Written and Medically Reviewed by Dr Benjamin George, MBBch, BAO, LRCP & SI, FRCS, AM, ISAPS, CMTP. Updated as of May 15, 2021.
What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda (ayur meaning life, and veda meaning science or knowledge), or ayurvedic medicine, is a traditional Indian system of holistic medicine founded over 3,000 years ago. Ayurvedic, meaning the science of life, stems from ancient Vedic culture.
Ayurveda can be split into 7 components such as:
- Kāyachikitsā: general medicine, medicine of the body;
- Kaumāra-bhṛtya: Prenatal and postnatal care of baby and mother;
- Śalyatantra: surgical techniques;
- Śhālākyatantra: treatment of ailments affecting ears, eyes, nose, mouth, etc.;
- Agadatantra: It includes subjects about epidemics, toxins in animals, vegetables, and minerals.
- Rasāyantantra: rejuvenation and tonics for increasing lifespan, intellect, and strength;
- Vājīkaraṇatantra: aphrodisiacs and treatments for increasing the volume and viability of semen and sexual pleasure, as well as, infertility problems.
Ayurvedic treatments are holistic because it combines diet, exercise, lifestyle, and herbal products (usually plants, but also animals, metal, and minerals). Due to the varying methods of development, some ayurvedic preparation may contain lead, mercury, or arsenic that may be toxic.
According to ayurvedic philosophy, the universe is made of 5 elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth, and there are three combinations of such elements (‘doshas‘) that manifest as patterns in all creation: vata, pitta and kapha. For instance, vata dosha (space and air), Pitta dosha (fire and water), and Kapha dosha (water and fire) are the three doshas. In the human body, vata is the subtle energy movement, pitta is the energy of digestion and metabolism, and kapha the energy that forms the body’s structure.
The body, mind, and consciousness must work together to maintain balance which requires the doshas to mix in a special way in all humans. However, one is normally more powerful than the others. Each one is in charge of a distinct bodily feature. It’s thought that the balance of your doshas is related to the chances of getting sick and the health problems you create.
Vata – Space and Air
It governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movements, the pulsation of the heart, and all movements in the cell membranes and cytoplasm. Vata is expressed as the most potent of the three doshas. If the vata is out of balance, it produces fear and anxiety; in contrast, in balance, it brings creativity and flexibility.
Pitta – Fire and Water
It governs body temperature, metabolism, nutrition, digestion, absorption, and assimilation. In the pitta is in balance, it promotes understanding and intelligence. Conversely, it arouses anger, hatred, and jealousy.
Kapha Dosha – Water and Earth
It is the bones, muscles, and tendons, the structure that holds the cells together by supplying the water for all body parts. It maintains immunity, lubricates joints, and moisturizes the skin. In balance, it expresses love, calmness, and forgiveness; out of balance, it leads to greed, envy, and attachment. According to ayuverdic teachings, this vital energy is responsible for muscle growth, body strength and stability, weight regulation, and the immune system.
Ayurvedic Treatments, Does It Work?
The premise of ayurvedic medicine begins with an internal purification, followed by a combination of holistic, special diets, herbal remedies, massage therapies, and yoga. It encourages certain natural therapies and lifestyle interventions to regain a balance between the environment, body, spirit, and mind.
A 2013 study for knee osteoarthritis compared natural glucosamine sulfate treatments, a pharmaceutical called celecoxib against two ayurvedic plant extracts, and found that all four osteoarthritis treatments provided improvements in function and reduction in pain. A similar result was found in a 2011 study by the NCCIH for rheumatoid arthritis when a pharmaceutical was compared to an ayurvedic compound.
Ayurvedic treatments have been found to treat many diseases and illnesses, such as:
- Digestive Problems;
- High Blood Pressure;
- High Cholesterol Levels; and
Ayurveda has been used to treat such conditions in Asia, including Malaysia. In Malaysia, the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Division under the Ministry of Health, Malaysia governs the use of Ayurveda as a source of complementary or alternative medicine.
In contrast, in the United States, there are only a few state-approved Ayurvedic colleges. However, there is no national training or certification program for those who use these natural remedies.
The FDA cautions that 1 in 5 Ayurvedic medicines contain toxic metals, like lead, mercury, and arsenic. These heavy metals can cause life-threatening illnesses, especially in children.
Referenced on 11.4.2021
- The Ayurvedic Institute: “Panchakarma Overview.”
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAM): “Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction."
- JIMSA: Herbal Remedies for Management of Constipation and Its Ayurvedic Perspectives.”
- FDA: “Use Caution with Ayurvedic Products."
- National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Heavy Metal Poisoning.”