Considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science, Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health that is designed to help people live long, healthy, and well-balanced lives. The term Ayurveda is taken from the Sanskrit words ayus, meaning life or lifespan, and veda, meaning knowledge. It has been practiced in India for at least 3,500 years. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and spirit through proper diet and lifestyle, detoxification therapy (PanchaKarma), rejuvenative therapies, as well as herbal remedies.
How does it work?
Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, according to Ayurvedic beliefs, each person has a distinct pattern of energy — a specific combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. It is also believed that there are three basic energy types called doshas, present in every person:
- Vata — energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and heartbeat. When vata energy is balanced, there is creativity and vitality. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
- Pitta — energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and temperature. In balance, pitta leads to contentment and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta can cause ulcers and arouse anger.
- Kapha — energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system. In balance, kapha is expressed as love and forgiveness. Out of balance, kapha leads to insecurity and envy.
Everyone has vata, pitta, and kapha, but usually 1 or 2 are dominant in a particular person. Many things can disturb the energy balance, such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather, and strained family relationships. The disturbance shows up as disease. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe treatments to bring the doshas back into balance.
From a Western medical perspective, stress relief seems to be one of the ways Ayurveda works to help fight illness. For example, studies have found that meditation, a component of Ayurveda, lowers anxiety. Other studies have found that Ayurveda lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, slows the aging process, and speeds recovery from illness. Many herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine have antioxidant effects, which means that they may help protect against long-term illnesses such as heart disease and arthritis.
What is Ayurveda good for?
The goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to prevent diseases. Studies have suggested that Ayurveda may be effective at reducing the risk of heart disease. For example, one study found that Ayurveda helped reduce plaque and reverse the thickening of artery walls known as atherosclerosis in both healthy adults as well as adults at high risk for heart disease. Atherosclerosis is a slow, complex disease in which cholesterol, fats, and other substances build up in the inner lining of an artery. This build-up, known as plaque, can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Combining yoga with an Ayurvedic herbal remedy containing winter cherry (Withania somnifera), boswellia (Boswellia serrata), and turmeric (Curcuma longa) may reduce pain and disability in people with arthritis.
A number of Ayurvedic herbal remedies have been examined, though sometimes good quality studies are lacking. For example, guggul (Commiphora mukul), a traditional Ayurvedic medication used to treat high cholesterol, is widely used in India. It appears to block production of cholesterol in the liver, lowering cholesterol levels. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) seeds can lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in the blood), and raise HDL “good” cholesterol levels. Its effects seem to come from its ability to lower the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine, and may be related to the high fiber content of the seed. The high fiber content of fenugreek seeds may also help control blood sugar if you have diabetes.
Other Ayurvedic herbs are being studied as treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, asthma, dementia, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), herpes, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, perimenopausal problems, and premenstrual syndrome, among many other conditions. Ayurvedic herbs combined with conventional medications may also be helpful for acne, chronic constipation, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and uterine fibroids.
It is always recommended that you discuss the taking of herbs with your health care provider prior to taking them.
Wishing you much health and wellness!
Rochele M. Lawson,RN,AHP,CMS