Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. It originated in India and has evolved there over thousands of years. In the United States, Ayurvedic medicine is considered complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)—more specifically, a CAM whole medical system. Many therapies used in Ayurvedic medicine are also used on their own as CAM—for example, herbs, massage, and specialized diets. This fact sheet provides a general overview of Ayurvedic medicine and suggests sources for additional information.
- -World’s oldest medical system.
- -Originated in India several thousands of years.
- -USA consider it alternative and complementary medicine.
- -The aim of Ayurvedic medicine is to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This is believed to help prevent illness, promote wellness and happiness.
- Therapies: herbs, massage, specials diets,
- -On USA (2007) more than 200,000 U.S. adults used Ayurvedic medicine.
- The think that all things in the universe are join together, health if the mind and body are in harmony, person in harmony with the universe.
- -3 life forces or energy called dosha.
- -Ayurvedic treatment goals include eliminating impurities, reducing symptoms, increasing resistance to disease, and reducing worry and increasing harmony in the patient’s life.
Ayurvedic medicine, also called Ayurveda, originated in India several thousand years ago. The term “Ayurveda” means “the science of life.”
In the United States, Ayurvedic medicine is considered a type of CAM and a whole medical system. As with other such systems, it is based on theories of health and illness and on ways to prevent, manage, or treat health problems.
Ayurvedic medicine aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit; thus, some view it as “holistic.” This balance is believed to lead to happiness and health, and to help prevent illness. Ayurvedic medicine also treats specific physical and mental health problems. A chief aim of Ayurvedic practices is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease, thus helping to reestablish harmony and balance.
Ayurvedic Medicine in India
Ayurvedic medicine, as practiced in India, is one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. Many Ayurvedic practices predate written records and were handed down by word of mouth. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit more than 2,000 years ago, are considered the main texts on Ayurvedic medicine—Caraka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. The texts describe eight branches of Ayurvedic medicine:
- Internal medicine
- Treatment of head and neck disease
- Gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics
- Care of the elderly and rejuvenation
- Sexual vitality.
Ayurvedic treatment is tailored to each person’s constitution. Practitioners expect patients to be active participants because many Ayurvedic treatments require changes in diet, lifestyle, and habits.
The patient’s dosha balance. Ayurvedic practitioners first determine the patient’s primary dosha and the balance among the three doshas by:
- Asking about diet, behavior, lifestyle practices, recent illnesses (including reasons and symptoms), and resilience (ability to recover quickly from illness or setbacks)
- Observing such physical characteristics as teeth and tongue, skin, eyes, weight, and overall appearance
- Checking the patient’s urine, stool, speech and voice, and pulse (each dosha is thought to make a particular kind of pulse).
Treatment practices. Ayurvedic treatment goals include eliminating impurities, reducing symptoms, increasing resistance to disease, and reducing worry and increasing harmony in the patient’s life. The practitioner uses a variety of methods to achieve these goals:
- Eliminating impurities. A process called panchakarma is intended to cleanse the body by eliminatingama. Ama is described as an undigested food that sticks to tissues, interferes with normal functioning of the body, and leads to disease. Panchakarma focuses on eliminating ama through the digestive tract and the respiratory system. Enemas, massage, medical oils administered in a nasal spray, and other methods may be used.
- Reducing symptoms. The practitioner may suggest various options, including physical exercises, stretching, breathing exercises, meditation, massage, lying in the sun, and changing the diet. The patient may take certain herbs—often with honey, to make them easier to digest. Sometimes diets are restricted to certain foods. Very small amounts of metal and mineral preparations, such as gold or iron, also may be given.
- Increasing resistance to disease. The practitioner may combine several herbs, proteins, minerals, and vitamins in tonics to improve digestion and increase appetite and immunity. These tonics are based on formulas from ancient texts.
- Reducing worry and increasing harmony. Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes mental nurturing and spiritual healing. Practitioners may recommend avoiding situations that cause worry and using techniques that promote release of negative emotions.
Use of plants. Ayurvedic treatments rely heavily on herbs and other plants—including oils and common spices. Currently, more than 600 herbal formulas and 250 single plant drugs are included in the “pharmacy” of Ayurvedic treatments. Historically, Ayurvedic medicine has grouped plant compounds into categories according to their effects (for example, healing, promoting vitality, or relieving pain). The compounds are described in texts issued by national medical agencies in India. Sometimes, botanicals are mixed with metals or other naturally occurring substances to make formulas prepared according to specific Ayurvedic text procedures; such preparations involve several herbs and herbal extracts and precise heat treatment.
- Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. 2008.
- Chopra A, Doiphode VV. Ayurvedic medicine-core concept, therapeutic principles, and current relevance. Medical Clinics of North America. 2002;86(1):75–88.