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Ayurvedic Medicine

Everything you need to know about this Indian medical system based on five core elements of the universe

What is it?

Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of India meaning ayur (life) and veda (knowledge). It is about 5,000 years old and is based on the notion of primordial energy, which is central to the maintenance of health.

Ayurveda holds that the universe comprises of five elements:

  • Air (prana);

  • fire;

  • Earth;

  • ether (space);

  • water.

These are in a state of perpetual motion, interacting with each other.

In combination, the five elements form the three vital doshas (Tridosha):

  • Kapha phlegm;

  • Pitta bile;

  • Vata wind.

These doshas make up the physical and psychological aspects of the human being known as Prakriti or constitution. Imbalance of the tridosha caused by an impairment of Agni (digestive enzymes) results in ill health.

Ayurveda recognises five stages of the disease process:

  • Accumulation: the respective dosha builds up in its location in the body, kapha in the stomach, pitta in the small intestine and vata in the colon;

  • Provocation: accumulation continues and starts to affect the respective organ;

  • Spread: the dosha moves from its home location;

  • Deposition: dosha finds a weak spot and continues to accumulate, the patient now begins to feel symptoms;

  • Manifestation and differentiation: cardinal signs appear and the condition is diagnosed.

Diagnosis

Each person is considered to be like a book from which the Ayurvedic physician will read the clinical manifestations of the presenting illness.

Examination consists of eight classical clinical modalities which are assessed by using observation, touch and taking a history:

  • Pulse (considered to be the most important)

  • urine,

  • tongue,

  • faeces,

  • speech and voice,

  • palpation,

  • eye examination,

  • general physical examination.

The physician notes the signs and symptoms, which indicate which dosha is aggravated and prescribe treatment to rebalance the Tridosha.

Treatment

Treatments are used to treat the presenting condition and to maintain good health following recovery.

The ranges of treatment include:

  • Purification Panchakarma or five action treatment;

  • Alleviation: the use of honey butter or ghee and sesame oil to eliminate Kapha Pitta and Vata respectively;

  • Gem therapy and colour therapy;

  • Dietary adjustment to rebalance the doshas, pharmaceutics including herbs which are prepared in a variety of ways.

Application

Ayurvedic medicine is a complete medical system which has application across the whole clinical spectrum.

Evidence for the efficacy of Ayurvedic medicine is predominantly based on tradition and empirical observation but also, more recently, on clinical trials. It has been shown to have a possible role in:

  • Management of people with schizophrenia (Argwal and Abhijnhan, 2007);

  • Treatment of diabetes mellitus (Elder, 2004) and type 2 diabetes (Elder et al, 2006);

  • Reduction of hyperlipidaemia (Singh, 2007);

  • Attention deficit disorder (Devi, 1996);

  • Treatment of asthma (Gerson, 1995);

  • Improving cardiovascular risk factors following Panchakarma purification procedures (Sharma et al, 1993).

Safety

Certain herbal remedies may interfere with conventional pharmacology, including Ashwagandha, which has a similar structure to digoxin and may interfere with serum digoxin measurements in cardiac patients (Dasgupta et al, 2007)

Training

The Ayurvedic Medical Association UK is the professional body for qualified Ayurvedic practitioners who have completed five to six years full-time training in a university and one-year internship as an Ayurvedic doctor in the government hospitals in India and Sri Lanka. There are about 25–30 qualified Ayurvedic physicians in the UK who are registered with the Ayurvedic Medical Association UK.

References

Agarwal, V. et al (2007) Ayurvedic medicine for schizophrenia. Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews; 17: 4, CD006867.

Dasgupta, A. et al (2007) Effect of Indian Ayurvedic medicine Ashwagandha on measurement of serum digoxin and 11 commonly monitored drugs using immunoassays: study of protein binding and interaction with Digibind. Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; 131: 8, 1298-1303.

Devi, A. (1996) Ayurvedic specific condition review: attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity. The Protocol Journal of Botanical Medicine; 2: 1, 32-39.

Elder, C. (2004) Ayurveda for diabetes mellitus: a review of the biomedical literature. Alternative Therapy in Health and Medicine; 10: 1, 44-50.

Elder, C. et al (2006) Randomised trial of a whole system Ayurvedic protocol for type 2 diabetes. Alternative Therapy in Health and Medicine; 12: 5, 24-30.

Gerson, S. (1995) Ayurvedic specific condition review: asthma. The Protocol Journal of Botanical Medicine; 1: 2, 108-109.

Sharma, H. et al (1993) Improvements in cardiovascular risk factors through Panchakarma purification procedures. Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine; 12: 4, 2-13.

Singh, V.J. et al (2007) Ayurvedic and collateral herbal treatments for hyperlipidemia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs. Alternative Therapy in Health and Medicine; 13: 4, 22-28.


Further reading

Lad, V. (2002) Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda. Vol 1. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.

Lad, V. (2006) Textbook of Ayurveda: Complete Guide to Clinical Assessment. Albuquerque, NM: Ayurvedic Press.

Sharma, H., Clark, C. (1998) Contemporary Ayurveda: Medicine and Research in Maharishi Ayur-veda. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

Useful website

Ayurvedic Medical Association UK: www.natural-healing.co.uk

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