Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. Ayurveda is a constitutional, holistic system which originated in India and evolved over thousands of years. The goal of Ayurveda is to provide guidance regarding food and lifestyle to maintain health.
In the United States, Ayurvedic medicine is considered a CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). Many therapies used in Ayurvedic medicine are also used on their own as CAM—for example, herbs, massage, and specialized diets.
What’s to Special about Ayurveda?
Because Ayurveda is a constitutional model and looks at each person as a unique individual, health recommendations for food and lifestyle will be different for each person based on independent on findings. Ayurveda sees the mind, body, senses, and soul as the four components called life.
Ayurveda is a Science of Life, not just a medical system. Animals and plants live in harmony with nature and utilize the Laws of Nature to create balance and as humans, we too follow these same principles. Using these inherent principles of nature, Ayurveda brings the individual back into equilibrium with their true self.
Ayurveda and the Mind, Body, and Senses
We have a physical body that controls our thought processes and helps assist us in carrying out day-to-day activities such as respiration, circulation, digestion and elimination. Our physiology is regulated by the mind and the body working together. Our senses gather information and send this data to our mind which, in turn, directs the body to act accordingly. When we smell and taste a food, our mind registers this information and various digestive enzymes are released. Overindulgence of a particular taste may impair the ability of the body to effectively process the food. Ayurveda believes maintaining the clarity of our senses is vital in allowing the mind and body to effectively work together in keeping us healthy and happy individuals.
Ayurveda and the Soul
Ayurveda believes prior to our physical existence we lived in a more subtle form known as the soul. Ayurveda is an ancient science originating over 6,000 years ago. The ancient seers of India believed persons to have a particular energetic essence prior to inhabiting a physical entity. These early scientists hypothesized the ability of a person to occupy many physical bodies throughout the course of time but the soul to remain unchanged.
Ayurveda views a person as a unique individual made up of five primary elements: ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. When combined, certain elements have the ability to create various physiological functions.
- Ether and air combine to form the Vata dosha. Vata governs the principle of movement and is associated with the force which directs nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, and elimination.
- Fire and water combine to form the Pitta dosha. The Pitta is the process of transformation or metabolism and is responsible for metabolism in the organs, tissues, and cells.
- Water and earth elements combine to form the Kapha dosha. Kapha is responsible for growth and protection and can be seen in such aspects as our mucosal stomach linings and cerebral spinal fluid.
Each individual is comprised of unique proportions of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Due to the ratios of the doshas varying between each individual, Ayurveda sees this special mixture as accounting for each person’s individuality and diversity.
Ayurveda medicine provides a model for examining each individual as a unique makeup of the three doshas and the ability to design treatment protocols specifically addressing a person’s health challenges. If toxins are identified, a cleansing process known as Pancha Karma may be recommended. When working with an Ayurvedic specialist, the excessive dosha(s) are identified and then a specific and individualized lifestyle with nutritional guidelines and herbal supplements are recommended.
- Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine tested the effects of guggul lipid on high cholesterol. Over the 6-month period of this study, they did not find that adults with high cholesterol showed any improvement in cholesterol levels. In fact, the levels of low-density lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) increased slightly in some people in the group taking guggul. In addition, some in the guggul lipid group developed a skin rash. This team is conducting further studies on herbal therapies used in Ayurveda for cardiovascular conditions, including curcuminoids (substances found in the root of the plant turmeric).
- At the NCCAM-supported Center for Phytomedicine Research at the University of Arizona, scientists are investigating three botanicals (ginger, turmeric, and boswellia) used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat inflammatory disorders. They are seeking to better understand these botanicals and determine whether they might be useful in treating arthritis and asthma.
- A compound from a plant called Mucuna pruriens, also known as cowhage, is being studied at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The research team is investigating the compound’s potential to prevent or lessen the severe, often disabling side effects that people with Parkinson’s disease experience from prolonged treatment with conventional drugs.
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Dr. Oz is a proponent of Ayurveda and developed a program called the Secrets of Ayurvedic Medicine: What Your Body Type is Telling You about Your Health. In his program, Dr. Oz investigates this ancient form of healing and reveals how Ayurveda can transform your health. Dr. Oz provides a quiz and then has videos, foods, recipes, and supplements to assist with weight loss, boost energy and prevent disease.
The United States has no national standard for certifying or training Ayurvedic practitioners, although a few states have approved Ayurvedic schools. Some Ayurvedic professional organizations are collaborating to develop licensing requirements. For more information on Ayurveda or to find a provider in your area visit the National Ayurvedic Medical Society.