he was in Bombay, the late Surgeon A.K. Dalal, with the help of Kasturba, was able to persuade Gandhiji to take goat's milk.”



The Ice Treatment

Dr. Talwalkar says, “For some time after Gandhiji resumed to take rice and chapatis, in spite of good feeding, he did not pick up energy satisfactorily, and I was getting anxious about his future.”

By this time, he came across to meet Dr. Kelkar, who had studied the use of nature therapy in the form of rubbing one's back with ice as a method of bringing vigour back to the body. He proposed trying this treatment on Gandhiji, who gave him the name of 'Ice Doctor'. Dr. Kelkar was confident that he had discovered remedies which had been missed by qualified doctors. Dr. Talwalkar says of Dr. Kelkar, “At first this good and sincere man was a butt of ridicule by some inmates of the Ashram, and Gandhiji would not let himself be experimented upon by this faithful apostle of naturopathy. Gandhiji was skeptical and asked my opinion about this novel treatment. When I whole-heartedly endorsed the views of Dr. Kelkar, he allowed the ice treatment on his body and within a fortnight Gandhiji was much improved in health and vigour.” He didn't mind as long as the treatment was not invasive. This particular form of treatment required applying ice all over the body. While Gandhiji was unable to conclusively state whether or not the treatment worked, it certainly infused in him a new energy. He developed an appetite, and started going for short walks. Dr. Kelkar then suggested a change in Gandhiji's diet. He advised him to take raw eggs to regain energy and make him stronger. As eggs didn't fall under the category of meat and all eggs are not fertilized, there were sterilized eggs available in the market. Gandhiji was however not prepared to eat even sterilized eggs.

To Matheran and Meeting with Dr. Dalal

On the advice of friends and doctors, Gandhiji decided to go to Matheran to recuperate faster. But the water at Matheran was hard and didn't agree with Gandhiji and made his stay there extremely difficult. As a result of the dysentery that he had been suffering from, his anal tract had become extremely tender and, due to fissures, Gandhiji was in excruciating pain. The very idea of eating filled him with dread. He finally left Matheran. Shankarlal Banker was now the guardian of Gandhiji's health and he convinced Gandhiji to call Dr. Dalal. Upon meeting Gandhiji, Dr. Dalal said he could not rebuild his body unless he drank milk and, in addition, took iron and arsenic injections. That was the only way Gandhiji would get better, he said. Gandhiji agreed to take the injections, but his stand against milk was still a hard no.

On Dr. Dalal's enquiry, Gandhiji explained why he had taken his vow. He said he had come to know that cows and buffaloes were subjected to 'phooka' or the process of blowing air into the vagina of cows, to make them produce more milk.

Gandhiji said, “Since I had come to know that the cow and the buffalo were subjected to the process of phooka, I had conceived a strong disgust for milk.”

Moreover, he had always believed that milk was not a necessary part of people's diet and therefore abjured its use altogether. Dr. Dalal then suggested goat milk, to which Gandhiji succumbed as he had a strong desire to live.

Gandhiji said his experiments in dietetics were dear to him as a part of his research on Ahimsa. But drinking goat milk troubled him. He felt it had been a breach of a pledge he had taken.

Soon after he began drinking goat milk, Dr. Dalal performed a surgery for fissures. As Gandhiji recuperated, his desire to live was revived, especially since there was much work to be done.

Surgery for Appendicitis

After the Chauri Chaura incident (February 5, 1922), Gandhiji was accused of revolting against the government and was sentenced to a six-year imprisonment. He was taken into custody on the evening of March 10, 1922 from his Ashram. He was imprisoned at Yerwada Jail in Poona (now Pune). In January 1924, Gandhiji had high fever followed by acute pain in the stomach. A British doctor, Col Maddock, attended to him and, after urine and blood investigation, suspected appendicitis. He was released from the jail and admitted to the Sassoon General Hospital, Poona. Gandhiji wanted to consult Dr. Dalal, who had operated on him for piles in 1919, but he could not be contacted. The doctor said, if he was not operated on, he could developed peritonitis, he agreed for the operation. He was operated on by a medical team led by Dr. (Col) Maddock on January 12, 1924 for acute appendicitis. Dr. V.D. Phatak from Poona was also present during the surgery. Surgery began on the night of January 12. There was a thunderstorm while the surgery was in progress and the electric bulb went off. The surgery had to be finished with a hurricane lamp. After the surgery, Gandhi thanked Col Maddock and later became friends with him.


   Part 2: 1924–1948: Health Problems of Mahatma Gandhi (based on the Medical Reports in his Health File) Top


Blood Pressure

In the latter part of his life, Gandhiji suffered from high blood pressure and, as per the health file of Gandhiji (1924–47), his blood pressure readings were as high as 194/130 and 220/110 (on 26.10. 1937 and 19.02.1940). In between as well, his blood pressure readings were higher than normal and touched around 170/110, 180/105. Gandhiji tried placing mud poultice on his abdomen to keep his BP down. He also depended on Sarpgandha, an ayurvedic medicine. In summer, he applied a mud bandage on the head as an additional measure.

Dr. Talwalkar writes, “In 1935, Gandhiji had high blood pressure, and his condition at times caused much concern to many of his doctors. At this juncture somebody suggested the use of garlic as a remedy against high blood pressure. It was then that I sent to Harijan some of his views on the medicinal virtues of garlic, as he had long since known that in the south of Italy garlic was much used by the poor as a remedy against tuberculosis and one Dr. Minchin in Ireland highly praised the local application of garlic poultice to tuberculous glands and sinuses as an effective remedy. The late Shri Mahadevbhai got intensely interested in the use of garlic, and wrote me a letter asking for my experiences with it. I had been using a concentrated extract of garlic in cases of lung tuberculosis with very gratifying results, but I could not convince my medical brothers about this.



“However, I found that Gandhiji at once took to the daily use of garlic; and I believed that his continued good health, for years after his high blood pressure had frightened doctors out of their wits, may be attributed to the regular use of garlic. Gandhiji always had an open mind; and though inconveniently inquisitive at the beginning, he was the most enthusiastic follower of a principle once he was convinced about its soundness. This is the key of a great mind.”



Condition of the Heart/ECG and Oscillograph Reports

Based on the health reports of Gandhiji dated October 27–28, 1937, his arterial elasticity was diminished due to arterial constriction, but the condition of his myocardium was stated to be fairly good. His ECG showed improvement in his myocardial condition compared with one that was taken 3 years prior to that. However, there was slight enlargement of the heart. The prognosis suggested that sudden fluctuations in blood pressure were not good as this burdened the myocardium. Adequate mental and emotional ease with eight hours of sleep every day was recommended.















Gandhiji's ECG, taken on April 30, 1939, indicated slight myocardosis and an indication of cardio-vascular degeneration. There was no evidence of coronary insufficiency. What was highlighted was that the elasticity of the brachial artery had considerably reduced. The dynamic function of the heart had also reduced, indicating slight dynamic insufficiency.
Table 3. Chronology Of Mahatma Gandhi'S Major Illness

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Table 4. Blood Sugar Profile Of Mahatma Gandhi

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His ECG reports from February 19, 1940 indicated a reduction of elasticity of the artery as well as of the dynamic function of the heart. The comparative reports of April 30, 1939 and February 19, 1940 showed that his ECG was normal in all respects except slight myocarditis, which was negligible given Gandhiji's age. His cardio-vascular degeneration was arrested.

Biochemical Investigations/Blood and Urine Examination

Gandhiji's biochemical investigation done on January 19, 1936, December 9, 1937 and April 5, 1938 indicated his blood sugar level was at 41, 71.4 and 0.115 per cent (115), which were below the normal level (80–120), whereas his urine examination showed the presence of micro-organisms in large numbers indicating urine infection on April 9, 1937. His cholesterol readings were within normal range. His urine report from March 5, 1939 showed the presence of acetone in large amounts, as well as of motile bacilli, while the urine report of April 19, 1939 indicated phosphate deposits and amorphous crystals in abundance. Traces of acetone were also detected. His haemoglobin was 14.96 g/dl which was normal.







Eye Test

Gandhiji's eye test from February 26, 1939 indicated fundus oculi. Except for changes in the lenses, his eyes were otherwise healthy. The results from an eye test conducted in Delhi on June 2, 1947 said, R +4.00 and L +4.00.

Health Condition during Fasting (March 1939): Health Bulletins

Gandhiji was known for going on long fasts to protest against several societal and political issues. During such times, his health often deteriorated. While on a fast in Rajkot, Gujarat on March 4, 1939, his health bulletin which was released said he had last fasted six years ago. His blood pressure was high (170/110) and he was suffering from weakness of the heart with oedema of the feet. Considering his age and recent history of weakness, greater care was suggested. It was recommended that he should be spared from any exertion. On the third day of the fast, his health bulletin dated March 5, 1939 said his heart condition was the same, his blood pressure was still high (180/110), and he had experienced flatulence and restlessness on the night of March 4. He had also lost two pounds. The health bulletin of the 8th of March announced that he had broken his fast in the afternoon of the 7th of March and was having fruit juices, honey and gud (jaggery).





In April 1939, Gandhiji had a cold, cough and a temperature with high blood pressure (180/105). His blood report was, however, normal. In the medical bulletin of April 19, 1939, it was announced that he was suffering from influenza/cold with a temperature of 102.20c. Since there were no complications, his cold was taking its normal course. He remained confined to bed and people were requested not to trouble him.

On August 15, 1947, India got freedom. While there were celebrations all around, there was violence in Calcutta (now Kolkata) due to partition, and Gandhiji was determined to end the violence there. He reached Calcutta on August 9, 1947 and stayed at Hyderi Manzil. There he held prayer meetings and tried to convince the agitating people.

Gandhiji began his last fast on January 13, 1948. He announced his intention to fast till death. He was then seventy-eight and this was his eighteenth fast. Gandhiji's health declined very quickly this time. On January 18, when political and religious leaders came to assure Gandhiji that attacks would end and there would be communal harmony, Gandhiji broke his fast on the sixth day. Such was the impact and influence of this great man that, in places like Punjab and others where thousands of policemen were not able to control riots, in Calcutta that was severely affected by riots, he alone could bring peace without raising a single weapon. He became the role model of millions including global leaders like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama and others.

Gandhiji was assassinated on January 30, 1948. On his death, Pandit Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India said, “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.” Mahatma Gandhi will forever be remembered for his vision of a free India, for his courage and determination and for the inspiring path he chose to achieve his goals.


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Gandhi M. Manorama. Tell Me Why, No.131, p 98

Gandhi MK. The Story of My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography. Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad; 1927.

Guha R. Gandhi – The Year that Changed the World (1914-1948), Penguin; 2018.

Lindley M. Gandhi on Health. Gandhi Research Foundation; 2018.

Nayyar S. Medicine for the Masses. In Gandhi: His Life and work, published on his 75th birthday; 1944.

Talwalkar GR. Gandhiji & Medicine. In Incident of Gandhiji's life. Ed. C. Shukla, Bombay Vora & Co, 1949.

Tandon A, Singh VK. Impact of Mahatma Gandhi's concepts on mental health: Reflections. Indian J Psychiatry. 2013; 55(Suppl2): S231–S234.





 
 
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