Let’s talk about one of the world’s oldest tradition of nature-based medicine!
Ayurveda originated in ancient India more than 5,000 years ago and still flourishes nowadays. It is believed that the Hindu God, Brahma, the creator of the universe passed on the holistic knowledge to the sages, who passed them on to the disciples and then to the common men orally and in writing. The name “Ayurveda” means “knowledge of life” and its practice is based on four eminent books of knowledge (Vedas) which describe operation procedures, medicinal plants and their healing properties.
Similar to Chinese medicine, Ayurveda believes that the entire universe is composed of five elements: Vayu (Air), Jala (Water), Aakash (Space or ether), Prithvi (Earth) and Teja (Fire). These five elements form three vital forces or Tridoshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) that control the basic physiological functions of the body. Ayurveda adopts a holistic approach towards healthcare and its goal is to achieve optimal health, prevent diseases and treat on all levels of the human body: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Ayurveda relies a lot on treatments based on herbs and plants, special diets, food, oils (such as sesame oil), common spices (such as turmeric), and other naturally occurring substances such as minerals and animal based products.
In India, about 15,000 medicinal plants have been recorded, in which the communities used 7,000-7,500 plants for curing different diseases. The medicinal plants can be used as single or multiple herbs (polyherbal) treatment. Basically, the phytochemical constituent in the herbals, such as saponins, tannins, alkaloids, alkenyl phenols, flavonoids, terpenoids, phorbol esters and sesquiterpenes lactones lead to the desired healing effect. A single herb may contain more than one phytochemical constituents, and the multiple constituents can work synergistically with each other in producing pharmacological action. Combining multiple herbs in a particular ratio would give a better therapeutic effect and reduce the toxicity.
In Ayurvedic preparations, the “herbal drug” or part/parts of a plant is chosen (leaves, flowers, seeds roots, barks, stems and etc.). Each and every part of the plants are fully used for preparing medicines depending on where its medicinal value lies and its curative effects on the body.
Probably until the 19th century, Ayurvedic medicines were prepared by practitioners at their homes using traditional tools and principles. This practice still continues for very specialized preparations passed down. In the 21st century, Ayurvedic herbal preparations are industrialized with modern processing methods in order to meet the growing demand for herbal products and convenient dosage forms.
Most of the active components of any herbs are water soluble in nature. The knowledge on the method of isolation, purification and characterization of active ingredients helped in improving the process of herbal preparations. There are two major types of processes in Ayurvedic medicine preparations, namely extraction, and separation. Extraction uses membrane rupturing and solute diffusion principles, while separation uses volatility, adsorption, and size-exclusion principles.
Source: Jain et al. 2014
As we see, Ayurvedas’ medicinal system has a rich history and continues to be practiced. Indian traditional medicine, particularly herbal medicine plays an important role for modern drug discovery and research with studies acknowledging the importance of such medicine and also showing correlation between the use of Ayurvedic herbs for particular symptoms and known pharmacological targets.
To know more:
- Jain R, Venkatasubramanian P. Proposed correlation of modern processing principles for Ayurvedic herbal drug manufacturing: A systematic review. Ancient Science of Life. 2014;34(1):8-15. doi:10.4103/0257-7941.150768.
- Parasuraman S, Thing GS, Dhanaraj SA. Polyherbal formulation: Concept of ayurveda. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2014;8(16):73-80. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.134229.
- Jaiswal YS, Williams LL. A glimpse of Ayurveda – The forgotten history and principles of Indian traditional medicine. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2014; 7(1):50-53. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.02.002.
- Dash, Bhagwan & Junius, Manfred M (1983). A hand book of Ayurveda. Concept Pub. Co, New Delhi
- Preetam S, Kumar DH L, Dhumal C et al. Traditional and ayurvedic foods of Indian origin. Journal of Ethnic Foods. 2015, 2(3):97-109