Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic means the science of life, and is probably the oldest system of healing. It encompasses a philosophy that is both subtle and complex. In treating an individual, an assessment is first made of metabolic body type or dosha. There are three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha, and the dominance of one over the others determines classification. Doshas are blueprints, or a health profile of an individual, encompassing physiology, innate ten dencies, strengths, weaknesses, and susceptibilities to ill health. Once a diagnosis of the illness has been made, the methods of treatment may include cleansing the body of toxins, whether of an environmental, bacterial or viral nature, appropriate changes in diet, herbal and mineral preparations to rebuild and rejuvenate body tissues, and stress management through activities such as meditation, deep breathing, and sound therapy. The purpose is to balance the doshas within the individual.

Several factors are believed to be at the basis of physiological imbalance and disorder. There may be a genetic predisposition to an illness that is prompted by something in the surrounding environment or triggered while still in the womb by the activities of the mother. Individuals usually have natural tendencies toward a particular habit or behavior such as alcoholism, overeating, or overworking. A disease may be the result of a congenital defect acquired during development in the uterus. Environmental pollutants, poor diet, or eating the wrong foods according to dosha type can cause illness; and each dosha may be susceptible to seasonal influences. Other conditions affecting health are physical and emotional trauma, and electrical or magnetic imbalances along the spinal cord.

The foremost characteristic of the vata metabolic type is changeability. People of this type are active, energetic, moody, imaginative, and impulsive; prone to erratic sleep patterns, intestinal problems, nervous disorders, and premenstrual syndrome. There is a sensitivity to cold and dry and their vulnerable season is autumn. Pitta types are predictable, aggressive, intense, efficient, articulate, moderate in daily habits, short-tempered, and impatient. They tend to perspire more and may be open to poor digestion, ulcers, skin inflammations, hemorrhoids, and heartburn. In summer they are sensitive to the sun and heat. Kapha is relaxed, stable, conservative, with a tendency to laziness and procrastination. They sleep long and move, eat, and digest food slowly. There is an inclination toward overweight, allergies, sinus, and lung congestion and they are highly susceptible to the cold of winter.

An important aspect of Ayurvedic medicine is the categorization of food according to taste and other inherent properties, then using that information to establish the proper diet for each dosha. Ayurvedic medical schools often teach pharmacology and cooking in the same course. Whether a food is sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter or astringent, heavy or light, solid or liquid, dry or oily as well as its hot or cold-producing abilities, all have an effect on the health of an individual.

There is also a consideration of food transformation once digested, for example, from sweet to pungent, as is the case with honey. Honey is sweet when eaten but once processed in the body becomes pungent. From a health aspect it would not have the affect that sweet foods do. The pharmacological effect of a meal can be altered by adding or subtracting a spice or herb. The Ayurvedic method of nutrition is ultimately to observe the reactions that different foods have on each patient.

Ayurvedic medicine is very effective in treating metabolic, stress related, or chronic conditions and for relieving the deleterious effects of surgery and debilitating treatments such as chemotherapy. Many Ayurvedic herbal preparations have been clinically tested and documented as improving a wide range of health conditions. A number of studies have shown guggul (an extract from the mukul myrrh tree) to lower cholesterol. For example, in a study of 40 patients with high cholesterol, the herb was shown to reduce in a 16-week period, serum cholesterol levels by 21%, triglycerides by 27%, a 35% rise of HDL cholesterol, and a decrease in LDL levels.8 Guggul properties have an anticoagulating effect on blood platelets and prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing.9 Other illnesses that have responded to therapy in studies are metabolic and endocrine gland dysfunctions, neurological disorders, gastrointestinal diseases, mental disorders, inflammation of the musculoskeletal system, and the prevention of cancer.

For more information contact: American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, P.O. Box 598, South Lancaster, Massachusetts, 01561, 1-800-843-8332; American School of Ayurvedic Sciences, 10025 NE 4th Street, Bellevue, Washington 98004, 206-453-8022; Sharp Institute for Human Potential and Mind-Body Medicine,

8010 Frost Street, Suite 300, San Diego, California 92123, 1-800-82SHARP; The College of Maharishi Ayur-Veda Health Center, P.O. Box 282, Fairfield, Iowa 52556, 515-472-5866; Canadian Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, P.O. Box 749 Station B', Ottawa, Ontario Canada K1P 5P8, 613-837-5737; Ayurvedic Institute, 11311 Menaul NE, Suite A, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87112, 505-291-9698.

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