The Science of Ayurvedic Medicine
Many of us here are complete newbies to the science of Ayurvedic medicine and would like to understand more. In short, the Ayurvedic “medical” practitioner’s goal is to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit. The Western herbs of botanical medicine tend to be used absentmindedly due to familiarity with their historical use. Some of us have even dabbled in or are now becoming familiar with the herbs used by practitioners of Eastern medicine, like those we covered in the previous post. But Ayurveda? What’s that all about?
There was a lot brought down in that first introduction to Ayurveda. Perhaps one of the most important takes may be that the intention of our minds before we interact with something, be it food, people. places or things can affect the molecular “vibration” within any and all of them. Their “vibrational frequency” will reflect the energy that you “face” it with. That’s intense!
Here’s another good introduction to understanding Ayurveda’s “medical” approach in life.
Wisdom for everyday living. Not something you resort to when you are “in trouble”. It is designed to help us to live in the most balanced, harmonious, and holistic way with all that is in our world. All parameters of healthy well-being are to be considered. Practicing Ayurveda is intended to be practical and easy to employ by following basic common sense in connecting with the self.
Want more? Here’s a quick, modernized approach to further understanding the elements in Ayurvedic thought:
So, in a nutshell, what constitutes the totality of our being and the promise of our wellness is the balance of the “five elements” that define being in this world and the smooth transformation of formed substances into other substances.
As our food is truly our medicine, it behooves us to know how to make use of it in the best way possible to increase vitality. The following lecture discusses this matter as well as informing us more about the different constitutions found in people and their respective qualities.
Different internal capacities to meet stressors and overcome them, or not, are defined by one’s constitution. The goal is to make wise lifestyle choices to reach and maintain harmony between the elements that make up your constitution for maximum resilience to meet stress.
Here’s another even deeper understanding of the main principles of this science on the level of the body-mind relationship:
Ayurvedic Medicine’s Herbal Repertoire
So which of the vast variety of herbs in the world we live in has this science come to revere? Besides the herb spices we think of with Indian cuisines, like cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and black pepper, there are even more “heavyweight” champions outside of the kitchen. Ayurveda is the source for popular adaptogens, like Schisandra and Siberian Eleuthero. In fact, we introduced a couple of them in the post Powerful Herbs That Empower Women. Keep in mind however that as opposed to the Western model of medical involvement in treatment strategies, the Eastern, Ayurvedic point of view is that respect has to be given to the concept of balancing the constitution.
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera):
Also called Indian Ginseng, is considered an ultimate herb with unlimited reward. It is classified as an “adaptogen” like the herbs we covered in the previous overview of Traditional Chinese Medicinal Herbs, meaning that it can help your body manage stress. It is said to have been used for over 3,000 years to relieve stress, increase energy levels and improve mental concentration.
One of the reasons the plant is so important to traditional healing modalities (such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine) is that Ashwagandha appears to do a lot for wellness and disease on its very own, without the use of any other herbs to support it! These days, modern scientific research shows that Ashwagandha may be capable of far more than the average herb for the body’s health. You can read more about this in the article, How To Restore The immune System With Ashwagandha.
Although somewhat confusing, both of these herbs are referred to in Ayurvedic medicine as Brahmi and both support brain function. Bacopa is the southern plant while Gotu Kola grows in the north of India. Mental health, clarity, cognitive function, concentration, focus and learning ability are all enhanced by their use. They work particularly well when combined! Their antioxidant chemical constituents are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and manage the free radicals in areas of the brain. Read the article that explains their differences in depth.
In old times, Bacopa was prescribed (along with brain-boosting nutritious foods) for any conditions related to brain function, the nerves, and even mood disorders, emotional problems, and disturbances. A modern review supports this, acknowledging the herb as a potent nootropic, meaning it amplifies brain functions and is a wonder of modern science for the brain. Read more about The Top 12 Benefits of Bacopa.
Guduchi (Amrit, Tinospora Cordifolia):
Amrit means nectar of gods. According to myth, when the ancient gods churned the primordial ocean, ambrosial nectar was created that would grant immortality to any who drank it. The nectar was named Amrit, a Sanskrit word that means “imperishable”. Although modern science hasn’t been able to confirm its immortalizing properties, a growing number of studies support Guduchi’s role as a potent herb that increases the body’s resistance to stress, anxiety, and illness. It is commonly used for:
- Allergies and symptoms of hay fever
- Arthritis and inflammation
- Chronic skin disorders such as psoriasis or eczema
- Gout and rheumatic disorders
- Hepatitis and jaundice (helps protect the liver from exposure to toxins)
- Immune system enhancement
- Preventing colds and flu
- Reducing the side effects of chemotherapy drugs
Guduchi is being researched for a variety of health effects, including its effect on diabetes, glucose metabolism, inflammation, immune system support, and neurology. Supplementation improves the ability of macrophages, an immune system cell, to consume their targets, though this effect is not immunostimulatory. Supplementation can also ward off allergies. One study suggests Guduchi is as potent as spirulina as an anti-allergic supplement.
Preliminary evidence suggests Guduchi may provide benefits for people with diabetes. Supplementation of Guduchi can reduce the body’s absorption of sugar-derived carbohydrates, and it may also play a role in reducing the pathologies associated with diabetes, like retinopathy and nephropathy. There is currently no human evidence for these effects. Guduchi is used nowadays in health supplements for its antioxidant properties and its ability to support the liver and the immune system. Guduchi may be slightly constipating if taken for long periods by those prone to sluggish bowels and can cause gastrointestinal upset when taken in large doses for long periods of time.
Guggul (Mukul myrrh, Commiphora Wightii):
Guggul is made from the gum resin of the Commiphora Mukul tree which is native to India. This resin has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and Ayurvedic texts dating back to 600 BC recommend it for treating atherosclerosis. Today guggul gum resin is used for arthritis, lowering high cholesterol, “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis), acne and other skin diseases, and weight loss.
Be advised: Large amounts of guggul might theoretically increase the side effects of estrogen and might theoretically increase the side effects of birth control pills. Guggul might increase how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking guggul along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can decrease the effectiveness of some medications. Taking guggul along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. Talk with your natural health provider before using this substance especially if you are taking any medications that are changed by the liver.
Katuki (Picrorhiza Kurroa):
An herb used in Ayurveda for treating liver ailments. The literal meaning of Katuki in the Sanskrit language is bitter. It is a small, delicate herb, which grows well only in the snow-clad Himalayan mountains. This makes the plant “endangered” as a result since overzealous manufacturers tend to overharvest. See Dunagiri Foundation’s work on saving Katuki from extinction.
There is not a single preparation in Ayurvedic medicines for liver problems which do not contain Katuki. This is nature’s best agent to help the gall bladder as well as helping improve digestion and regulating fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. Since the liver is the seat of all metabolism, the action of Katuki leads to the correction of many disorders.
Manjistha (Indian madder, Rubia cordifolia):
Best known as a lymph-mover and blood purifier and is considered one of the best herbs for skin. Many health professionals don’t take into consideration the important role that the lymphatic system plays in the body.
The lymphatic system is the seat of the immune system and has a profound influence on the healthful appearance and function of the skin, which is the body’s largest “organ” for detoxification. It drains the wastes from your body and controls and regulates your immune system. It is activated by being pumped through muscular contractions. Should someone be sedentary, the lymphatic system will eventually become sedentary and begin to leave toxicity in lymphatic related tissues such as the breasts, skin, joints, and muscles.
Shatavari (Asparagus Racemosus):
Has been used for centuries in Ayurveda to support the reproductive system, particularly for females, and as a support for the digestive system, especially in cases of excess pitta. Translated as “having one hundred roots” and also referred to as meaning “having one hundred husbands”, Shatavari’s name gives reference to its traditional use as a rejuvenating tonic for the female reproductive system. This support is not only for young women but also for women in their middle and elder years, to help them gracefully transition through their phases of life, including menopause. Men of all ages can also benefit from Shatavari’s cooling properties.
Shatavari is used in Ayurveda to balance Pitta and Vata but can increase Kapha due to its heavy nature. Its bitter and sweet taste has a cooling effect on the system, and its building nature makes it great support for anyone looking for a nourishing, grounding effect.
Shatavari, as part of the asparagus family, should be avoided by anyone with an allergy to asparagus. Some say that asparagus can have a diuretic effect, and therefore, Shatavari should be used with caution in people taking diuretic drugs. From an Ayurvedic perspective, one should avoid Shatavari in cases of excess Kapha, congestion, and ama.
In the West, as the exact role of phytoestrogens is still unknown, people with estrogen sensitivities, including estrogen-sensitive tumors, are advised to use caution with foods and herbs containing phytoestrogens, which would include Shatavari. Read more about the benefits of Shatavari. Always consult your health care practitioner if you have questions related to your particular conditions.
Known in India as “The Destroyer of Weakness”, Shilajit is a rejuvenating, energy tonic obtained oozing from the high Himalayan mountain crevasses. It is a nutrient and mineral-rich biomass loaded with powerful humic and fulvic acids, the main substances responsible for energy production within cells. It supports deep rejuvenation and energy production. In one study, participants took just 200mg of shilajit each day for 15 days and the available energy in their blood after vigorous exercise was equivalent to the levels of available energy before starting exercise.
Recent studies on shilajit show that it delivers energy and nutrients to the cell at astonishing levels. In one study mice underwent strenuous exercise and had their energy (ATP) expenditure measured with and without shilajit. The energy depleted twice as fast in the group that did not take the shilajit. Shilajit is known for its ability to rejuvenate a cell by driving oxygen and nutrients into the cell and supporting the body’s natural antioxidant activity, whereby the body rids itself of free radicals. Read about The Top 10 benefits of Shilajit.
Trikatu (An Ayurvedic blend of equal parts of the fruits of Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Long Pepper (Piper longum) and the rhizomes of Ginger (Zingiber officinale)):
Used to support normal gastric function and normal circulation. Tri means three, Katu means pungent. Thus, three pungent herbs, Black pepper, Ginger and Long pepper which:
- Helps to clear excess Kapha or mucous from the body
- Supports respiratory functions
- Helps to rekindle Agni, the digestive fire
- Supports digestion and Boosts metabolism
- It works like scraping action on excess fat tissue. So helps in weight management.
- It helps to take out excess impurities or ama from the body
Trikatu is recommended to be used along with other Ayurvedic herbs to support and enhance the bioavailability of those herbs. Read more about the 10 Health Benefits Of Trikatu
Triphala (An Ayurvedic blend of three fruits, Amalaki (Emblica Officinalis), Bibhitaki, (Terminalia Belerica) and Haritaki (Terminalia Chebula)):
Benefits of Triphala:
- Assists natural internal cleansing
- Gently maintains regularity
- Nourishes and rejuvenates the tissues
- Supports healthy digestion and absorption
- Natural antioxidant
Triphala is most commonly known for its use as a gentle bowel tonic, being helpful in digestion, and supporting regular bowel movements. The combination of the three fruits has a synergistic effect to bolster many other systems as well. In addition to the GI tract, Ayurveda uses Triphala to support healthy respiratory, cardiovascular, urinary, reproductive, and nervous systems.
Triphala has also been shown to be a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. The three fruits involved in making Triphala are each also known for their individual effects:
- Amalaki (Emblica Officinalis): Has a cooling effect that manages pitta, supporting the natural functions of the liver and the immune system.
- Bibhitaki (Terminalia Belerica): Is particularly good for Kapha, supporting the respiratory system as well as Kapha accumulations in all systems.
- Haritaki (Terminalia Chebula): Though having a heating nature, it is still good for all three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha). It is also known for removing toxins and helps maintain healthy levels of weight.
Where To Find These Herbs?
You can get many of these herbs from Tattva’s Organic Herb’s! Their farming partners have the largest and most sophisticated C02 extraction facilities in India, where the herbs are also sourced. They excel at the art and science of C02 extraction (an herbal formulation technique maintaining constituent balances most consistent with the original intent of nature). Their herbs contain no harsh solvents or heavy metals and are cruelty-free and safe for vegans. All products are third-party tested, CGMP certified, and FDA compliant. The finished products are superior in terms of both freshness and breadth of active constituents. They deliver the full spectrum of the herb’s potential with a potency that cannot be surpassed.