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What is Ayurveda?

Long before people turned to hospitals or pharmacies for healthcare, they turned to plants.

For eons, most humans lived in close connection with nature and spent a good part of their daily lives growing or gathering plants. When someone was sick or injured, there was nowhere to get medicine besides the forest. Through millennia of trial and error, humans discovered that certain plants had distinctive medicinal properties.  They also discovered heirloom varieties that were especially potent and passed the seeds on to other cultures and generations. Humans and plants enjoyed a age-old symbiotic relationship that flourished until pharmaceutical drugs became popular in the 1940s. For a brief 60-year period this relationship broke down and faded into the background, but in the 21st century the trend is swinging firmly back towards natural medicine. Plant compounds are almost always safer and, in many cases, can be just as effective.

The Time-tested "Science of Life" & Healing

India is one of the oldest civilizations on earth; humans have lived there for at least 30,000 years. It is also one of the most botanically diverse places, abundantly blessed with endless forests, jungles, pastures & species of wildflowers found nowhere else. India’s ancient human civilization combined with its richness of botanical diversity gave birth to an incredible plant medicine tradition called Ayurveda. Ayurveda means “the science of life” and it originated more than 5,000 years ago. Some of the most important Ayurvedic medicine texts were written around 400 – 200 BCE. In addition to herbal medicines, Ayurveda uses diet and yogic breathing to help correct imbalances in the mind, body & spirit.

In Ayurveda, the 5 elements (earth, water, fire, air & ether) combine in the human body to form three different archetypes of life forces or energies called doshas. They are called vata (ether and air), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (water and earth). Every person has a different balance of these 3 doshas: if they become too imbalanced it increases your chance of developing various health conditions. Each herb has distinct properties that can help correct certain types of imbalances. Warming, grounding vata herbs like ashwagandha, fennel and ginger can aid digestion and soothe anxiety. Cooling, calming pitta herbs like mint, rose and coriander can help with inflammation and detox support.  Light, heating kapha herbs like ginseng, turmeric and black pepper can boost energy and resilience.

Scientific Studies on the Benefits of Ayurvedic Herbs

Ayurveda is no longer folklore. Key tenets of Ayurvedic herbal medicine are increasingly supported by the findings of Western science:

  • A 2013 study found that traditional Ayurvedic herbal formulations were just as effective at treating knee osteoarthritis pain as the prescription drug celecoxib and the natural supplement glucosamine.1
  • A small pilot study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health on 43 adults with rheumatoid arthritis found that traditional ayurvedic herbs were equal in effectiveness to the prescription drug methotrexate.2
  • In a 2018 review of studies on patients with ulcerative colitis (chronic colon inflammation), patients who took turmeric extract along with the drug mesalamine had higher rates of remission than those who did not take the herbal supplement.3
  • A 2015 study of 93 patients with type 2 diabetes found that taking a mixture of Ayurvedic herbal extracts were as effective at decreasing post-meal blood sugar as the drug Metformin. While both groups’ total cholesterol levels dropped, the group that took the mixture of Ayurvedic herbs had even greater reduction than those taking Metformin!4
  • A study on mice found that the classic Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha can have comparable effects to the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam and the anti-depressant imipramine.5

References

  1. Rheumatology (Oxford). 2013 Aug;52(8):1408-17.
  2. J Clin Rheumatol. 2011 Jun;17(4):185-92.
  3. Am J Med Sci. 2018 Oct;356(4):350-356.
  4. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Aug;23(4):555-61.
  5. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sep; 34(3): 255–262.