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Ayurveda, The Classical Medicine System from India

Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world's oldest medical systems that still has great value today. Ayurveda is the primary health care system in India keeping its 1.13 billion citizens in good health and Ayurvedic medicine has an excellent world wide reputation with Ayurvedic doctors now being trained in many countries.

Key Points

  • The aim of Ayurveda is to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This is believed to help prevent illness and promote wellness.
  • In Ayurvedic philosophy, people, their health, and the universe are all thought to be related. It is believed that health problems can result when these relationships are out of balance.
  • In Ayurveda, herbs, metals, massage, and other products and techniques are used with the intent of cleansing the body and restoring balance.

What is Ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurvedic medicine is also called Ayurveda. It is a system of medicine that originated in India several thousand years ago. The term Ayurveda combines two Sanskrit words--ayur, which means life, and veda, which means science or knowledge. Ayurveda means "the science of life."

Ayurveda is considered a type of CAM and is a complete medical system. As with other such systems, it is based on theories of health and illness and on ways to prevent, manage, or treat health problems. Ayurveda aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit (thus, some view it as "holistic"). This balance is believed to lead to contentment and health, and to help prevent illness. However, Ayurveda also proposes treatments for specific health problems, whether they are physical or mental. A chief aim of Ayurvedic practices is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease, and this is believed to help re-establish harmony and balance.

History of Ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurveda is based on ideas from Hinduism, one of the world's oldest and largest religions. Some Ayurvedic ideas also evolved from ancient Persian thoughts about health and healing.

Many Ayurvedic practices were handed down by word of mouth and were used before there were written records. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit on palm leaves more than 2,000 years ago, are thought to be the first texts on Ayurveda--Caraka Samhita and Susruta Samhita. They cover many topics, including:

  • Pathology (the causes of illness)
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Surgery (this is no longer part of standard Ayurvedic practice)
  • How to care for children
  • Lifestyle
  • Advice for practitioners, including medical ethics
  • Philosophy
Ayurveda has long been the main system of health care in India, although conventional (Western) medicine is becoming more widespread there, especially in urban areas. About 70 percent of India's population lives in rural areas; about two-thirds of rural people still use Ayurveda and medicinal plants to meet their primary health care needs. In addition, most major cities have an Ayurvedic college and hospital. Ayurveda and variations of it have also been practiced for centuries in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Tibet. The professional practice of Ayurveda in Western countries began to grow and became more visible in the late 20th century.

Does Ayurveda work?
Ayurveda includes many types of therapies and is used for many health issues. A summary of the scientific evidence is beyond the scope of this Backgrounder. You can consult the PubMed database on the Internet or contact the NCCAM Clearinghouse (for both resources) for any research results available on a disease or condition. However, very few rigorous, controlled scientific studies have been carried out on Ayurvedic practices. In India, the government began systematic research in 1969, and the work continues.

To learn about how Ayurveda works as a medical system, these pages provide and overview, and you can learn how Ayurveda may help you by reading here.

Ayurveda Today
In recent times many vested interests are waging a war against Ayurveda to check its unprecedented growth. There has been a systematic, ongoing campaign to malign Ayurvedic medicines especially, those containing metals and minerals. Surprisingly, the focus is on the safety and not the efficacy when it comes to Ayurvedic medicine.

Ayurvedic medicines should not be studied after splitting up the individual drugs. They have to be looked at in a synergistic way. They are safe as the ingredients are buffered by many other compounds contained in them. Medical journals and newspapers tend to give disproportionately dramatic coverage to isolated reports of harm caused by taking these medicines. Interestingly, none of the credible journals have carried human trials of Ayurvedic medicines that caused any harmful effects

The failure of Allopathic medicine to effectively treat a wide range of chronic illnesses opens up a space for Ayurveda in the west. To appease western medicine proponents, Ayurvedic approaches are starting to dovetail with Allopathic approaches i.e. reduce stress, reduce exposure to free radicals, improve nutrition, manage weight, caloric consciousness and so on. In India we use these herbs as medicines and not as dietary supplement.

Ayurveda resists the Cartesian world view of Allopathy, which separates mind and body and its advocacy of the mechanical intervention into nature that strives to manufacture health. In Ayurveda, knowledge is context bound, resistant to universalizing rules applicable to all. Another policy that appears to be underway is systematic Allopathization of Ayurveda and closing down small Ayurvedic firms by insisting and imposing number of restrictions. Here the politics is forcing Ayurvedic drug research to follow the line of Allopathy, not to meet any consumer demand, but to appease the drug corporations.

Concerns about Ayurvedic medicine?
While health officials in India have few concerns about Ayurvedic medicines, the major pharmaceutical companies and anti competition lobbyists have raised concerns about certain Ayurvedic medicines containing herbs, metals, minerals, or other materials. Some governments also share some of these concerns which are that:

  • Some Ayurvedic medications have the potential to be toxic.
    1) Many materials used in them have not been thoroughly studied in either Western or Indian research. In the United States, Ayurvedic medications are regulated as dietary supplements. As such, they are not required to meet the rigorous standards for conventional medicines.
    2) An American study published in 2004 found that of 70 Ayurvedic remedies purchased over-the-counter (all had been manufactured in South Asia), 14 (one-fifth) contained lead, mercury, and/or arsenic at levels that could be harmful.
    3) Also in 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received 12 reports of lead poisoning linked to the use of Ayurvedic medications.
    • 1) The anecdotal evidence of using particular herbs and herbal combinations going back 6000 should be evidence enough of a products safety. Such concerns are most often raised by the pharmaceutical industry.
    • 2) Lead, mercury, and arsenic exist in our diet and Ayurvedic doctors are careful to prescribe only safe products that meet modern quality controls.
    • 3) Such cases rarely occur in remote villages where the doctors are not properly trained and where medicines are fraudulent and this is extremely unlikely to occur today as the doctors training and manufacturing standards have improved.
  • Most Ayurvedic medications consist of combinations of herbs and other medicines, so it can be challenging to know which ones are having an effect and why.
    • This is also true for many modern pharmaceuticals, however well trained doctors have a wealth of evidence on the use of herbal medicine to draw from.
  • Whenever two or more medications are used, there is the potential for them to interact with each other. As a result, the effectiveness of at least one may increase or decrease in the body. For example, it is known that guggul lipid (an extract of guggul) may increase the activity of aspirin, which could lead to bleeding problems.
    • Ayurvedic doctors are well aware of this and it is important when visiting a doctor to let him/her know what other medications you take.
  • Most clinical trials of Ayurvedic approaches have been small, had problems with research designs, lacked appropriate control groups, or had other issues that affected how meaningful the results were.
    • Such trials do not have the unlimited financial resources of the pharmaceutical industry or any government backing and the as there is no financial profit for anyone, such trials are difficult to set up. However there are 6000 years of anecdotal evidence supporting the use and effectiveness of herbal medicines which far outweigh the brief trials of allopathic medicines, some of which have claimed many thousands of lives despite the best trails and safety evaluations.
Reasons behind Incurable Diseases

The ancient Ayurvedic health sciences proves the existence of psychosomatic illnesses and what your thoughts are able to influence.

Some examples that could explain the causes of disease:

  1. Anxiety – causes digestive system disorders, heart, and skin diseases.
  2. Apathy – causes diabetes.
  3. Being abusive – causes diabetes and heart diseases
  4. Being too categorical or unwavering in beliefs – causes diabetes, migraines, and inflammations.
  5. Cruel behaviour – causes epilepsy, asthma, and blood deficiency.
  6. Greed – causes tumours, fatness, and heart diseases.
  7. Hostility – causes stomach ulcers, acid heart burns, and verrucas.
  8. Immoral behaviours – causes chronic diseases, infections, and dermal diseases.
  9. Inconsistency or being fickle – causes infertility.
  10. Insecurity – weakens the immune system.
  11. Lying – causes addiction to alcohol, parasite infections, and failure of the immune system.
  12. Jealousy – causes cancers and immune system failure.
  13. Restricted irritating situation – causes lung diseases.
  14. Seeking conflict – causes thyroid enlargement.
  15. Taciturnity – causes schizophrenia and kidney diseases.
  16. Vengefulness – causes sleep disorder and throat illnesses.

Learn more about Ayurveda - Treatments - References

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Ayurvedic Milestones
Ayurvedic Thought
 Vaat, Pitta, Kafa, Dosh
 Dhatu, Mala, Fire
Pathology - Ama
 Ashtang Ayurved
 Agad Tantra
 Kaumar Bhrutya Tantra
 Shalya Tantra
 Shalakya tantra

Actual Case Notes
 Asthmatic Bronchitis
 Bleeding per anum
 Hair Loss
 Pregnancy Care
 Senile Debility
 Solution To Baldness
 Vaat Related Fever

Academic References
Ayurvedic Herbs


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