Ayurvedic medicine, or Ayurveda, is a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Ayurveda means “life-knowledge” and Ayurvedic medicine has its origins in “traditional Hindu medicine”, but it is now considered an alternative medicine. Ayurveda began in prehistoric times. The system promotes balance and the notion that “suppressing natural urges is considered unhealthy”, which can “lead to illness”. There are “three elemental substances, the doshas”, called Kapha, Vata, and Pitta.1 Ayurveda is a whole body or holistic tradition. The spirit, body, and mind must be in balance in order “to promote good health, rather than fight disease”. It is thought, in this theory, that “everything in the universe…is connected”, so if the harmony is disrupted, sickness results. Disruptions include injuries, seasonal changes, age, emotions, or birth defects, for example. People are made of the five elements of the universe: water, earth, fire, space, and air. The doshas, or life forces, are combined with the elements so that Pitta dosha is water and fire, Kapha dosha is earth and water, and Vata dosha is air and space. Each person is considered to have a unique mixture of the doshas, with one being more dominant. Vata dosha is said to be in charge of breathing, mind, heart, blood, and ridding waste. Pitta dosha is thought to be responsible for digestion, metabolism, and appetite hormones. Kapha dosha is meant to control weight, the immune system, body strength, and muscle growth. Depending on what dosha is more dominant, patients will present with various related diseases.2
Ayurvedic medicine practitioners will work to “cleanse your body of undigested food called ama” via a process called “panchakarma”. Panchakarma consists of several types of treatments, such as blood purification, massage, medical oils delivered through the patient’s nose, making the patient vomit, or using enemas or laxatives. Additional Ayurvedic treatments include breathing exercises (pranayama), dietary changes, aromatherapy, plant oils and spices (abhyanga), lifestyle changes, minerals, metals, herbs, vitamins, meditation (rasayana), yoga, and stretching. Meditation has been found to reduce heart disease risk and stress. Herbs are being studied for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Ayurveda may also be helpful for obesity, acne, constipation, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and uterine fibroids. Concerns, though, are that “one in five Ayurvedic medicines contain toxic metals” (arsenic, lead, mercury). To avoid interactions with other medications, it is important to tell healthcare providers about any herbs taken. The National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (NIAM) has a list of Ayurvedic practitioners3,4 The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) notes that the herbs, metals, or minerals could be harmful if not used under a trained practitioner’s direction. Turmeric may be helpful for inflammatory disorders. Ayurvedic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis could be as effective as a conventional drug, methotrexate. Osteoarthritis patients, in a recent trial, “receiving a compound derived from B. serrata gum resin had greater decreases in pain compared to patients receiving a placebo”.5
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