Updated: Oct 26, 2018
Image Source: Chopra, Deepak. What is Ayurveda. Retrieved from: https://chopra.com/articles/what-is-ayurveda
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word which translates to the science ("veda") of life ("ayur"). It is a lifestyle based on the firm belief that the universe and everything in it is connected – that true healing occurs when the mind, body and soul are in balance. By incorporating the right diet, exercise and meditation (yoga) in your life, it aims to treat the root of the problem rather than just suppressing the symptoms of the health issue.
This quote by Bob Marley sums up the approach of Ayurveda and that of most traditional medicines the best:
Ayurveda originated more than 3000 years ago and is widely used in the Indian subcontinent (India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) to this day. The Sanskrit texts known as the Great Trilogy (Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Astanga Hridaya) written more than 2000 years ago form the foundation of the ayurvedic lifestyle. (1)
It is believed that the entire universe is made of five elements: Space/Ether ("Aakash"), Fire ("Teja"), Water ("Jal"), Air ("Vayu"), Earth ("Prithvi")..
These main elements form the three biological humours ("doshas"): Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Image Source: (2015). Vata, Pitta, Kapha: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Your Ayurvedic Type. Retrieved from: http://www.ayurvedayogapractice.com/vata-pitta-kapha-a-beginners-guide-to-understanding-your-ayurvedic-type/
The Vata is believed to be responsible for catabolism in the body, Pitta for metabolism, and Kapha for annabolism. What does this mean?
It means that Vata is responsible for all movement of energy in the body – cellular transport, the movement of waste from your body and breathing.
Pitta is responsible for your digestive system, for metabolizing what you eat into energy and important chemical reactions that power your body
Kapha is responsible for maintaining your body's foundation – growth and development of muscles, bones, tissues and lubrication that keeps these joints functioning as intended
Each dosha comprises of two of the elements and each of us, have a predisposed dosha or two that are dominant in our life. When our makeup of doshas are out of balance, that is when illnesses arise.
Why is it called an alternative science?
Although Ayruveda and other Traditional Medicines have been around for far longer (by thousands of years) than modern western medicine, they are often called alternative sciences because of several barriers that limit their global acceptance. The first reason is that the theories are not available in other languages, so they are not accessible for understanding. The second is that there haven’t been extensive studies done on the effectiveness of the herbal medicines often prescribed in Ayurveda.
It’s a shame because the rich knowledge passed on for generations is lost instead of being used to advance medicine – discovering new medicine based on active ingredients in plants and also the need for treating humans using an integrated approach that looks at diet, exercise and medicine instead of treating illnesses in silos. No-one can deny that our body systems are interconnected, interdependent so why are illnesses treated independently?
Ayurveda in Research
An example of Ayurvedic medicine and western medicine collaborating for the better is the research done on curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric which is a widely used spice in India. A 2008 study confirmed its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties that aid in slowing down Alzheimer’s. It is also widely accepted as an active ingredient that reduces arthritis. Another 2011 study showed that conventional and Ayurvedic medicines used for arthritis, both had similar results. (2)
It should also be kept in mind that most modern medicines have been derived by studying the medicinal properties of plants and extracting their active ingredients to create more potent medicine or mimicking the chemical characteristics of these plants. For example, aspirin was formed by using the salicylic acid found in willow bark, whereas penicillin was derived from mould. In fact, 118 out of the top 150 drugs sold in the US are derived from natural sources. This is exactly why more research and understanding of Ayurveda and the plants used in its medicine is beneficial for our society. (3) (4)
For the curious scholars and researches out there, I suggest visiting the Digital Helpline for Ayurveda Research Articles (DHARA) which is an established online tool whose sole purpose is to compile and make published articles on Ayurvedic research accessible. "Dhara" in Sanskrit, means "flow", so it’s natural that this learning tool aims to open the flow of information about Ayurveda for the world to benefit from. (5)
We have posted our sources below for you to do further research:
1. National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH). Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth. Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm
2. National Centre for Biotechnology Information. (2008). The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer's disease: An overview. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/
3. Roberton, Emily. (2008). Nature’s Pharmacy, Our Treasure Chest: Why We Must Conserve Our Natural Heritage. Centre for Biological Diversity. Retrieved from: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/publications/papers/Medicinal_Plants_042008_lores.pdf
4. Wu, Jessica. (June 2011).Where does Medicine Come From? Harvard University. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2011/where-does-medicine-come-from/
5. National Centre for Biotechnology Information. (2012). DHARA: Digital Helpline for Ayurveda Research Articles. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371566/
6. Jaiswal, Yogini & Leonard, Williams. (Jan 2017). A glimpse of Ayurveda – The forgotten history and principles of Indian traditional medicine. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, Volume 7, Issue 1. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411016000250
7. World Health Organization. (2005). National Policy on Traditional Medicine and Regulation of Herbal Medicines. http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/pdf/s7916e/s7916e.pdf