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ayurveda

What Is It?
How Does It Work?
What You Can Expect
Health Benefits
How To Choose a Practitioner
Cautions
Evidence Based Rating Scale
References


What Is It?

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical practice that encompasses a range of treatments including medicinal herbs, changes in diet, meditation, massage, and yoga to maintain or restore health. The word Ayurveda is Sanskrit, meaning "science (or knowledge) of life." Perhaps the oldest continually practiced health-care system in the world; the tradition has been handed down from masters to pupils in India for more than 5,000 years.  Ayurveda is rooted in the belief that health results from harmony between mind, body, and spirit. Ayurvedic practitioners in India receive state-recognized training on par with that of Western medical specialists.

Although the principles of Ayurvedic medicine have never been substantiated by contemporary medical science, and only a few rigorous studies can attest to its effect on specific diseases, certain Ayurvedic practices such as yoga are believed to increase strength and vitality. Moreover, Ayurvedic herbal preparations are currently being studied in many countries for their apparent therapeutic effects.

How Does It Work?

According to Ayurveda, every person contains some of the universe's five basic elements: earth, air, fire, water, and ether (or space). The combination of these elements in each individual breaks down into three metabolic body types, or doshas. The doshas are known as vata, pitta, and kapha. Vata consists of ether and air, and is associated with lightness and movement. Pitta is made of fire and is associated with transformative metabolic processes--the digestion of food to produce energy, for example. Kapha consists of earth and water and is associated with structure and stability. Although each type of energy resides in every individual, one is usually dominant.

The theory behind Ayurveda is that sickness is caused by an imbalance in one or more of the doshas. There are many things that can affect this balance, from dietary choices to the change of seasons. Stress at work or in one's family can throw off the harmony of the doshas as well. The result is the accumulation of toxicity in the body and mind.

Once the causes of an illness are identified, measures can be taken by an individual, under the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner, to restore balance and to remove toxicity. Proponents say that when energy is balanced, the body's natural defenses strengthen, making it easier to prevent or recover from illness.

What You Can Expect

A first visit to an Ayurvedic practitioner may last 45 to 90 minutes. The practitioner will ask a series of questions to determine your doshic (or constitutional) profile. You will be questioned about your physical traits, emotional temperament, food preferences, and mental attributes. You will also be asked about your personal and family history.

The practitioner will listen to your heart and lungs and pay special attention to your pulses and tongue. According to Ayurveda, each person has three superficial and three deep pulses on each wrist, which correspond to various internal organs; by reading the pulses, the practitioner can reveal imbalances. The pulses also convey information about the three doshas. The color and sensitivity of parts of your tongue, as well as your general physical appearance, provide more clues about your health. In addition, you may be asked to provide a urine sample for analysis.

After identifying your constitutional type and any imbalances, the physician may prescribe a combination of Ayurvedic treatments, including herbal remedies, lifestyle and dietary modifications (vegetarianism is not required), meditation and yoga postures, breathing exercises, and cleansing measures such as nasal douching or enemas.

If you are found to be suffering from excess kapha, for example, you may have a slow metabolism and perhaps be overweight. The practitioner might suggest that you start an exercise routine and choose light foods over heavy foods to improve your diet.

Vata types, on the other hand, are usually quite thin and tend to be prone to nervous disorders such as anxiety and insomnia. If you are suffering from excess vata, an Ayurvedic practitioner might recommend that you keep a regular routine by eating at set intervals and going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.

If you are a pitta type, you may be subject to moodiness, heartburn, and hemorrhoids. If you suffer from excess pitta, you may be advised to give up alcohol and fried foods and to avoid stressful situations.

The frequency and duration of Ayurvedic visits varies widely, depending on your condition and the practitioner's prescription. Once you have received your treatment advice, you may be able to pursue it on your own or your practitioner may want to see you regularly to monitor your treatment. Of course, you may want to revisit the practitioner if the treatments or herbal remedies don't seem to be working.

Health Benefits

Research has shown that individuals who practice Ayurvedic methods such as yoga are at decreased risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stress, all factors for heart disease. Studies have also shown yoga to be particularly helpful for musculoskeletal ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis.

Specifically, Ayurveda may be helpful to:

  • Decrease the risk of heart disease. An integral part of Ayurveda, yoga has been shown to reduce anxiety, promote well-being, and improve quality of life. Patients with heart disease, especially those with factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stress have been shown to benefit from these positive effects of yoga. (1) A 2002 study testing the effect of multiple Ayurvedic modalities (diet, exercise, herbal food supplement and stress reduction) found the treatment helped reduce plaque and reverse the thickening of artery walls (astherosclerosis) in both health adults and those at risk for heart disease. (2)
  • Treat Alzheimer’s disease, dementia. Several studies indicate the memory-enhancing properties of some Ayurvedic herbal formulas may be useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. In a 2007 study in India, the herbal formula Anwala churna seemed to reverse amnesia in mice. It also reduced brain cholinesterase activity and total cholesterol levels. (3) A 2006 study in India found Desmodium gangeticum given to mice for seven successive days seemed to improve learning and memory and reverse amnesia, making the formula a potentially valuable treatment in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The formula also improved acetyl cholinesterase activity. (4)

  • Treat arthritis. Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a gold-colored spice commonly used in Indian cuisine, is well-known for its therapeutic effect on a wide variety of diseases and conditions such as aches, pains, wounds, skin conditions. Among its other healthful properties, curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color, has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory activities and may help in the treatment of arthritis. (5, 6) The plant extract RA-1, traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis, has been shown to improve joint swelling associated with arthritis. (7)

  • Treat tuberculosis. Tuberculosis (TB) is a chronic infectious disease caused by several species of mycobacteria. Hundreds of plant species found in India have been screened for their antimycobacterial properties. In a 2007 article reviewing 255 of those plant species, researchers found promising results for using the plants in creating formulas to treat TB. (8) 

  • Treat diabetes. Ayurvedic medicine may help to lower glucose levels in diabetics. Studies indicate therapeutic benefits when multiple Ayurvedic modalities are used to control the condition through diet, herbs, meditation and yoga. (9) Research has shown that the ayurvedic treatments gymnema syvestre, holy basil, fenugreek, Ayush-82, and D-400 may benefit those with diabetes. Also, the herb Terminalia chebula has been widely used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of diabetes. A 2006 study in India showed that a chloroform extract of T. chebula seed powder has blood glucose lowering and renoprotective activity in rats. (10)

    Ayurvedic herbal remedies are being investigated for a number of other ailments including allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, menstrual cramps, Parkinson's disease, and digestive disorders, including constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

  • How To Choose a Practitioner

    There is no licensing for Ayurvedic practitioners in the United States. However, Ayurveda centers in the U.S. do offer training programs that are about a year long (in India, Ayurvedic practitioners train for five and a half years or more). Some medical doctors, chiropractors, or nutritionists may include Ayurvedic methods in their treatments. As you would with any doctor, check into your practitioner's training and experience.

    Cautions

     If you have a serious medical condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, it is not recommended that you rely on Ayurveda alone. Seek the help of a doctor who can provide conventional treatments for your illness.

     Cleansing procedures such as enemas or overuse of laxatives can lead to chemical imbalances in the body. Use them only with great caution.

     If you follow a special diet for diabetes or heart disease, consult your doctor before you adopt an Ayurvedic diet plan, because the diets may be at odds with one another.
     
    Evidence Based Rating Scale 

    The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

    Condition

    Rating

    Explanation

     

     

      

     

     

     

      

    Alzheimer’s disease

     

     

     

      

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Several animal studies indicate efficacy in improving learning and memory and reversing amnesia in mice. Human trials are needed to confirm or refute these findings.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Arthritis

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Inconsistent evidence of effectiveness. Larger clinical trials are needed to confirm or refute efficacy. Consult your physician before beginning any new treatment regimen.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Diabetes

     


    Date Published: 04/19/2005
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