Ayurveda is a system of traditional medicine that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, and has become increasingly popular in the west. It treats mind, body and spirit as one, and strives to balance the essential elements that exist in all of us to attain our natural state of pure health. In ayurvedic terms, the body is comprised of three basic doshas, or energies, which are the same ones that make up the entire universe: kapha: water and earth or “phlegm”; Pitta: fire and water or “bile”; and vayu vata: air & space or “wind”. Ayurveda, which means “the science of life” aims to balance these three energies, with Ayurvedic herbs or through managing your lifestyle. Yoga is part of the ayurvedic tradition, too – when you perform some yoga positions, you’re engaging in a physical and spiritual exercise that is rooted in ayurvedic philosophy.
Origins of ayurvedic herbs
Ayurvedic theory asserts that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion leads to mental and physical health. To achieve these Ayurveda uses Ayurvedic herbs, and exercise, yoga, and meditation.
Ayurvedic medicines are actually based on the teachings of the Atharvaveda, one of the four most ancient books of Hindu knowledge, wisdom and culture. Atharvaveda contains 114 formulations or hymns, which are used for treating various diseases. This is the reason why Indians consider ayurvedic medicine to have divine properties. The ayurvedic herbs are said to have come from the Indian God Dhanvantari.
Active ingredients of ayurvedic herbs
The active reagent in ayurvedic herbs is the extract. As a traditional medicine, though, most of the herbs used have not yet been tested against a placebo in scientific studies. With some of the herbs, studies showed there was insufficient evidence or there was no conclusive health benefit.
However, two varieties of Salvia have been tested in small trials; one trial provided evidence that Salvia lavandulifolia or Spanish sage may improve word recall. Another suggested that Salvia officinalis or Common sage may improve symptoms in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
- Alopecia: Ayurvedic medicine suggests that alopecia, or hair loss may be slowed by changes to lifestyle and diet that remove stress. It is also believed that a number of Ayurvedic treatments can help hair loss, including Vranashodhan oil, Bhrungraj oil, Amalaki oil, Brahmi oil, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis oil, Vatajatadi oil, Anu oil, and Bhallatak oil.
- Arthritis and back pain: Ayurvedic medicine suggests that arthritis is caused by an imbalance of the body’s energies. Different imbalances, either vata, pitta, or kapha, are said to cause different types of arthritis that have different symptoms. If arthritis is due to vata, your joints will crack and pop. They become dry and are not swollen. If arthritis is due to pitta, the arthritis is characterized by inflammation, and may look red and feel hot to the touch. In kapha-type arthritis, the joint is inflamed, but it feels cool and clammy rather than hot. With this type of arthritis, some movement may actually relieve rather than aggravate it. To find out what sort of arthritis you have and the best Ayurvedic way to cure it, it is good to consult an ayurvedic practitioner. Many recommend the herbs Haritaki for vata arthritis, amalaki for pitta and bibhitaki for kapha-type arthritis.
- Diabetes: Ayurvedic medicine suggests that diabetes is caused by different imbalances in the body. According to ayurveda, diabetes is a metabolic kapha type of disorder in which diminished functioning of the agni, or your digestive fire (agni in Sanskrit means fire) leads to a tendency toward high blood sugar. Ayurvedic practitioners attack diabetes using a multi-prong approach. First, they address the diet, eliminating sugar and simple carbohydrates, and emphasizing complex carbohydrates. Protein is limited, since excessive intake can damage the kidneys. Fat is also limited because there is often a deficiency of pancreatic enzymes, making fat digestion difficult. Then they introduce a cleansing program beginning with herbal massages, herbal saunas and purges for the liver, pancreas and spleen. Some herbs such as and an herbal steam sauna, followed by fasting to cleanse the body. This is followed by an herbal purge for the liver, pancreas, and spleen. Colon therapy is next, first to cleanse the digestive tract and then to reconstitute the system. Some ayurvedic herbs such as shilajit, bitter melon, gudmar turmeric, neem, amalaki, guggul, and arjuna are also used to improve the health of the pancreas and liver.
- Stress and memory problems: Along with yoga and diet to improve the general functioning of body and mind, there are ayurvedic herbs that can be used to relieve stress and prevent memory related problems. One such ayurvedic herb is bacopa monnieri (brahmi). This ayurvedic herb is considered to be a neuro-protective herb, i.e. it protects the neurons in the nervous system from degeneration. It can help in improving memory and helps in memory retention. It can also help prevent dementia and age-related mental disorders. Other ayurvedic herbs that can be used for stress and memory problems are Ashwagandha, mulathi, and vacha. These herbs are effective at fighting stress and stress related disorders.
Side effects and precautions
- Not scientifically proven: Although there is much anecdotal evidence supporting Ayurvedic medicines and herbs, and it is estimated that up to 80 percent of people in India use it or another form of traditional medicine, much of the scientific studies were inconclusive or they found that the herbs worked no better than placebos.
- Side effects: Like any medicine, ayurvedic herbs can have side effects. For example overdosing on aloe juice can cause diarrhea, and dehydration. Taking high doses of licorice root can cause swelling of the hands and feet. It is best if you consult your doctor before proceeding on any ayurvedic herbal option.
- Toxic metals: The practice of rasa shastra, or adding metals and other substances, including mercury to the herbs in preparation, has been long been part of ayurvedic medicine. Ayruvedic proponents believe that the toxicity of these materials is reduced through purification processes, which often involve prayers as well as physical pharmacy techniques. A 2008 study of more than 230 products found that approximately 20% of remedies (and 40% of rasa shastra medicines) purchased over the Internet from both US and Indian suppliers contained lead, mercury or arsenic.
- Drug interactions: Some ayurvedic herbs can have a negative drug interaction with prescribed or over-the-counter drugs. Talk to your doctor before taking any ayurvedic medicines if you are taking any prescription medicines.
Ayurvedic is an ancient system of medicine that combines diet, yoga and ayurvedic herbs. While up to 80 percent of people in India use it or another form of traditional medicine, currently, there is little scientific evidence that its herbs are more effective at treating conditions compared to a placebo. However, ayurvedic treatments emphasize prevention as much as cures. As such, it is a way of using ritual, prayers, cleansing practices and drugs to balance body, mind and soul.