Trailblazers 2021: Dr. Arun Garg promotes integrative thinking to help address chronic diseases

The former Doctors of B.C. president was trained in western medicine but he also appreciates what India can offer Canada's health-care system

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Dr. Arun Garg concedes that it was “totally crazy” for him to move to Canada in 1965 as a 19-year-old from Agra, India.

      “Nobody was going to Canada in those days,” Garg told the Straight by phone. “Canada was some hinterland, some frozen land.”

      He moved to this country to attend university in Regina, where he had to travel across the city just to get the yogurt that he loved so much with his Indian food.

      But Garg was also searching for something missing in his homeland, which is what led him there. After he met his future wife, Lori, it dawned upon him that she was also searching for something.

      She is a non-Indian with a fascination for yoga and diet; he graduated with a PhD before going on to medical school, immersing himself in allopathic medicine.

      “We have seen what the best of East and West can do when…the right minds come together,” he said.

      Garg’s career took off. He became a pathologist and a key player at B.C. Biomedical Laboratories and served as president of the B.C. Medical Association (now Doctors of B.C.).

      But it wasn’t until he founded the Canada India Network Society in 2010 that he really started focusing on how to create more robust connections between medicine in Canada and his country of origin.

      “I really got engaged with India and started to read these ancient books,” Garg said. “I had never read them before. Then it started to click.”

      He realized that western medicine was largely focused on what he calls “external interventions”. Those are things that somebody, often a medical practitioner, does to you.

      It could involve administering a vaccination or prescribing pills. He believes that this is where western medicine has excelled.

      “You’re a passive player in that,” Garg said. “It’s important. You know you need it.”

      He contrasted that with “internal interventions”, in which the patient needs to develop a mindset that is in harmony with external interventions.

      In the case of Type 2 diabetes, for example, the patient’s ability to control diet and engage in exercise can have a huge impact on the health outcome. (This isn’t the case with Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition.)

      Garg believes there are other degenerative chronic diseases in which the same could be said, including heart disease.

      He added that some conditions—such as depression, anxiety, arthritis, and hypertension—are often interrelated.

      Garg argued that negative ideas and positive ideas, along with diet, can play a critical role. And that’s where Garg believes that scriptures can offer guidance in promoting what he calls "integrative thinking".

      “First, let me say when I talk about scriptures, I am not talking about one scripture over another,” the doctor emphasized. “My belief is all those words of wisdom based on ancient philosophies of any of those scriptures carry that weight.”

      The "Bhagavad Gita", which is part of the epic Mahabharata in Hinduism, includes conversations about health and the role of food.

      Then there are the “Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali”, a foundational text in yoga philosophy.

      Garg pointed out that it asks basic questions, such as what is health? And what is disease and why do people develop it? The answers, he added, mostly consist of internal interventions.

      As a result, Garg believes that medical schools should give more thought to how individuals can be empowered through the transfer of knowledge along the lines of what occurs in the ancient Indian scriptures.

      “That is what is required,” he insisted. “That’s one of the things that I think is very good to have—these kind of conversations during your medical training—to sensitize people to this."

      The Canada India Network Society is hosting a virtual conference from June 18 to 20 called Lowering the Burden of Chronic Disease Through Integrative Thinking: Voices from the Trenches. For more information, visit the website.