Last modified on March 1st, 2023
What is Ayurveda, also referred to as ayurvedic medicine?
Ayurveda is a type of holistic medicine that is often written about and described in scholarly articles. Despite this fact, there are limited clinical trials available currently using principles of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda comes from Indian medicine, and it’s based on a natural approach to both physical and mental health. This is one of the oldest medical systems in the world, and it’s still used predominantly in traditional Indian medicine.
If you take an Ayurvedic medicine or treatment, it will typically include plant-derived products. Ayurveda treatments also focus heavily on lifestyle, including diet and exercise.
According to Johns Hopkins, in India Ayurveda is considered to be on-par with traditional Western medicine as well as traditional Chinese medicine. In India, there are practitioners of Ayurveda who undergo state-based training. However, Ayurvedic practitioners aren’t currently offered licensing options in the U.S. although some states do provide approval to Ayurvedic schools as educational institutions
Johns Hopkins goes on to say that Ayurveda can have potentially positive effects if it’s used in tandem with standard medical care.
If you are considering Ayurveda as a complementary type of treatment or therapy, you should always discuss it with your doctor first. It’s also essential that you don’t use Ayurveda to replace conventional medical care, particularly if you’re dealing with a serious illness or health condition.
What Are the Basic Principles of Ayurveda?
Some believe Ayurveda is the oldest science of healing in the world, according to the Chopra Center.
It’s not a type of medical practice focused on managing symptoms or pharmaceutical treatments. Instead, there are three pillars of Ayurveda that are the basis for all treatments, the use of all herbs, and all lifestyle changes.
Before diving into the three pillars, it’s important to understand that based on principles of Ayurvedic medicine, everything is made up of five elements. The five elements serve as the building blocks of everything on earth. Ayurvedic practitioners work to bring a sense of harmony between the five elements.
Ayurveda and the Three Pillars of Life
When the three pillars of life are balanced, then you can have optimal health, according to Ayurveda.
According to the classic Ayurvedic writings in Caraka Samhita, one who manages these three pillars properly is guaranteed a full life span that will not be cut short by disease.”
The Three Pillars of Life are:
- Proper digestion
- Proper sleep
- Proper management of sexual activities
The core premise of Ayurveda is working to bring balance between your body, mind, and consciousness through making the appropriate lifestyle decision.
Ayurveda also takes into account that every person has their own unique pattern of energy and this is what makes up their constitution. Your constitution is determined at conception, and it remains constant throughout your life.
However, there are internal and external factors that can come in and disrupt your balance throughout your life, changing your constitution.
Some of the factors that could create imbalance include:
- Emotional state
- Food and diet choices
- The weather and seasons
- Physical trauma
When you recognize the factor or factors that are disrupting your balance, you can then take the necessary actions to eliminate it and rebalance yourself to your original constitution.
In Ayurveda, balance is our natural order. Imbalance is disorder, and following that concept, health is order while disease is disorder.
The Body’s Three Energies
There are three types of energies that, according to Ayurveda are present in everyone.
Energy is what allows our cells to receive the nutrients they need to function. Energy also helps metabolize nutrients. Vata represents the energy of that movement in our body.
Pitta is our digestive energy, and Kapha is described as the energy of structure and lubrication.
According to Ayurveda, we all have qualities of Vata, pitta, and Kapha, but one is usually dominant, and then there’s one that’s secondary in predominance and one that’s the least dominant.
If your cells aren’t functioning properly because of having either too much or too little of Vata, pitta, or Kapha, then Ayurveda teaches that can lead to disease. Disease can also be caused by toxins.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the Vata dosha is believed to be the most powerful of the three and it’s in control of our most basic and essential bodily functions. For example, it’s believed that Vata controls your breathing, mind and cellular division. It also controls your heart and blood flow as well as the ability of your body to rid itself of waste through your intestines.
Some of the factors that could interrupt Vata include grief, fear, and staying up too late. Eating too quickly after you’ve just eaten a meal can also disrupt Vata.
If Vata is your primary and predominant life force, you could be more predisposed to develop conditions such as asthma, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and anxiety.
Pitta dosha is responsible for the digestion and metabolism of your food, as well as hormones associated with appetite and eating.
When people’s primary life force is pitta dosha, Ayurveda indicates you’re more likely to develop chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, Crohn’s disease, and heart disease.
You can disrupt your pitta dosha by eating too many spicy foods or spending too much time in the sun.
Kapha dosha is the life force that controls your strength, immune system, weight, and muscle growth.
Disruptions to Kapha dosha occur when you eat too many sweets or sleep during the day.
If your main life force is Kapha dosha, you may develop breathing disorders like asthma, cancer, nausea, obesity and diabetes.
Six Stages of Disease in Ayurveda
In Ayurvedic medicine, you don’t wait until you experience symptoms to receive treatment. Instead, Ayurvedic practitioners encourage patients to pay attention to even very small disturbances that could indicate something being off-balance in their bodies.
By recognizing these signs of imbalance early on, there is then the potential to prevent full-blown sickness.
Disease in Ayurveda is seen along a continuum, and it follows a system of stages, which include:
- Accumulation: This is the first stage of disease in Ayurveda, and it’s when elements begin to accumulate in your mind or body.
- Aggravation: Stage two of disease in Ayurveda is aggravation when there’s an imbalanced element that moves outside its normal confines.
- Dissemination: In the dissemination phase of Ayurveda, the imbalance moves around the body, looking for weak points where it can go and settle.
- Localization: Wandering elements then settle in different places in the body.
- Manifestation: Symptoms become apparent.
- Disruption: The appearance of chronic disease occurs.
There is an example that can be used as far as gut health and chronic illness go.
If you regularly have discomfort after you eat, this could be accumulation. That can then lead to aggravation in the form of bloating. Then, there could be constipation, which would be considered dissemination.
As the tight junctions of the gut’s lining become weakened, intestinal permeability can occur, which is localization.
The leaking of undigested food, bacteria, and toxins because of that intestinal permeability can cause chronic inflammation. Then manifestation of that chronic inflammation might be arthritis.
When you have untreated inflammation, it can cause your body to turn on itself and attack itself, which is disruption.
What Are the Best Ayurvedic Supplements?
It’s important to realize that Ayurveda isn’t a replacement for western medical care. Instead, where it often has benefits is in the fact that it can be added to western medicine, with the approval of your doctor.
It’s a good idea to think about your health and wellness in a holistic way, which is what Ayurveda encourages.
With so many Americans struggling with chronic diseases, often brought on by their lifestyle, the idea of taking control of your health is beneficial.
With that being said, the following are some of the best supplements in Ayurveda that you might consider taking. Before taking any supplement, talk to your doctor.
Ashwagandha is one of the best ayurvedic supplements and one of our favorite supplements in general.
Ashwagandha is a plant-based supplement that is native to North Africa and India.
It’s an adaptogen. Adaptogens help your body deal with stress more effectively. There is evidence ashwagandha can reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone produced by adrenal glands in response to stress.
Benefits of ashwagandha may also include improved quality of sleep and lower anxiety levels.
Ashwagandha may improve muscle growth, boost memory, and reduce blood sugar levels.
There is also some research indicating ashwagandha might help your immune system and can reduce inflammation.
Boswellia is also known as Indian frankincense, and it comes from the resin of the Boswellia serrata tree.
Boswellia is a powerful anti-inflammatory supplement. It works by preventing leukotrienes from being released, which are compounds that cause inflammation.
Boswellia in test tube studies has been shown as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but with reduced side effects. Research has linked Boswellia to benefits including:
- Reduced pain
- Greater mobility and range of motion in people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
- May fight gingivitis and prevent oral infections
- Boswellia could help with digestion in people with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
- May help reduce symptoms of chronic asthma
Brahmi is an excellent ayurvedic supplement. It’s one of the primary herbs used in Ayurveda. Brahmi has anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help reduce symptoms of ADHD, and it can help with information processing, learning, attention, and memory.
There is also evidence showing Brahmi can reduce inflammation, and it’s an adaptogen.
Adaptogens help your body better deal with anxiety and stress.
Cumin is a spice that grows in Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean. It may help increase your body’s production of digestive enzymes, and help the release of bile from the liver. As such, cumin can potentially help you better digest fat, and it may speed up digestion.
Some believe cumin helps reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome like bloating and pain.
Cumin can also improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels.
Turmeric is used in cooking, but because of its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it’s also a wonderful supplement for many people. Turmeric has a bright, vibrant yellow color and it’s a go-to in Ayurveda.
The primary active compound in turmeric is curcumin. In test-tube studies, there is evidence curcumin may be even more effective than some anti-inflammatory drugs, but without all of the side effects.
One study found turmeric was as effective as Prozac at treating depression, and it improves blood flow so it can help protect against cardiovascular disease.
Turmeric compounds improve something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and that can improve brain function. Low levels of BDNF are associated with depression and Alzheimer’s.
When choosing a turmeric supplement, it’s important to look for higher dose products and ones that are designed for bioavailability and include black pepper or Bioperine to improve absorption.
Native to Asia and Europe, licorice root is an important part of Ayurvedic medicine. In test-tube studies, licorice root has shown effective at combating inflammation as well as bacteria and viruses.
Licorice root may help improve oral health because it can protect against Candida and cavities.
Licorice root is also used to help with nausea, bloating, heartburn, and stomach ulcers.
Ayurveda is a fascinating alternative form of medicine. Always speak with your health care provider about any supplemental therapies you’re considering or supplements you might want to take, however.
Most Ayurvedic supplements and herbs are considered safe, but you should always be cautious, particularly if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, taking certain medications, or you have a medical condition.
Additionally, Ayurvedic supplements aren’t regulated in the United States. Always purchase from reputable companies, such as the ones recommended above.
Overall, Ayurveda is a holistic way to approach health. The focus of Ayurveda is on eating a healthy diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, getting physical activity, managing stress and getting enough sleep. All of these are components that are beneficial in our everyday lives.
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