List of ISHAR Online Sources for: Ayurveda


 Functional Summary


  • Mind/Body Practices

  • Materia Medica

 Yoga, herbal medicines, mineral or metal supplementation (rasa shastra), surgical techniques, meditation and application of oil by massages.


  •  Restoration

  •  Prevention

 Balancing doshas and encouraging healthy behavior/self-awareness prevents or treats illness.


  • Vedic

  • India

 Traditional Vedic medical system dating to 3000 BCE.  Widely accepted in Indian medical institutions, though still controversial in some American medical institutions.



Ayurveda (Sanskrit ayur, “life,” or “longevity”; veda, “knowledge,” or “science”; see etymological significance below) or ayurvedic medicine, along with Siddha medicine, are the two primary indigenous medical systems of the Indian subcontinent, Ayurveda principally developing in the north of India, Siddha principally in the south. In the interest of comprehensiveness, it should also be mentioned that the originally Graeco-Arabic-Persian medical system known as Unani (or Yunani; see entry) has had a major influence on the domain of medicine and health in India since the 12th century CE, after being introduced during the period of Islamic rule; and mention should also be made of the original  prehistoric influence of the “archaic” healing systems associated with shamanism and related modalities on the domain of health and healing in India. Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani are all literary or writing-based medical systems, while shamanism is not; however, shamanism likely had a major influence on the development of Yoga in India, which is also considered to be a major branch within both the Ayurveda and Siddha systems. The archaeological and historic record suggests that Ayurveda began to develop from its oral origins between 2000 and 5000 years ago.


Historians of Indian medicine have shown that before the written records of the classical concepts of the fundamental physiological system of Ayurveda and its relationship to health and disease, the historical practice of Indian medicine expresses primary concerns with what many would consider to be “supernatural” factors in health and disease; namely, malicious magic such as curses, “the evil eye,” the intervention of disembodied spirits, and others.

In contrast, the “classical” physiological and pathophysiological principles of Ayurveda is based on the concept of a vital life force, or prana, operating through and on basic material existence or prakirti, which is the body in the realm of organisms (this is a necessarily simplified schematic, for an excellent, more extensive, detailed, and informed overview, see Benner 2005). The relationship of prana and prakirti is species-dependent, but even within species is very specific to each individual. The individuality in these terms is understood in what may be considered humoral-like categories or doshas, the three primary system-organizing ones being vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (water and earth); these categories and their interactional dynamics are the basis for what might be considered both an individual’s psychological and physiological “personality.” In health the doshas are in a state of balance with each other, within certain parameters, but also unique for each individual; the disturbance from this balance causes disease and the reestablishment of balance, through proper diagnosis and treatment, restores health. Moreover, health in Ayurveda is not merely considered the absence of pathology, but the attainment of optimal health, which is critically indexed by longevity. Proper diagnosis involves extensive observation of the patient (pulse, eyes, tongue, fingernails, skin, other key tissues), sometimes over days, and extensive questioning and history taking. Treatment – again, highly individualized – involves an extensive range of treatment techniques, including pharmacological, surgical (note there was an gap in ayurvedic surgery in the historical record for an extended period of time, possibly due to Buddhist influence), bodily therapies (massage, chiropractic-style manipulations, others), and an emphatic and extensive promotion of dietary and lifestyle improvement – ie, behavioral medicine.  This is combined with a focus on prevention and optimal health/longevity, achieved through stimulating the body’s own innate healing potential.  

Research Summary

The ayurvedic system of describing the body and its functional dynamics in predictable and observable ways can be seen in terms of modern systems theory and the new systems biology.  This has been presented as accurately capturing essential features of the body and its functions on a valid, confirmable macro-molecular level. These are the criteria for constituting a scientific system, and a recent major paper on both Ayurveda and Siddha medicine has identified these “systems of systems” of medicine as valid examples of successful scientific systems according to contemporary state-of-the-art scientific and engineering principles (Ayyudai 2014, not yet listed in ISHAR due to copyright); the deciding factor being empirical verification, in other words evidence-based verification. Indeed, this is often considered the “gold standard” for Western medicine, and the history of Western medicine shows that orthodox explanations for successful (and even unsuccessful) clinical outcomes have been not only incomplete, but inaccurate, and must continuously revised by new, succeeding causal explanations (Scripps 1988 ref, others).  Ayurveda has been presented as a medical system that can address some of those gaps, though this is still a controversial concept in some American institutions.

A great deal of specific and general scientific activity has been pursued in the formation, development, and advancing of Ayurvedic medicine throughout human history, incorporating the principles described above and many others. According to leading historian of Ayurveda, Professor Dominik Wujastyk of the University of Vienna recounts:

“Great encyclopedias of medicine were composed in India during the centuries before and after the time of Christ, and these works brought together not only treatises on anatomy, including embryology, diagnosis, surgery, epidemics, pharmacology, and so forth, but many reflective philosophical passages discussing, for example, the origin of the human being, the rules of medical debate, methods for the interpretation of technical terminology and scientific expression, and so forth” (New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, 2007).

The result of this extensive investigation, analysis, discussion and debate about Ayurveda has been a recognition that it addresses key principles that Western medicine has only recently been exploring. These include an emphasis on prevention and the achievement of optimal health, particularly through means based on behavioral medicine, including diet, with an emphasis on personalized treatment. Ayurveda boasts an extensive pharmacopeia based on a wide-ranging materia medica, including an enormous corpus of botanical resources, due in turn to the fact of the subcontinent’s wide-ranging geographical, geological, and eco-variation, which naturally produces a broad range of plant species. In the form of food plants, herbs, and spices, these botanicals offer significant and often surprising medical potential, and recent, accumulating evidence from modern, contemporary studies of "folk" medicine is scientifically verifying many of Ayurveda’s claims.

As efficacy is one of the keys to a successful medical system, this introduction concludes with a very brief review of three recent examples of peer-reviewed studies of successful ayurvedic treatments, in three categories of treatment: herbal, dietary, and behavioral medicine. In the first example, a 2013 study found that an herbal ayurvedic medicine traditionally used for the treatment of malaria, Pluchea lanceolata, was highly successful in terms of countering the disease in infected mice (Mohanty et al 2013). The second example is a recent example of the recent discovery that many spices may in fact possess not only flavor value, but at the same time act as extremely potent medicines (nutraceuticals), and in a 2014 systematic review of the Indian/Ayurvedic culinary spice, curcumin, by one of the preeminent researchers and pioneers of the field, BB Agarwal:

“More than 6000 articles published within the past two decades have discussed the molecular basis for the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anticancer activities assigned to the nutraceutical curcumin. Over sixty five clinical trials conducted on this molecule, have shed light on the role of curcumin in various chronic conditions, including autoimmune, cardiovascular, neurological, and psychological diseases, as well as diabetes and cancer” (Prasad et al 2014).

Finally, the third example is from a major branch of the behavioral medicine dimension of Ayurveda, Yoga/Meditation, and offers highly compelling evidence for the Ayurvedic focus on the achievement of longevity in a state of optimal health through this modality. In a pioneering peer-reviewed study from 1992, Chopra and colleagues (Glaser et al 1992) showed that a form of meditation specifically linked historically to Ayurveda could significantly enhance an endogenous steroid hormone with potent antiaging effects, DHEA. Not only did the meditation enhance the levels of DHEA, but it actually restored them to optimal youthful ranges, in effect reversing the decline of circulating levels by approximately 5-10 years. It has since been found that one of the mechanisms by which DHEA may produce its antiaging effects is through increasing levels of telomerase in cells, telomerase being an enzyme which controls the aging of cells, the discovery of which led to the award of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine to Elizabeth Blackburn. Dr. Blackburn has recently focused much of her research on meditation, seeking to demonstrate that meditation enhances this cell-immortalizing enzyme, possibly through multiple molecular pathways (Epel et al 2009; Jacobs et al 2011).  



ISHAR strives to present all of our data in an impartial, informative manner.  Nonetheless, there are always different viewpoints on various topics, and ISHAR encourages users to review the perspectives on other informational sites, then come to their own conclusions regarding what they consider the least biased.  The sites below were chosen to represent a wide spectrum of approaches to this topic, and none are endorsed or promoted by ISHAR itself.