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Ayurvedic medicine

If you can wiggle your toes with the mere flicker of an intention, why can't you reset your biological clock?

If you could live in the moment you would see the flavor of eternity and when you metabolize the experience of eternity your body doesn't age.

Ayurveda is the science of life and it has a very basic, simple kind of approach, which is that we are part of the universe and the universe is intelligent and the human body is part of the cosmic body, and the human mind is part of the cosmic mind, and the atom and the universe are exactly the same thing but with different form, and the more we are in touch with this deeper reality, from where everything comes, the more we will be able to heal ourselves and at the same time heal our planet. --Deepak Chopra

Ayurvedic medicine, in the United States, is an "alternative" medical practice that claims it is based on the traditional medicine of India. Ayurveda is derived from two Sanskrit terms: ayu meaning life and veda meaning knowledge or science. Since the practice is said to be some 5,000 years old in India, what it considers to be knowledge or science may not coincide with the most updated information available to Western medicine.

According to Stephen Barrett, M.D.:

Proponents state that Ayurvedic medicine originated in ancient time, but much of it was lost until reconstituted in the early 1980s by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (Barrett 2004)

The St. Paul to the Maharishi is Deepak Chopra, who has done more than anyone else to spread the good word in the United States about the wonders of Ayurveda.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

Many Ayurvedic practices were handed down by word of mouth and were used before there were written records. Two ancient books, written in Sanskrit on palm leaves more than 2,000 years ago, are thought to be the first texts on Ayurveda--Caraka Samhita and Susruta Samhita....

Ayurveda has long been the main system of health care in India, although conventional (Western) medicine is becoming more widespread there, especially in urban areas. About 70 percent of India's population lives in rural areas; about two-thirds of rural people still use Ayurveda and medicinal plants to meet their primary health care needs. In addition, most major cities have an Ayurvedic college and hospital. Ayurveda and variations of it have also been practiced for centuries in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Tibet. The professional practice of Ayurveda in the United States began to grow and became more visible in the late 20th century.

Ayurvedic treatments are primarily dietary and herbal. As I note elsewhere, dangerous amounts of lead have been found in Ayurvedic medicines, including ghasard, a brown powder given to relieve constipation in babies, and mahayogaraj gugullu, for high blood pressure. A study of shops in the Boston area by Robert Saper et al. found high concentrations of lead, mercury, and arsenic in Ayurvedic medicine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 12 cases of lead poisoning in 2004 associated with Ayurvedic remedies in Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and California.

Patients are classified by body types, or prakriti, which are determined by proportions of the three doshas. The doshas allegedly regulate mind-body harmony. Illness and disease are considered to be a matter of imbalance in the doshas. Treatment is aimed at restoring harmony or balance to the mind-body system. Vata, composed of air and space, allegedly governs all movement in the mind and body and must be kept in good balance. Too much vata leads to "worries, insomnia, cramps and constipation....Vata controls blood flow, elimination of wastes, breathing and the movement of thoughts across the mind." Vata also controls the other two principles, Pitta and Kapha. Pitta is said to be composed of fire and water; it allegedly governs "all heat, metabolism and transformation in the mind and body. It controls how we digest food, how we metabolize our sensory perceptions, and how we discriminate between right and wrong." Pitta must be kept in balance, too. "Too much [Pitta] can lead to anger, criticism, ulcers, rashes and thinning hair." Kapha consists of earth and water. "Kapha cements the elements in the body, providing the material for physical structure. This dosha maintains body resistance....Kapha lubricates the joints; provides moisture to the skin; helps to heal wounds; fills the spaces in the body; gives biological strength, vigor and stability; supports memory retention; gives energy to the heart and lungs and maintains immunity...Kapha is responsible for emotions of attachment, greed and long-standing envy; it is also expressed in tendencies toward calmness, forgiveness and love." Too much Kapha leads to lethargy and weight gain, as well as congestion and allergies.

On the basis of the above metaphysical physiology, Ayurveda recommends such things as: to pacify Kapha eat spicy foods and avoid sweet foods, except for honey but don't heat the honey. Avoid tomatoes and nuts. Turkey is fine but avoid rabbit and pheasant.  If you've got too much Pitta then try this: eat sweet foods and avoid the spicy. Eat nuts. To reduce Vata: eat sweet, sour and salty foods; avoid spicy foods. Nuts are good and so are dairy products.

These herbal and dietary practices are thought to be necessary for good health in Ayurveda because they are believed to have the power to restore harmony and balance to mind, body, and spirit. This alleged harmony and balance is said to be the key to health.

Meditation is also a significant therapy in Ayurveda. According to Kurt Butler (1992):

The beliefs and practices of Ayurvedic medicine fall into three categories: (1) some that are obvious, well established, and widely accepted by people who have never heard of Ayurveda [e.g., relax and don't overeat]; (2) a few that proper research may eventually prove valid and useful [herbal remedies may contain useful drugs, but their dangers and limitations often have not been scientifically investigated]; (3) absurd ideas, some of which are dangerous [e.g., that most disease and bad luck is due to demons, devils, and the influence of stars and planets; or that you should treat cataracts by brushing your teeth, scraping your tongue, spitting into a cup of water, and washing your eyes for a few minutes with this mixture]. (Wheeler)

However, if you are attracted to treatments that use superstition, incantations, amulets, spells, and mantras then, by all means, try Ayurveda. There are many schools in India that grant degrees in Ayurvedic medicine. No school grants such a degree in the United States and if you want to practice Ayurveda here you do so as a practitioner of "alternative" or complementary medicine.

See also confirmation bias, Deepak Chopra, faith healing, pragmatic fallacy, prana, self-deception, and Transcendental Meditation.


reader comments

further reading

books

Ankerberg, John and John Weldon. Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs (Harvest House Publishers, Inc., 1996).

Butler, Kurt.  A Consumer's Guide to "Alternative Medicine": A Close Look at Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Faith-Healing, and Other Unconventional Treatments (Buffalo: Prometheus Books,1992).

Pagels, Heinz R. The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (Simon & Schuster, 1982).

Stalker, D. and Glymour, C. Examining Holistic Medicine (Buffalo: Prometheus Books,1989).

websites

A Few Thoughts on Ayurvedic Mumbo-Jumbo by Stephen Barrett, M.D. 2004

Stenger, Victor J. "Quantum Quackery," Skeptical Inquirer. January/February 1997.

Deepak Chopra and Maharishi Ayurvedic Medicine by Thomas J. Wheeler, Ph.D.

The Maharhish Caper: Or How to Hoodwink Top Medical Journals by Andrew A. Skolnick

Shameless Mind

A letter from Heinz R. Pagels, Ph.D., Executive Director of The New York Academy of Sciences (July 1, 1986)

The Ayurvedic Center

Ayur.com

news story

Indian temple revives 'human sacrifice' (for those who still think the older a practice the better)

Last updated 12-Sep-2014

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