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Ayurveda means the “science of life”. This is a holistic system of health that is being practised since ancient times. According to Ayurveda, health is not only defined as freedom from diseases or ailments but also it is a state of physical, mental and spiritual balance. The ancient sage, Acharya Sushruta, defined a healthy person as one who has balanced doshas (humours that make up the body), agni (digestive and metabolic processes), dhatus (body tissues), malas (excreta), kriyas (bodily functions), and is happy with a balanced mind and spirit. Ayurveda embraces the belief that the path to treatment is establishing a balance between the body and mind. Thus, ayurvedic treatments focus on changing the lifestyle and food habits of a person to prevent diseases along with shaman chikitsa (pacification treatment) and shodhan chikitsa (purification treatment) to restore balance in the doshas.

In this article, you’ll know just how this ancient medical science has evolved with time and has lead to the origin of several other alternative medicinal therapies.

Ayurvedic therapies and medicines, their benefits and side effects would also be discussed in detail.

  1. What is Ayurveda?
  2. History of Ayurveda
  3. Principles of Ayurveda
  4. Benefits of Ayurveda: Why should you opt for an Ayurvedic treatment
  5. Trisutra: The three basic objectives of Ayurveda
  6. Ayurvedic medicines
  7. Preparation and mode of administration of Ayurvedic medicines
  8. Side effects of Ayurvedic medicines

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is one of the oldest systems of medicines known to mankind. It is believed to have originated some 5000 years ago in India and is known to be the “Mother of all healing systems”. Quite a heavy title to bear, and rightly so. Unlike conventional medicine, Ayurveda aims at the complete and all-round improvement in health and well being, comprising the body, mind and soul.

Ayurvedic philosophy works on the principle of energy and body constitution, which vary widely from one person to another. So, the treatments and medicines that suit one person in a particular disease may as well worsen the condition for another.

Instead of treating diseases ayurvedic treatments focus on finding the cause of imbalance in the body and strive to bring back the balance. Ayurveda also includes various dietary and lifestyle modifications that can help an individual stay disease free and live a long and healthy life.

History of Ayurveda

Ayurvedic medicine has its origins in the Vedas; howevermuch of the earlier teachings were mostly verbal and have been lost or unavailable to mankind. Systemic development in Ayurveda started much later and include the famous Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, which are known to have surfaced somewhere between 6th century BC and 3rd century BC. The former text is a collection of all the medical conditions, their pathogenesis, etymology and treatment while the latter talks about surgeries and conditions of specific organs such as ears, eyes etc.

With time, many more texts were published, which start from where the previous two left. They also added new diseases, drugs and treatments that kept on being developed with time.

Did you know?

Ayurveda is believed to be propagated by none other than Lord Dhanvantari, the god of healing and physician of the gods themselves.

Although Ayurveda is essentially a nature-based system, it is in no way behind conventional medicine in terms of efficacy. In fact, most of the ayurvedic principles and facts are rooted in scientific concept and one can find parallels to some of these concepts in modern medicine. Numerous researches are going on worldwide to find the mechanism behind the action of ayurvedic herbs and medicines, which has lead to an entirely new generation of antibiotics that are prepared naturally and are devoid of side effects when used in proper dosage and under the supervision of an experienced ayurvedic practitioner. And when you think that is it, ayurvedic colleges are being set up all over the world to learn, practice and further evolve the medicine system that roots from the times of human origin.

Principles of Ayurveda

According to Ayurveda, every individual has a particular physical and mental constitution, known as prakriti. It is determined by individual genetics and remains the same throughout their life. Prakriti also decides the physical and biological traits of a person viz. Height, weight, metabolic functions and their susceptibility to certain infections and diseases.

A body is believed to be made of panchamahabhutas or the five elements (earth, air, fire, water and ether) and sapta dhatus (seven types of tissues), which along with tridoshas and trigunas, are responsible for maintaining balance in prakriti.

The sapta dhatus include: Rasa (plasma), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscle), meda (fats), asthi (bones and teeth), majja (nerves) and shukra (reproductive tissue). All of these dhatus nourish each other in a sequence. The essence of all of these dhatus is known as ojas. It forms the base of immunity and is suppressed by stress, anxiety and unhealthy lifestyle.

The three doshas are- vata, pitta and kapha and the trigunas are- tamas, rajas and sattva. A person may have a dominance of one of the doshas and one of the gunas or any combination of all these. Makes a lot of body constitutions, doesn’t it?

When you think that is it, every herb is given individual qualities too, based on the energetics, a herb may be light or heavy, warming or cooling and it may have specific effects on any of the body part such as stimulating, rejuvenating, analgesic, tonic and the list goes on.

An ayurvedic practitioner pairs the right herb with the right disease and the apt body constitution to get the perfect and individualised treatment for an ailment.

Additionally, Ayurvedic treatment takes into account, the dietary and lifestyle habits of an individual for disease management.

Benefits of Ayurveda: Why should you opt for an Ayurvedic treatment

Being a healing science, Ayurveda does not need to have any additional benefits for one to be curious about it. However, an Ayurvedic treatment has several benefits that give it an upper hand over any other healing system. Let us have a look at them:

  • Unlike conventional medicine, Ayurvedic treatment heals an individual on all levels of existence- body, mind and soul. An Ayurvedic practitioner can help you understand your own body constitution so you would know exactly what kind of diet and lifestyle is best for you. You’ll also be more aware of the ways to maintain an optimum balance between your mind and body. So, goodbye stress and anxiety.
  • Ayurvedic treatment uses natural herbs and medicines, which do not have any side effects when taken with the guidance of an experienced doctor.
  • Ayurveda is one of the oldest healing sciences. Most of the ayurvedic remedies are being used for thousands of years. In fact, there are some diseases which don’t have a particular treatment in modern medicine but are known to be manageable in Ayurveda, for instance, eczema.

(Read more: Ayurvedic treatment of eczema)

Trisutra: The three basic objectives of Ayurveda

The most important aim of Ayurveda is to maintain a disease free state so that a person can enjoy optimal health. This falls under the category of prevention. In case of disease, various therapies and treatments are given for the management and alleviation of disease symptoms. To achieve both these objectives, Ayurveda uses the concept of trisutra. These include:

  • Hetu (cause): This comprises the etiological and causative factors, the presence or absence of which determines the health of an individual. The causative factors include sensory perceptions, intellect, elements etc and the etiological factors comprise of over or under-utilisation of substances or foods.
  • Linga (symptoms): Linga refers to symptoms of a disease or a health condition along with the traits that mark good health.
  • Aushadha (drug): Aushadha refers to the various measures that are employed to maintain health and prevent diseases. It also includes all the therapeutic measures used for disease management.

Disease prevention

Four different measures are used for disease prevention in Ayurveda. These are:

  • Dincharya: The day to day lifestyle and habits of an individual. This includes timely meals, proper rest, exercise/ yoga and avoiding overworking and stress.
  • Rittucharya: Rittucharya involves changes in diet and lifestyle depending on the change in seasons and weather to prevent seasonal infections and diseases.
  • Rasayana: This includes rejuvenation therapies which retard ageing, reduce the risk of disease while at the same time increasing lifespan.
  • Vajikarna: Vajikarna promotes and maintains sexual health, helps in the management of sexual disorders and deals with the health of the progeny.

Disease management

Disease management is the next step in aushada. This involves various treatments and therapies that provide relief from disease symptoms and help in balancing tridoshas. Various therapies that are used in disease management include:

  • Devavyapashraya chikitsa: This method involves the usage of mantras, hymns and rituals to connect a person to spirituality and nature. Though the exact reason for its efficacy is unknown, this treatment is widely used not just in Ayurveda but various other traditional healing systems.
  • Sattvavajaya: Sattva means pure; sattvavajaya aims at maintaining a positive mindset and avoidance of negativity or negative feelings that are believed to have a deteriorating impact on a person’s health. This is achieved through meditation and yoga.
  • Yuktivyapashraya chikitsa: This involves 3 types of therapies:
    • Nidana parivarjana: Avoidance of the causative factors of disease. For example, avoiding cold foods in case of kapha imbalance or warm foods in case of pitta imbalance.
    • Samsodhana: This involves procedures such as senahana (oleation), vamana (emesis), virechana (purgation), swedana (sudation), Basti (enema), and nasya or the panchakarmas for the expulsion of toxins from the body and balancing the vitiated doshas.
    • Samsamana: These therapies are used in people where samsodhana is not recommended or they are used after the samsodhana procedures. Samsamana includes- Ahara (food), vihara (physical activities) and aushada (herbs and medicines).

Ayurvedic medicines

Ayurvedic medicines are being used for thousands of years for the treatment of various diseases. But how safe are they? And can they be taken for long term? What are the side effects? Well, it has been scientifically proven that most ayurvedic medicines and herbs are effective in providing symptomatic relief from various conditions and have been found to be effective in preventing disease relapse by promoting health and improving immunity. In fact, potency and safety of ayurvedic medicines have been proven where conventional medicine has shown side effects for example in the improvement of certain type of cancer and prevention of age-related degenerative diseases.

Preparation and mode of administration of Ayurvedic medicines

Ayurvedic medicines are made from natural products. It combines various herbs, minerals and natural products such as corals, and shells. Elements such as arsenic and mercury also make an important part of some of the famous ayurvedic formulations.

However, they are prepared with a specified procedure, and every ingredient is added in a pre-decided amount to achieve a standardised formulation that is effective in treating diseases when given in a particular dosage, determined by individual prakriti and dosha.

For the ease of administration, they are now available in the form of powders, syrups, decoctions, dried and fresh herbs and also as tea, extracts and infusions.

Side effects of Ayurvedic medicines

Even though ayurvedic medicines are considered to be safe and have been found to be useful in treating a wide range of diseases. Self-medication and unsupervised consumption of ayurvedic medicines may have some side effects.

  • Ayurvedic medicines which contain arsenic may cause arsenic poisoning.
  • Research studies have revealed an increased amount of mercury and high blood pressure in some people after taking certain ayurvedic preparations.
  • Ayurvedic preparations which contain some metals, gems and minerals have been listed as potentially unsafe by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Not all medicines, herbs and treatments are considered to be safe for all individuals especially in case of pregnant and lactating women.

References

  1. V. Narayanaswamy. Origin and development of ayurveda. College of Indian Medicine, Madras; Ancient Science of Life, Vol. I, No.1, July1981
  2. Vinamra Sharma and Anand Kumar Chaudhary. Concepts of Dhatu Siddhanta (theory of tissues formation and differentiation) and Rasayana; probable predecessor of stem cell therapy. 2014 Jul-Sep; 35(3): 231–236. PMID: 26664231
  3. Dr. S.N. Gupta, P.D. Patel , Nadiad, , Birstein. Ayurveda- Brief History and Philosophy. Ayurved Hospital, Nadiad, Gujarat, European Academy for Ayurveda,f International Ayurveda Foundation, UK.
  4. Hirdesh kumari , Murlidhar Paliwal. Concept of trisutra ayurveda: A review. IMS, BHU, Varanasi, India
  5. Ediriweera E.R.H.S.S and Somarathna K.I.W.K. A review on protecting national health through rasayana and vajikarana chikithsa. Department of Nidana Chikithsa (Diagnosis and Treatment), Institute of Indigenous Medicine, University of Colombo, Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka. ISSN 2347-2375
  6. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth.
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