The development of medicine is a fascinating subject that prompts us to learn more about various treatments and health traditions from all over the world. Ayurvedic medicine is among the oldest medical traditions in the world, dating back over 3,000 years (Weber & Killen, 2015). It originated in India but gained global popularity in the last decades due to its connection to yoga and a healthy lifestyle. The present paper will describe the key premises of Ayurvedic medicine, discuss its benefits and risks, and explain some essential considerations for care providers.
Like most other old medicines, Ayurvedic medicine is based on the connection between the physical, spiritual, and mental aspects of individuals. According to Weber and Killen (2015), the critical premises of Ayurvedic medicine are the interconnectedness between people, their health, and the universe, the body’s constitution, and life forces. In Ayurveda, health is considered to be “a state of physical, mental, and spiritual equilibrium” (Gerson, 2014, para. 1). Therefore, illness is viewed as a disruption of this equilibrium.
Another essential premise of Ayurvedic medicine is the existence of different bodily energies, which are referred to as doshas. There are three doshas: pitta, vata, and kapha, and each person is said to have a dominating dosha. People whose predominant dosha is pitta are believed to have a fiery temperament, whereas those who have more vata energy are assumed to be creative and lively (Lallanilla, 2015).
When kapha energy dominates in a person, they are said to be calm and considerate (Lallanilla, 2015). Disturbances in the flow of particular bodily energy can cause specific diseases. For instance, pitta disturbances could cause digestive problems and inflammation, vata imbalance results in anxiety and joint pain, and kapha is linked to diabetes and obesity (Lallanilla, 2015). People who experience health issues and want to avoid self-medication often choose to visit an Ayurvedic care provider instead.
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
The approach to treating diseases and promoting health in Ayurveda is somewhat similar to conventional Western medicine. For instance, Gerson (2014) describes a ten-fold procedure for diagnosing a patient in Ayurvedic practice. The diagnosis involves an assessment of the person’s constitution, bodily energies (doshas), tissues, body, statute and proportions, strength, adaptability, emotional balance, digestion, and rate of aging (Gerson, 2014). Ayurvedic care providers use common patient exam techniques, such as palpation, visual inspection, and patient interviews.
Depending on the condition, Ayurvedic treatments may include herbal remedies and lifestyle modification. For example, individualized diets are often used to treat an entire variety of diseases, including joint pain, inflammation, and diabetes. Ayurveda also promotes mindful self-care using meditations and other spiritual practices, as it is believed that perfect health cannot be achieved without harmony with one’s self and the universe (Gerson, 2014). Meditation and a healthy lifestyle are also used in disease prevention.
Effectiveness and Risks
Ayurvedic medicine received considerable attention in health care research due to its increasing popularity in Europe and the United States. As noted by Weber and Killen (2015), most clinical trials considering Ayurvedic medicine have had poor research design and thus did not lead to any viable conclusions. Nevertheless, some clinical trials confirmed the effectiveness of specific Ayurvedic treatments.
For example, a comparison between methotrexate and the 40 herbal compounds used to treat rheumatoid arthritis in Ayurveda showed comparable efficacy (Weber & Killen, 2015). Tumeric, which is often used in Ayurveda to treat inflammation, was also proven to have a positive effect on digestion and joint health (Weber & Killen, 2015). Thus, some treatments used in Ayurvedic medicine are just as effective or even more effective than conventional therapy.
With regards to prevention, Ayurvedic medicine can be particularly beneficial. For instance, exercise and diet schemes that are part of the Ayurvedic approach to disease prevention can lower a person’s risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Regular meditation, on the other hand, can help to reduce stress. Lower stress levels are associated with positive health outcomes, including decreased anxiety, improved sleep, and better mental performance overall.
However, it is also critical for care providers to know about the risks of Ayurvedic medicine. Lallanilla (2015) reports that Ayurvedic remedies purchased online can have traces of led, mercury, and arsenic, which could cause poisoning. In addition, Ayurvedic medications are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which means that they are often sold without evidence of their safety and effectiveness (Lallanilla, 2015). In defending these treatments, Ayurvedic care providers and other proponents of Ayurvedic medicine rely mostly on anecdotal evidence. Finally, people might be tempted to use Ayurvedic medicine to avoid visiting a conventional care provider, such as a physician or a nurse. In this case, using Ayurvedic medicine puts people at risk of developing serious complications.
All in all, Ayurvedic medicine is a complex practice that has some significant benefits and risks for patients. On the one hand, most Ayurvedic treatments are harmless, and some remedies could even help to treat or prevent certain conditions. On the other hand, patients using Ayurvedic therapies to replace conventional medicine are at risk of developing severe complications. Therefore, it is critical for primary care providers to advise patients of the dangers of using these medicines and to warn that they should not be used to replace the medications prescribed by a nurse or a physician.