Ayurveda is an ancient medicine native to and still widely practiced in India. Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning science of life.1 The ancient science was originally transmitted orally, but later was transcribed into a series of spiritual texts, called the Vedas.1 Since then, the practice of Ayurveda has grown and spread to the West and throughout the world, where it is now widely recognized as complementary and alternative medicine (commonly referred to as CAM).1
Ayurveda is based on the idea that three basic physical constitutions (doshas) and three mental states (gunas) form the foundation of human health. Dosha types correspond to elements and energies found in nature.1,3
A primary concept of Ayurveda is achieving balance of doshas in the body, with illness seen as an imbalance. Much like Western medicine, students of Ayurveda pick an area to specialize in—including internal medicine. A major difference between the two disciplines, however, centers around the concept of curing, suggesting a permanent state of health, versus healing, or reaching a state of balance. Achieving a cure is considered successful disease treatment in Western medicine. In Ayurveda successful treatment is achieved by understanding the rhythmic physiological changes (due to age, season and weather, time of day, and metabolism) and making adjustments to reach harmonious balance.1
When you go to an Ayurvedic practitioner you can expect that the first thing he or she will do is to determine what your dosha is and what imbalances you may have. This assessment is a lengthy and involved procedure. Unlike most Western medicine, Ayurveda it looks beyond specific physical symptoms in order to diagnose an ailment. It takes into consideration your mental well-being, environment, nutrition, current and past stressors, and overall health and individual constitution in order to diagnose and treat a condition, as well as to prevent further illness.1
In keeping with its holistic nature, Ayurveda treatment also covers areas outside of what would typically be addressed by Western medicine—offering advice on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, beauty, and mental/spiritual well-being—and includes gem and color therapy.1
Modern Ayurveda has sought to integrate and utilize modern diagnostic and research techniques in many of these areas.3 In fact, there are several peer-reviewed Ayurveda medical journals that mirror the rigorous and controlled research of Westernized medicine.
Although there are concerns about the safety of certain herbal formulations used in Ayurveda, these may be related to manufacturing procedures and not the use of toxic herbs.4 As Ayurveda incorporates the best of modern scientific techniques in practices the hope is that manufacturing will follow suit and become safely standardized. There are many companies that sell herbal supplements that have good reputations, however, and follow good manufacturing procedures.
One indication that a company is following standardized good manufacturing practices and ensuring quality control of the natural herbal formulations they manufacture is a notice on the label certifying Current Good Manufacturing Practice. The standards that must be met for this status have been set by the FDA in an effort to ensure safe natural products and accurate labeling.5
Often listed as “GMP” on the label.