Ayurveda, the Sanskrit term translated as the ‘science of life’ is a system of medicine native to the Indian tradition. Owing to its amazing capabilities as a system of remedy to a range of illnesses, this has also established itself as a form of alternative medicine in several other parts of the globe. Over a long period of time, this system has evolved as one of the most influential systems of medicine in South Asia. It is said that the earliest practices with respect to this medicine can be traced to the Vedic Period in India. Two distinguished works that were written during this period on Ayurveda were the Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita. This system also had evolved a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures to remedy various ailments and diseases.
The Indian heritage talks of “Ayurveda” as an Upaveda or annexure to the principal Vedas which are four in number. The famous work Charaka Samhita written by Sage Charaka discusses the methods of preventing and treating diseases while the Sushruta Samhita authored by Sage Sushruta talks of Ayurvedic surgical procedures. One of the most distinguished features of the Ayurvedic system is the prevention of all types of diseases which is centered on aligning the patient’s lifestyle with the course of nature and four seasons to ensure complete wellness.
The West considers Ayurveda as a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), where a wide range of its methods including the use of herbs, massage, and Yoga are employed as a form of CAM treatment. The metaphysics of the Ayurveda system stems from the concept of ‘five great Elements’ namely earth, water, fire, air and ether, which are the ingredients of this Universe and the human body. Ayurveda lists out seven primary elements that constitute the human body namely chyle (Rasa dhatu), blood (Rakta dhatu), flesh (Mamsa dhatu), fat (Medha dhatu), bone (Asthi dhatu), marrow (Majja dhatu), and reproductive tissue (Shukra dhatu). Ayrveda also talks of three Humours or Energies in the human body namely vata (wind/air), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm) and states that the balance of these three factors are essential for a healthy life and that any disease in the body can be attributed to the disturbance caused to this balance. This holistic system believes in addressing the body, mind and spirit in unison to achieve perfect health.
Yet another unique feature of Aurveda is the practice called Panchakarma which is said to be a measure of eliminating toxic elements from the body. There are eight disciplines in Ayurveda treatment known as Internal medicine (Kaaya-chikitsa), Paediatrics (Kaumarabhrtyam), Surgery (Shalya-chikitsa), treatment of diseases that occur above the clavicle (Salakyam), possession by ghosts (Bhuta vidya) also known as psychiatry, Toxicology (Agadatantram), Prevention of diseases, enhancing immunity and rejuvenation (Rasayana) and Aphrodisiacs and ensuring health of progeny (Vajikaranam)
The main emphasis of Aurveda for a healthy life is on moderating food intake, sleep, sexual intercourse, and the intake of medicine. Aurveda dietetics comprises a suite of recommendations, spanning over preparation and eating of food to a regulated routine for day and night and sexual life. It also stressed on the importance of ethical conduct as an essential means to achieve a healthy life.
During diagnosis, patients are thoroughly questioned employing all the five senses. The Charaka Samhita talks of a tenfold diagnostic procedure stating that the qualities to be evaluated include constitution, diet suitability, abnormality, body measurements, essence, stability, psychological strength, digestive power, soundness of the physique and age. The system employed hearing as a means to assess the state of breathing and speech. One of the most distinguished features of Ayurveda is the study of the vital pressure points or marma.
The five principal criteria for diagnosis in Ayurveda are cause of the disease, precursory symptoms, symptoms of the developed illness, noting the effect of therapeutic procedures and the pathological process. Talking of hygienic living as a crucial necessity to ensure a healthy life, it lists out procedures including regular bathing, cleaning of teeth, skin care, washing eyes and periodical anointing of the body with oil as essential measures to ensure good health.
Ayurveda treatment employs a wide range of vegetable drugs while fats are used extensively for consumption and external application. A number of spices and herbs are used by this system including cardamom and cinnamon. Sometimes, even some animal products like milk, bones, and gallstones. Minerals—including sulfur, arsenic, lead, copper sulfate, and gold—are also consumed as prescribed. This practice of adding minerals to herbal medicine is known as Rasa Shastra. There are instances where alcohol is used as narcotic during surgeries. Use of oil and tar to stop bleeding is also not common. Auyrveda reports an extensive use of oil in therapeutic processes like consuming as part of food, smearing, massage, head massage, anointing and application over infected and swollen areas.
Ayurveda talks of the proper functioning of channels as essential condition to transport various body fluids from one place to another within the human body. Any disturbance caused to the normal flow of fluids through these channels is said to cause abnormality in health and even insanity. Sushruta lists out some diseases resulting from such blockages including epilepsy, paralysis, rheumatism, and convulsions. This system lays a great emphasis on the importance of sweating as a means to ensure good health as this process is said to open up channels in addition to diluting the Doshas that cause blockages in the fluid transmission system of the human body. There are a range of steam related cures recommended to release toxins.
The unique advantages of some of the spices, herbs and yogic postures recommended by Ayurveda in treating diseases are recognized worldwide. Promising results have been reported during several instances of employing some ayurvedic products. Turmeric and curcumin are said to possess antiseptic properties. Tinspora cordifolia as an Ayurvedic medicine has successfully passed scientific testing. Ayurveda talks of medhya rasayanas that help in intellect rejuvenation. Under these types, Salvia lavandulifolia (Spanish sage) is reported to have enhanced the power of word recall in young adults, while evidences show that Salvia officinalis (Common sage) can mark significant improvements in Alzheimer’s patients. Ayurvedic medicines also enable valuable clues to evolve therapeutic compounds. For instance, derivatives made from snake venom may provide clues to therapeutic compounds. For example, derivatives of snake venom are found to possess some incredible therapeutic characteristics. It is also said that a number of plants used in Ayurveda as rasayana (rejuvenation) medications are in fact highly potential antioxidants. Neem, Tulsi and bilva are reported to possess highly useful pharmacological properties.
Cardamom and cinnamon are reported to stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes that play a vital role in breaking down polymeric macromolecules in the human body. Some researches identify Terminalia arjuna successfully employed in alleviating the pain of angina pectoris and in the treatment of heart failure and the diseases of the coronary artery. Terminalia arjuna is also said to be endowed with immense value in treating hypercholesterolemia. Azadirachta indica is reported with high immunopotentiating capabilities and is also widely used as an anti-infective. This is also noted to stimulate the production of IL-2 and significantly increase immunity in humans by boosting up lymphocyte and T-cell count within just three weeks. Both black pepper and long pepper are extensively used in Ayurvedic treatment in combination with ginger to form trikat, a mixture that is endowed with the properties of increasing appetite, enhance the secretion of digestive fluids, and remedy certain gastric disorders especially achlorhydria and hypochlorhydria.
The incredible value of Ayurveda as a therapeutic system for treating diseases in humans has been proved over a long tradition in India. Extensive researches are on progress in different parts of the world today in order to testify the scientific basis of this system. On the other hand, the immense value of Ayurveda as an alternative medicine to complement and supplement various therapeutic systems in practice across the world cannot be underestimated. To conclude, the holistic medical system of Ayrveda is India’s invaluable gift of to humanity that has conquered the test of time.