What is Ayurveda
Also known as: Ayurvedic medicine
By Cathy Wong, About.com Guide Updated April 02, 2007 About.com Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our Medical Review Board
Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India, which originated there over 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda emphasizes re-establishing balance in the body through diet, lifestyle, exercise, and body cleansing, and on the health of the mind, body, and spirit.
In North America, Ayurveda is considered a form of alternative medicine. Like traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda is a whole medical system, meaning that it is based on theories of health and illness and on methods of preventing and treating health conditions.
How popular is Ayurveda in the United States?In the last decade, Ayurveda has been growing in popularity in North America, partly due to the work of Deepak Chopra, M.D., a physician who combines western medicine with Ayurveda.
In 2004, the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAAM) released the results of a survey of 31,000 people in the United States. Four-tenths of one percent of the respondents had used Ayurveda in the past. One-tenth of one percent of respondents had used Ayurveda in the last year.
What does a typical Ayurvedic assessment involve?An initial assessment with an Ayurvedic practitioner may last an hour or longer. The practitioner will ask detailed questions about your health, diet and lifestyle. He or she will listen to your pulse. Unlike mainstream medicine, 12 different pulse points are assessed in Ayurveda.
The Ayurvedic practitioner also examines the tongue; its appearance is believed to provide clues about areas of the body that may be out of balance. The appearance of the skin, lips, nails, and eyes is also observed.
After the assessment, the practitioner will determine an individual's unique balance of doshas, or metabolic types. One dosha is usually predominant and may be imbalanced, usually due to poor diet and unhealthy habits.
The practitioner also determines your prakuti, also called your constitution or essential nature. From there, the practitioner can create an individualized treatment plan, which often includes diet, exercise, herbs, yoga, meditation, and massage. The treatment plan generally focuses on restoring balance to one particular dosha.
What are the doshas?According to Ayurveda, everything is composed of five elements: air, water, fire, earth, and space. These elements combine to form the three doshas, vata, kapha, and pitta, or metabolic types. In Ayurveda, doshas account for some of our individual differences.
The vata dosha is a combination of space and air. It controls movement and is responsible for basic body processes such as breathing, cell division and circulation. Vata body areas are the large intestine, pelvis, bones, skin, ears, and thighs. People with vata as their main dosha are believed to be quick-thinking, thin, and fast, and are susceptible to anxiety, dry skin, and constipation.
The kapha dosha represents the elements of water and earth. Kapha is believed to be responsible for strength, immunity, and growth. Kapha body areas are the chest, lungs, and spinal fluid. People with kapha as their main dosha are thought to be calm, have a solid body frame, and are susceptible to diabetes, obesity, sinus congestion, and gallbladder problems.
The pitta dosha combines fire and water. It is thought to control hormones and the digestive system. Pitta body areas are the small intestines, stomach, sweat glands, skin, blood, and eyes. People with pitta as their primary dosha are thought to have a fiery personality, oily skin, and are susceptible to heart disease, stomach ulcers, inflammation, heartburn, and arthritis.
An imbalanced dosha is believed to interrupt the natural flow of prana, or vital energy. The disrupted energy flow is then thought to impair digestion and allow the build up of body waste, or ama, which further impairs energy and digestion.
What might an Ayurvedic treatment plan involve?
- Diet: Recommendations are individualized to a person's dosha and the season. Foods can either balance or cause imbalance to each dosha. See a list of foods thought to balance each dosha.
- Cleansing and detoxification: This may be done through fasting, enemas, diets, and body treatments.
- Herbal medicine: Examples of Ayurvedic herbs are triphala, ashwaghanda, gotu kola, guggul, and boswellia.
- Exercise: Individualized to a person's constitution
- Massage: Medicated herbal oils are often used.
How are Ayurvedic practitioners trained?In India, there are many undergraduate and postgraduate colleges for Ayurveda, where the training can involve up to five years of study.
Outside of India, some people who have been trained in another health profession (e.g. medical doctor, nurse, naturopathic doctor) study Ayurveda before or after their training. Other practitioners attend Ayurvedic college only.
Currently, there are no national standards for the certification training or licensing Ayurvedic practitioners in the United States or Canada.
Because of its growing popularity, Ayurvedic treatments, particularly at spas and salons, are increasingly being performed by people who have not received formal training in Ayurveda. That's why if you are interested in consulting with an Ayurvedic practitioner, it is important to seek a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner and learn about his training.
Are there any potential concerns with using Ayurvedic medicine?
- According to NCAAM, in 2004, 14 out of 70 Ayurvedic herbal remedies tested were found to contain lead, mercury, and/or arsenic at potentially harmful levels. All products were manufactured in South Asia.
In the same year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received 12 reports of lead poisoning linked to the use of Ayurvedic herbal products.
- A lack of research exists on the effectiveness, safety, side effects, and potential drug interactions of Ayurvedic herbal products. Although some research has been done, there have generally been problems with the design of the studies.
- In North America, the use of traditional Ayurvedic practices, such as emesis, enemas, and blood cleansing, is considered highly controversial and the safety of such practices is unknown.
What should people do if they are considering or using Ayurveda?
- Talk with your doctor first if you are considering Ayurveda for a health condition.
- Ayurveda should complement, not replace, conventional care. If you are experiencing any new symptoms, consult your doctor as a first step.
- Consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner, rather than trying to treat yourself with Ayurvedic products.
- Be sure the Ayurvedic practitioner knows your full health history and is aware of all medications you are taking.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead poisoning associated with Ayurvedic medications--five states, 2000-2003. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 53.26(2004):582-584.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Lead Toxicity: Physiologic Effects. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Web site. 29 March 2007 <http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HEC/CSEM/lead/physiologic_effects.html>.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, "What is Ayurvedic Medicine?." National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. October 2005. National Institutes of Health. 28 Mar 2007 <http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/>.
Saper RB, Kales SN, Paquin J, et al. Heavy metal content of Ayurvedic herbal medicine products. Journal of the American Medical Association. 293.23(2004):2868-2873.
The reason behind this response is to let the world know what Ayurvedic doctors think about reviews on Ayurveda and Ayurveda consultations so that the readers get another perspective.
I will leave my views, responses, thoughts etc in this column.
Its great that people are viewing and reviewing ayurveda. The more, the better. here Kathy Wong has a fantastic job with the info she has received.
Dr Rama Prasad.
When it comes to cure and effective management of systemic disorders people find Ayurveda to be more effective with no bad effects, in India.
It is natural medicine and is called many names such as alternative medicine.
Four tenth in the U.S used Ayurveda! Thats fantastic.
Duration depends. It can be 10 minutes to 120 minutes based on the expertise of the doctor.
This dosha assessment idea is most superficial and misleading, that is started recently after the flood of hundreds of modern ayurveda books published. Individual treatment plan is not based prakruti. For example, any prakruti can develop head cold. Treatments will be more or less the same - such as soups, foot bath, steam inhalation and rest.
Misleading. Dosha is a way of looking at everything. Dosha is biology or physiology in this context. They are linked to five elements and 20 qualities. Saying dosha is metabolic type is like saying gold is a bangle. Its not a definition. Gold is a metal - is a better definition. Bangle is a made of gold.
Dosha is used to classify everything. Body, metabolism, season, food, accommodation, dreams, therapies, rest, holidays and so on and so forth.
The susceptibility story is very unscientific and blunt. No wonder, the logical people can't understand this Ayurveda. In scientific body type analysis, we don't link personality, diseases, emotional temperaments, preference etc. to body type, ever. Body type is based on the shape of your body, in healthy state. Its constant. All other factors can change.
Ayurveda doesn't treat imbalances, to be very precise. It corrects dosha abnormality. Balance and normal are two different facts in scientific and traditional Ayurvedic view.
Very accurate and impressive.
Yoga is only advised if the Ayurveda practitioner has studied it.
Exercise primarily based on the health conditions and client's physical needs, not based on constitution alone!
We have government accredited Advanced Dip in Australia and NZ. I completed my bachelor's in India.
These 14/70 remedies came out of the same manufacturer in north India. Bad practices are unfortunately prevalent all over the world including the largest chemical multinational companies. One was fined recently.
Its true that certain products from certain manufacturers had heavy metals. Please don't think Ayurvedic medicines contain heavy metals.
There are rules and regulations in manufacturing. We need to get the manufacturers follow them. Also updating them based on technological development is vital.
Each country has its rules. These therapies should be done in its context. Think about surgery. Its done in a theatre, there is scientific management and recuperating time before the client leave the theatre and hospital. Ayurveda has the same rules. Need to follow them.
True. Understand your health. Understand what your GP is doing. Understand the limitation of his approach. Understand what Ayurveda can do. Make an educated choice.
Ayurveda has the methodology to treat most new disease successfully. Its proven millions of times in India during the last 12 years in contagious new fevers.
Please note that I was trying to point out certain missing or incomplete points.
Overall this is a fantastic article.
Dr Rama Prasad