What is it?
Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine is a holistic and complementary alternative medicine (CAM) approach to prevention and treatment of illness of the body and mind. It utilizes proper diet, herbal medicines, and mind-body techniques such as yoga, massage, and meditation based on a person’s bodily compositions called doshas. The doshas are known as Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha, and they’re affiliated with the five elements of nature – space, air, fire, water, and earth. They are believed to be determined at birth and relate to physical characteristics and temperament.
Vatta: Represents air and space. Vatta is associated with muscle and joints, breathing, heartbeat, and functions of the nervous system including emotions such as anxiety, fear, and pain.
Pitta: Represents fire and water. Pitta is associated with digestion, metabolism, intelligence and skin color. It controls emotions such as anger and jealousy.
Kapha: Represents earth and water. Kapha is associated with the physical body, the immune system, and emotions such as calmness, forgiveness, love and greed.
Ayurveda practitioners identify and correct any imbalances within the three doshas which are thought to give rise to illness. They utilize diet, herbal remedies and exercise to achieve balance.
Ayurveda has been a form of natural medicine, comparable to conventional medicine, in India. It has been used for more than 5,000 years, with the core belief that illness is due to imbalance or stress in the mind, body, spirit, and environment. Ayurveda practitioners in India complete a state-regulated program and training and are recognized as licensed practitioners, whereas in other countries like the United States, there is no national standard.
Does it work?
Although there are only a few well-designed studies in ayurvedic medicine, there have been some small studies suggesting ayurvedic approaches are effective.
- A 2013 study of 440 people with osteoarthritis of the knee compared two ayurvedic plant extracts to glucosamine sulfate and celecoxib. Results showed all four products had similar reductions in pain and improved function.
- A small pilot study of 43 people with rheumatoid arthritis compared an ayurvedic compound of 40 herbals with methotrexate and found similar results.
- Two small studies of 10 and 89 people tested patients with ulcerative colitis and ayurvedic preparations of turmeric. Results showed possible effectiveness.
Despite the small number of studies done with ayurvedic medicine, people continue to believe and use ayurvedic techniques to live a healthier life.
Another question to ask is ayurvedic medicine safe? Just like all forms of practice that utilize herbs and supplements, side effects are possible and usage can be harmful if improperly used. Therefore, its very important to use ayurvedic medicines under the care and monitor of a trained practitioner. In addition, since ayurvedic medicines are regarded as dietary supplements and therefore not regulated in the United States, caution should be taken when using these remedies. There have been metals found in some ayurvedic products. A 2015 study found one out of four supplements had high levels of lead, while half of them had high levels of mercury.
It’s worth noting that most ayurveda practitioners rarely use herbs and supplements on their own. Instead, they utilize the holistic approach including nutrition, yoga, massage, meditation and aromatherapy.
Who is it for?
Ayurveda techniques such as massage, meditation and yoga are considered safe and effective for most people looking to reduce stress, maintain overall health and increase flexibility and stamina. Usage of ayurvedic supplements can complement overall treatment if used under the supervision and direction of a trained and experienced practitioner.