An ancient therapy to ease the pain

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A dying man seeks comfort where he can. In Sir James Goldsmith's case comfort came in the shape of an Indian practitioner of the ancient holistic therapy of Ayurvedic medicine.

At his farmhouse in the hills outside Marbella, the unidentified practitioner is reported to have prescribed a special diet, backed by exercises and massage, with treatments based on 1,500 herbs, minerals and metals.

Sir James's conventional doctors may well have encouraged him in the treatment, knowing that there was nothing more modern medicine could do for him. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most rapidly fatal of all cancers (the television playwright Dennis Potter died of it) and chemotherapy can buy, at most, an extra few months of life.

Ayurvedic medicine is based on the notion that body and mind must be maintained in balance by adjusting the relative strengths of the three humours: vata (air), pitta (bile), and kapha (phlegm).

This is achieved through panchakarma, meaning "five treatments", which is a mix of stretching, meditation, massage, diet and herbal or mineral treatments. The treatments may be swallowed, inhaled or rubbed in.

Ayurveda ("Science of Life") has gained a string of celebrity followers in recent years, including the film stars Demi Moore and Elizabeth Taylor, and the Duchess of York. However, it does not claim to cure illness but to prevent it. Sir James may have felt that its contemplative holistic approach was what he needed as he faced the end of a frenetic life.