All About Ayurveda

Ayurveda, which means science of life, is a term used to designate a system of healing that originated in India five thousand (or more) years ago.

While Ayurvedic medicine is generally dismissed as not being credible by the medical community, there has been a renewed interest in India and increasing recognition elsewhere.

Deepak Chopra, MD, a well-known author and speaker was the founding president of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine and has been called "America's most prominent spokesman for Ayurveda."

Ayurveda 101: What’s Your Dosha?

In Ayurveda, health is viewed as a balance between three doshas similar to the four bodily humors believed by the ancient Greeks. The doshas — vata, pitta, and kapha — also correspond to the five traditional "elements."

Vata corresponds to ether and air (wind), pitta to fire and water (heat), and kapha to water and earth (fluid). Ayurveda characterizes human "types" according to their predominant dosha or doshas. In modern Ayurveda, this is accomplished by the completion of questionnaires concerning one's physical characteristics and personality.

For example, an individual in whom vata dominates might tend to be thin, while being drawn to the more spiritual side of life.

Someone with a dominant kapha dosha may have thicker hair, more fullness of body, and could be more sluggish.

Pitta types may have reddish skin or hair and a medium build. However, one can have a combination of various dosha characteristics.

Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes the importance of determining one's dominant dosha or doshas and seeking to balance them.

Ayurvedic Therapies May Help a Number of Conditions

Ayurvedic therapies include herbs, mineral supplements, surgery, and massage with oils. While allopathic medicine has dismissed Ayurveda as being without evidence in regard to its efficacy, a number of its individual remedies have passed western standards of scientific evaluation.

1. Ashwagandha 

For example, a review of human trials of the Indian herb ashwagandha showed significant improvement in anxiety among those who took it in comparison with those who received a placebo.1 Ashwagandha also shows promise as a drug candidate for treating the flu.2

2. Boswellia

A study of Ayurvedic remedies for arthritis demonstrated positive effects for a number of treatments including Boswellia serrata and noted that an herbal compound preparation known as Shunti-Guduchi had effects comparable to glucosamine for joint function and pain. 3

Boswellia serrata, which is derived from the tree that produces Indian frankincense, has been used for thousands of years to treat inflammatory conditions, including arthrits.Boswellic acids, particularly 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-β-boswellic acid, are the plant's active compounds.

3. Gugulipid 

Gugulipid refers to a gum from the Commiphora mukul tree. A 12-week trial found significant reductions in total cholesterol and triglycerides in association with gugulipid supplementation.5

4. Turmeric 

Another familiar plant-based treatment used in Ayurveda is the golden hued spice turmeric, source of the important compound curcumin. Curcumin has been the subject of thousands of published studies, and shows promise for a number of potentially lethal disorders, including several cancers and Alzheimer's disease.

In a review conducted by researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the authors describe curcumin as having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities.

5. Rasayna 

Rasayana (Tinospora cordifolia) is an Ayurvedic plant that is traditionally used to balance the immune system. Current scientific research has validated the immune-enhancing properties of this beneficial herb.

A double-blind trial reported in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology revealed that an extract of Tinospora cordifolia significantly reduced symptoms in allergic rhinitis in comparison with a placebo.8 Other Ayurvedic compounds that may be familiar include neem (Azadirachta indica), holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), and triphala (three fruits).

The Bottom Line

If you choose to seek out a clinical Ayurvedic specialist (CAS) in the U.S., look for one that has undergone training at one of the approximately eight schools in the U.S., since the modality is not government regulated.

And as always, consult with your primary care doctor before seeking to add Ayurveda to any current treatment regimen.


  1. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Dec;20(12):901-8. 
  2. Cell Biochem Biophys. 2015 Jan 28. 
  3. Rheumatol Int. 2015 Feb;35(2):211-32. 
  4. J Tradit Complement Med. 2013 Oct;3(4):221-6. 
  5. J Assoc Physicians India. 1989 May;37(5):323-8. 
  6. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:1-75. 
  7. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Jun 14;141(3):918-26. 
  8. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Jan 15;96(3):445-9.


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