Ayurveda or the “science of life” is a system of traditional medical practices which was developed in ancient India. The practice of Ayurvedic medicine is included in the list of complementary and alternative medicine in the United States. Individual practices found in Ayurvedic medicine are applied in medical treatments such as the use of herbs, special diets, meditation and therapeutic massage techniques.
The purpose of Ayurvedic medicine is to maintain the optimum balance between the mind, body and spirit. It aims to provide a more holistic approach to treatment by not only healing the physical body but also spiritual and emotional needs of the person. This is done by a series of practices to help cleanse the body, mind and spirit to reestablish balance and harmony.
Practice in India
Ayurvedic medicine is widely used in India, 80 percent of the country’s population currently uses it with conventional Western medicine in providing medical treatment to patients. The country maintains colleges and hospitals in major cities that cater to this type of alternative medicine.
The practice of Ayurvedic medicine is mainly based on information found in two ancient books. Texts written in Sanskrit on the Caraka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita book form the basis of Ayurvedic medicine practice. The books divide Ayurvedic medicine into eight main branches which are internal medicine, gynecology and pediatrics, surgery, psychiatry, treatment of head and neck diseases, care of the elderly and rejuvenation, toxicology and sexual vitality.
Treatment and Management
The aim of Ayurvedic medicine is to ultimately cleanse the patient’s body of impurities to provide cure and relief from the different symptoms of a disease. It promotes a healthier lifestyle by restoring harmony in mind and body. This is done through the different Ayurvedic medicine practices which include the following:
- Reducing worry and increasing harmony
The practice of Ayurvedic medicine places great stress in a person’s mental and spiritual state. Emphasis on mental and meditation relaxation techniques are done to reduce the level of stress on the person’s mind and body, allowing them to live a more harmonious life.
- Reducing symptoms
Various lifestyle changes are introduced by the practitioner to eliminate symptoms. This includes the use of physical exercises, meditation, massage, breathing exercises, stretching and dietary changes to introduce lifelong changes in health habits. Examples of dietary changes exclusive to Ayurvedic medicine is taking in minute amounts of metals and minerals such as iron to the diet.
- Eliminating impurities
“Panchakarma” is the method of cleansing the body by removing “ama.” This substance is described as one which interferes with the normal functioning of the body by sticking to the tissues which causes disease. “Ama” is driven out by a series of treatments and exits the patient’s body via the digestive and respiratory system.
- Increasing resistance to disease
Decreasing the patient’s susceptibility to a disease is done with the use of a wide range of treatments. Different Ayurvedic practices include the use of tonics like proteins, vitamins, minerals and herbs to increase appetite and boost immunity.
Use of Herbs and Plants
The “pharmacy” of Ayurvedic medicine currently lists more than 600 formulas and 250 single plant drugs. They provide patient’s relief from numerous medical conditions or promote health. Plants and herbs are divided into categories with regards to their effects on the patient. Herbs and plants are sometimes mixed with metals to produce their desired effects.
Toxicity and overdose are the main dangers of using Ayurvedic medicines. Because some types of Ayurvedic medicines use metals in combination with herbs and plants the danger of toxicity is great. These medications are not considered as drugs but dietary supplements, thus they don’t fall under the scrutiny of conventional medicines.
“An NCCAM-funded study published in 2004 found that of 70 Ayurvedic remedies purchased over-the-counter (all manufactured in South Asia), 14 contained lead, mercury, and/or arsenic at levels that could be harmful. Also in 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 12 cases of lead poisoning occurring over a recent 3-year period were linked to the use of Ayurvedic medications.” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine NCCAM