A Brief Introduction to Ayurvedic Medicine

what is ayurvedic medicine

If you’re someone who seeks a natural approach to maintaining or improving your well-being, is Ayurvedic medicine on your radar? 

What is Ayurvedic medicine?

Ancient Indian wisdom based on natural healing systems, Ayurvedic medicine is believed to help alleviate - perhaps even entirely eradicate - anything from skin conditions, blood pressure issues and arthritis to gut problems, weight loss and stress. For those of us in the West, using the word ‘medicine’ conjures concepts of lotions, potions, pills and products. Whilst natural products are a component of Ayurvedic medicine, it is much, much more than this. Rather than focussing on a singular discipline, this ancient Indian wisdom incorporates products as well as diet, exercise and lifestyle. Think of it more as a 360-degree, holistic approach to well-being. 

Sanskrit for the “science of life”, Ayurveda’s origins can be traced to 5,000 years ago, making it one of - if not the - world’s oldest healing science.  

Ayurvedic medicine - prevention is better than cure

This is a cornerstone principle of Ayurvedic medicine, with the intent to always maintain a balanced life or natural order. Through Ayurvedic knowledge and application, the idea is to achieve balance across consciousness, mind and body. Whilst it’s not possible to always maintain this perfect balance (internal and external influences will create periods of natural disorder), making adjustments across diet, lifestyle and exercise may work towards restoring that ideal constitution. 

Ayurvedic foods

How does Ayurvedic medicine link energy, or dosha, to disease?  

Ayurvedic medicine believes that the world comprises five elements:

  • Space (aakash)
  • Water (jala)
  • Fire (teja)
  • Earth (prithvi) 
  • Air (vayu)

Every one of us has an energy, or “dosha” that is the result of a unique ratio of these five elements. We each have all three dosha present in us  - vata, pitta and kapha - but typically one is dominant, one is secondary and the third has a minimal presence. 

That energy has an almost symbiotic relationship with balance - when one is in a state of natural order, so is the other, and vice-versa. 

In other words, this ratio dictates our individual Ayurvedic constitution. Ayurvedic therapists believe that disease of the body is caused by toxins or an imbalance of any one of the three doshas.

How do you determine your Ayurvedic dosha? 

Ayurvedic medicine believes that in order to achieve optimum individual well-being, one’s dosha should influence one’s diet and lifestyle. An Ayurvedic therapist can help you determine the ratio of your dosha, but here is a brief overview that might give you more of an indication:

Dosha  

Energy in the physical body 

Elements 

Governs 

Balance

Imbalance 

For optimum health 

Vata 

In order for our cells to receive fluids and nutrients, energy is needed for transportation.

Space and air 

-Pulse 

-All movement in the cell cytoplasm 

-All movement in the cell membranes 

-Muscle and tissue movement 

-Breathing 

-Blinking 

Flexibility and creativity 

Anxiety and/or fear 

-Stick to daily routine

-Focus on stress management 

-Maintain warm body temp 

-Opt for warmer rather than cold foods 

Pitta 

In order for us to metabolise those nutrients, energy is required.

Fire and water 

-Body temp

-Metabolism 

-Nutrition 

-Digestion 

-Absorption  

Intelligence and understanding 

Hatred, jealousy and/or anger 

-Exercise regularly 

-Maintain healthy diet 

-Adopt a sound sleep routine  

-Stay warm

Kapha

Pronounced kuffa 

In order to give the body its structure, energy is required. 

Earth and water 

-Bones

-Tendons

-Muscles 

Love, calm, forgiveness 

Envy, greed, attachment 

-Avoid real heat 

-Avoid hot, spicy foods 

-Create sound work-life balance 


Ayurvedic herbs

What are Ayurvedic herbs? 

Combined with other practices such as yoga, meditation, aromatherapy and/or massage, Ayurvedic herbs are typically used to cleanse the body. Depending on the herb, they are believed to promote specific healing or well-being outcomes. Some Ayurvedic herbal medicines include:

  • Gotu Kola - for anxiety, mood improvement, mental fogginess 
  • Boswellia - for inflammatory conditions such as skin problems, asthma, colitis 
  • Triphala - an antioxidant for ageing-related disease 
  • Guggal - for cholesterol and heart disease 

Is Ayurvedic medicine effective?

Despite its age, Ayurvedic medicine is not supported by much conventional, Western science. However, rather than dismissing this medicine, many detractors instead suggest that more studies are required. So, does Ayurvedic medicine really work? Well, there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence from people convinced that Ayurvedic medicine has healed them from all manner of disease or illness. Take our customer, personal trainer and sports model, Zuleika, for example. She strongly believes that a combination of Ayurvedic medicine and Edible Health collagen has helped her overcome many challenges and symptoms associated with her Juvenile Arthritis diagnosis.

How does Ayurvedic medicine differ from conventional Western medicine?

Whereas traditional Western medicine typically focuses on the symptoms of disease, Ayurvedic medicine explores ways to achieve balance and therefore hopefully prevent it in the first place. Western medicine is quick to administer drugs as treatment, whereas Ayurvedic medicine tends to regard them as a means of further weakening the body. It is very important to acknowledge that one should not dismiss the other, as some drugs have a valid and real role to play in many diseases and illnesses. Rather, the two can potentially work together. For example, drugs might treat disease, whilst Ayurvedic medicine might help the body return to its original strength.

Ayurvedic massage

Is Ayurvedic medicine safe?

Ayurvedic medicine is classified as a supplement and not as conventional medicine. Therefore, it is not regulated in the same way that, for example, medicinal drugs are. Cancer Research UK, for instance, states that some Ayurvedic medicine may interfere with cancer drugs or radiotherapy so seek the advice of your oncologist. As such, we recommend seeking a qualified therapist registered with the governing body, the Ayurvedic Professionals Association

Take-home points

  • Ayurvedic medicine, Sanskrit for the “science of life” is one of the oldest science medicines known, with records dating back 5,000 years 
  • It is an ancient Indian wisdom that is based on a natural healing system 
  • Unlike most conventional Western medicine, it is based on prevention rather than cure 
  • Ayurvedic medicine takes a holistic approach to well-being, encompassing products, diet, exercise and lifestyle 
  • The concept is based on a belief that everything in the world is comprised of a combination of five elements - earth, air, water, space and fire 
  • A unique ratio of these five elements creates unique individual energy, or dosha, for every single one of us 
  • These doshas are known as Vat, Pitta and Kapha and this dictates our Ayurvedic constitution 
  • As a result, practices and decisions we make about our diet, lifestyle and exercise should be informed by whatever dosha we are 
  • Despite its ancient wisdom, Ayurvedic medicine is not supported by significant modern-day conventional science
  • However, for 5,000 years anecdotal evidence has sustained this belief and practice 
  • Ayurvedic medicine and conventional Western medicine should not be considered mutually exclusive - they can work together 

It is important not to construe any information herewith as medical advice and instead, to seek counsel from your GP about ways in which you might incorporate Ayurvedic medicine into a specific treatment or recovery plan.