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Indian mythology traces the origin of traditional Indian medicine to the legendary Dhanvantari, who received his knowledge from Brahma—the Hindu God of creation.
Azadirachta indica—believed to have immunopotentiating abilities and used often as an anti-infective—has been found to enhance the production of IL-2 and increase immunity in human volunteers by boosting lymphocyte and T-cell count in three weeks.[1]
File:Seven chakras.jpg
The seven chakras (Devanāgarī: चक्र‌) and the Mahābhūta (Devanāgarī: महाभुत्) in Tantra. Both Yoga and Tantra have influenced traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Hundreds of vegetable drugs are used in Ayurvedic medicine—including cardamom and cinnamon, both of which are believed to stimulate digestive enzymes that break down polymeric macromolecules in the Human body.[2]
Cataract in Human Eye—magnified view seen on examination with a slit lamp. Cataract surgery was known to the physician Sushruta.[3] In India, cataract surgery was performed with a special tool called the Jabamukhi Salaka, a curved needle used to loosen the lens and push the cataract out of the field of vision.[3] The eye would later be soaked with warm butter and then bandaged.[3]

Ayurveda—literally the 'science of life' (आयुश्) in Sanskrit—is a form of traditional medicine native to India.[4] The word Ayurveda comprises of words āyus, meaning 'life' and veda, which refers to a system of 'knowledge' or 'wisdom.'[4] Thus Ayurveda translates as the 'wisdom of life' or 'science of life'.[4] Evolving throughout its history, Ayurveda remains an influential system of medicine in South Asia.[5][6] The earliest literature of Ayurveda was developed during the Vedic period in India.[7] The Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita were influential works on traditional medicine during this era.[7] Ayurvedic practitioners also identified a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for curing various ailments and diseases.[8]

During recent times, Ayurveda has gained recognition in the western world, and patents of Ayurvedic medicine have been contested by traditional Indian and western medical institutions.[5] Government involvement has increased and research institutes have been established to further study this form of traditional medicine.[5]


Ayurveda believes in 'five great elements' (Devanāgarī: पन्छतत्व‌; earth, water, fire, air and space) forming the universe, including the human body.[4] Blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow, chyle, and semen are the seven primary constituent elements (Devanāgarī: सप्तधातु) of the body.[9] Ayurveda also stresses a balance of three substances in the human body: spirit/air, phlegm, and bile, each representing divine forces.[9]

In Ayurveda, the human body has 20 Guna (Devanāgarī: गुन, meaning quality).[10] The doctrine of three Dosas (Devanāgarī: त्रिदॊश्)—vata (wind), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm)—is important.[11] Traditional beliefs hold that humans posses a unique constellation of Dosas.[11] Surgery and surgical instruments are employed.[10] It is believed that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion leads to vitality.[10] Ayurveda also focuses on exercise, yoga, meditation, and massage.[12]

The concept of Panchakarma (Devanāgarī: पन्छ्कर्म‌) is believed to eliminate toxic elements from the body.[13] Eight disciplines of Ayurveda treatment (Devanāgarī: अश्ताग्)—mentioned both in the Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita—are given below:[14]



Hygiene—also a component of religious virtue to many Indians—is a strong belief.[9] Hygienic living involves regular bathing, cleansing of teeth, skin care, and eye washing.[9] Occasional anointing of the body with oil was also prescribed.[9]


For diagnosis the patient is to be questioned and all five senses are to be employed.[15] The Charaka Samhita recommends a tenfold examination of the patient.[15] The qualities to be judged are: constitution, abnormality, essence, stability, body measurements, diet suitability, psychic strength, digestive capacity, physical fitness and age.[15] Hearing is used to observe the condition of breathing and speech.[9] The study of the vital pressure points of marma is of special importance.[10]

Chopra (2003) identifies five influential criteria for diagnosis: 'origin of the disease, prodrominal (precursory) symptoms, typical symptoms of the fully developed disease, observing the effect of therapeutic procedures and the pathological process.'[15]


Ayurveda incorporates an entire system of dietary recommendations.[4] Chopra (2003)—on the subject of Ayurveda dietetics—writes:[16]

Ayurvedic dietetics comprise a host of recommendations, ranging from preparation and consumption of food, to healthy routines for day and night, sexual life, and rules for ethical conduct. In contrast to contemporary practitioners of New Age Ayurveda, older Ayurvedic authors tended to be religiously neutral. Even Buddhist authors refrained from trying to convert the patient to follow their particular religious ways.

Diet is an integral part of traditional Ayurveda, which stresses on vegetable drugs.[9] Fats are used both for consumption and for external use.[9] Hundreds of vegetable drugs are employed, including cardamom and cinnamon.[9] Some animal products may also be used, for example milk, bones, and gallstones etc.[9] Minerals—including sulfur, arsenic, lead, copper sulfate, gold—are also consumed as prescribed.[9]

Substances used

Alcohol is used as a Narcotics for the patient undergoing operation in some cases.[9] The advent of Islam introduced opium as a narcotic.[14] Oil is used for multiple purposes.[9] Both oil are tar are used to stop bleeding.[9]


Ayurveda traces its origins to the Vedas—the Atharvaveda in particular—and is connected to religion and mythology.[17] The Sushruta Samhita of Sushruta appeared during the 1st millenium BCE.[8] Dwivedi & Dwivedi (2007)— on the work of the surgeon Sushruta—write:[8]

The main vehicle of the transmission of knowledge during that period was by oral method. The language used was Sanskrit — the vedic language of that period (2000-500 BC). The most authentic compilation of his teachings and work is presently available in a treatise called Sushruta Samhita. This contains 184 chapters and description of 1120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources.

Underwood & Rhodes (2008) hold that this early phase of traditional Indian medicine identified 'fever (takman), cough, consumption, diarrhea, dropsy, abscesses, seizures, tumours, and skin diseases (including leprosy).'[9] Treatment of complex ailments—including Angina pectoris, diabetes, hypertension, and stones—also ensued during this period.[18][8] Plastic surgery, cataract surgery, puncturing to release fluids in the abdomen, extraction of foreign elements, treatment of anal fistulas, treating fractures, amputations, cesarean sections, and stitching of wounds were known.[9] The use of herbs and surgical instruments became widespread.[9]

The earliest surviving excavated written material which contains the works of Sushruta is the Bower Manuscript—dated to the 4th century CE.[19] Other early works of Ayurveda include the Charaka Samhita, attributed to Charaka.[9] Vagbhata also compiled his works on traditional medicine.[9]

Current status

Within South Asia

Mukherjee & Wahile cite World Health Organization statistics to demonstrate the popularity of traditional medicine, on which a significant number of the world's population depends for primary health care.[20] In Sri Lanka the number of traditional Ayurveda practitioners is greater than trained modern medicine professionals.[21] In India, over 100 colleges offer degrees in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.[12]

Outside India

Ayurveda practitioners require a license in another stream of health care in the United States of America.[12]


Some scholars have also criticized Ayurveda as a field which lacks research, uses harmful drugs and has unqualified professionals.[22] A research study published in 2004 in the Journal of the American Medical Association studied the chemistry of ayurvedic compounds and found significant levels of toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic in 20% of Ayurvedic preparations that were made in South Asia for sale around Boston and extrapolated the data to America.[23] The Journal found that—if taken according to the manufacturers' instructions—20% of these remedies "could result in heavy metal intakes above published regulatory standards"[23]

Scholarly research

Ayurveda gained recognition in the Western world as medical scholars researched and outlined its various postulates.[24] In the United States,the NIH NCCAM expends some of its $123 million budget on ayurvedic medicine research. In addition, the National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine, established by Dr. Scott Gerson, is an example of a research institute that has carried out research into Ayurvedic practices. [25] Gerson has published part of his work on the antifungal activities of certain Ayurvedic plants in medical journals.[26]


In December 1993, the University of Mississippi Medical Center had a patent issued to them by United States Patent and Trademark Office on the use of turmeric for healing.[27] The patent was contested by India's industrial research organization, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (C.S.I.R), on the grounds that traditional Ayurvedic practitioners were already aware of the healing properties of the substance and have been for centuries, making this patent a case of bio-piracy.[28] The Government of India had become involved in promoting traditional medicine by 1997.[5] Sharma & Bodeker report on the the various government activities in relation with Ayurveda:[5]

In India the government became involved in traditional drug production when the Central Drug Research Institute patented two new drugs from ancient Ayurvedic formulas. One, a mixture of black pepper, long pepper, and ginger, allows for the dosage of the antibiotic rifampicin to be halved in the treatment of tuberculosis and other mycobacterial infections. The other is a memory tonic produced from the traditional plant called brahmi. Overseas patenting of turmeric and products of the neem tree caused controversy in India and other nations. In August the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled a U.S. patent on the wound-healing properties of turmeric when the Indian government proved that records had existed for this use for centuries.


Ayurvedic products, mainly herbs used for phytotherapy, have been tested with promising results.[29] Turmeric—and its derivative curcumin—appears to have beneficial properties.[29] Tinspora cordifolia has been tested.[30] Among the medhya rasayanas (intellect rejuvenation), two varieties of sage have been been tested. Out of these, one improved word recall in young adults,[31] and another improved symptoms in Alzheimer's patients.[32] Neem appears to have beneficial pharmacological properties as well.[33] A review of Ayurveda and cardiovascular disease concluded that while the herbal evidence is not yet convincing, the spices are appropriate, some herbs are promising, and yoga is also a promising complementary treatment.[34]


  1. ^ Mungantiwar, A.A. & Phadke, A.S. (2003) in "Immunomodulation: Therapeutic Strategy through Ayurveda", Scientific Basis for Ayurvedic Therapies edited by Mishra, L.C. 72. CRC Press: ISBN 084931366X.
  2. ^ Mitra, K.S. & Rangesh, P.R. (2003) in "Irritable Colon (Grahni)", Scientific Basis for Ayurvedic Therapies edited by Mishra, L.C. 363. CRC Press: ISBN 084931366X.
  3. ^ a b c Finger, page 66
  4. ^ a b c d e Chopra, page 75
  5. ^ a b c d e Sharma & Bodeker in Encyclopedia Britannica 2008
  6. ^ Chopra 2003
  7. ^ a b Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy. Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (Government of India).
  8. ^ a b c d Dwivedi & Dwivedi (2007)
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Underwood & Rhodes (2008)
  10. ^ a b c d Chopra, page 76
  11. ^ a b Chopra, page 77
  12. ^ a b c MSN Encarta (2008). Ayurveda
  13. ^ Sharma, A.K. (2003) in "Panchkarma Therapy in Ayurvedic Medicine", Scientific Basis for Ayurvedic Therapies edited by Mishra, L.C. 43. CRC Press: ISBN 084931366X.
  14. ^ a b Chopra, page 80
  15. ^ a b c d Chopra, page 79
  16. ^ Chopra, page 78
  17. ^ Indian medicine has a long history. Its earliest concepts are set out in the sacred writings called the Vedas, especially in the metrical passages of the Atharvaveda, which may possibly date as far back as the 2nd millennium BC. According to a later writer, the system of medicine called Āyurveda was received by a certain Dhanvantari from Brahma, and Dhanvantari was deified as the god of medicine. In later times his status was gradually reduced, until he was credited with having been an earthly king who died of snakebite. — Underwood & Rhodes (2008)
  18. ^ Lock etc., page 836
  19. ^ Kutumbian, pages XXXII-XXXIII
  20. ^ Mukherjee P.K., Wahile A. in Integrated approaches towards drug development from Ayurveda and other Indian system of medicines, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2006 Jan 3;103(1):25-35.
  21. ^ Health and welfare (from Sri Lanka). Encyclopedia Britannica (2008).
  22. ^ Nanda, M. (2008). Ayurveda under the scanner . Frontline: Volume 23 - Issue 07: Apr. 08 - 21, 2006
  23. ^ a b Saper R.B.; Kales S.N.; Paquin J.; et al. (2004). "Heavy metal content of ayurvedic herbal medicine products". JAMA. 292 (23): 2868–73. doi:10.1001/jama.292.23.2868. PMID 15598918. ((cite journal)): Explicit use of et al. in: |author= (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. ^ Ninivaggi, Frank John (2007). Ayurveda: A Comprehensive Guide to Traditional Indian Medicine for the West. Praeger Press: ISBN 0313348375.
  25. ^ National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (United States)
  26. ^ Gerson, S. & Green, L.H. in Preliminary Evaluation Of Antimicrobial Activity of Extracts of Morinda citrifolia Linn., Abstr. Am. Soc. Microbiol. A-66:13 May 2002
  27. ^ US Patent No. 5,401,504
  28. ^ Johnston, Barbara & Webb, Ginger (1997). "Turmeric Patent Overturned in Legal Victory". HerbalGram. Fall 1997 (41): 11.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  29. ^ a b Aggarwal B.B.; Sundaram C.; Malani N.; Ichikawa H. (2007). "Curcumin: the Indian solid gold". Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 595: 1–75. PMID 17569205.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  30. ^ Panchabhai T.S.; Kulkarni U.P.; Rege N.N. (2008). "Validation of therapeutic claims of Tinospora cordifolia: a review". Phytother Res. 22 (4): 425–41. doi:10.1002/ptr.2347. PMID 18167043. ((cite journal)): Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  31. ^ Tildesley N.T., Kennedy D.O., Perry E.K.; et al. (2003). "Salvia lavandulaefolia (Spanish sage) enhances memory in healthy young volunteers". Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 75 (3): 669–74. PMID 12895685. ((cite journal)): Explicit use of et al. in: |author= (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ Akhondzadeh S.; Noroozian M.; Mohammadi M.; Ohadinia S.; Jamshidi A.H.; Khani M. (2003). "Salvia officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial". J Clin Pharm Ther. 28 (1): 53–9. PMID 12605619. ((cite journal)): Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Subapriya R. & Nagini S. (2005). "Medicinal properties of neem leaves: a review". Curr Med Chem Anticancer Agents. 5 (2): 149–6. PMID 15777222. ((cite journal)): Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  34. ^ Mamtani, Ravinder & Mamtani R. (2005). "Ayurveda and yoga in cardiovascular diseases". Cardiol Rev. 13 (3): 155–62. PMID 15834238.


See also