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Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth – By National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (USA)

Is Ayurvedic Medicine Effective?
A few studies suggest that Ayurvedic preparations may reduce pain and increase
function in people with osteoarthritis and help manage symptoms in people with type 2
diabetes, but most of these trials are small or not well-designed. There is little scientific
evidence on Ayurveda’s value for other health issues.
How much do we know about Ayurvedic medicine?
Although Ayurvedic medicine and its components have been described in many
scholarly articles, only a small number of clinical trials using these approaches have
been published in Western medical journals. About 240,000 American adults use
Ayurvedic medicine.

What Is Ayurvedic Medicine?
The ancient Indian medical system, also known as Ayurveda, is based on ancient
writings that rely on a “natural” and holistic approach to physical and mental health.
Ayurvedic medicine is one of the world’s oldest medical systems and remains one of
India’s traditional health care systems. Ayurvedic treatment combines products (mainly
derived from plants, but may also include animal, metal, and mineral), diet, exercise,
and lifestyle.
What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Ayurvedic Medicine
Few well-designed clinical trials and systematic research reviews suggest that
Ayurvedic approaches are effective.
■ Results from a 2013 clinical trial compared two Ayurvedic formulations of plant
extracts against the natural product glucosamine sulfate and the drug celecoxib
in 440 people with knee osteoarthritis. All four products provided similar
reductions in pain and improvements in function.
■ A preliminary and small NCCIH-funded 2011 pilot study with 43 people found
that conventional and Ayurvedic treatments for rheumatoid arthritis were
similarly effective. The conventional drug tested was methotrexate and the
Ayurvedic treatment included 40 herbal compounds.
■ Outcomes from a small short-term clinical trial with 89 men and women
suggested that a formulation of five Ayurvedic herbs may help people with type
2 diabetes. However, other researchers said inadequate study designs haven’t
allowed researchers to develop firm conclusions about Ayurveda for diabetes.
■ Turmeric, an herb often used in Ayurvedic preparations, may help with
ulcerative colitis, but the two studies reporting this were small – one, published
in 2005 included 10 people while the other, published in 2006, had 89.
What the Science Says About the Safety of Ayurvedic Medicine
■ Some Ayurvedic preparations include metals, minerals, or gems. The U.S. Food
and Drug Administration warns that the presence of metals in some Ayurvedic
products makes them potentially harmful.
■ A 2015 published survey of people who use Ayurvedic preparations showed
that 40 percent had elevated blood levels of lead and some had elevated blood
levels of mercury. About one in four of the supplements tested had high levels
of lead and almost half of them had high levels of mercury.
■ A 2015 case report published in the Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity and
Mortality Weekly Report linked elevated blood lead levels in a 64-year-old
woman with Ayurvedic preparations purchased on the Internet.
■ Although rare, Ayurvedic products may cause arsenic poisoning.
NCCIH-Funded Research
NCCIH is funding research that:
■ Builds on earlier investigations in breast cancer survivors that found a positive
effect of integrated Ayurvedic medicine on improved quality of life; new research
will evaluate ways to make this intervention easier to incorporate into peoples’
lives. The proposed Ayurvedic intervention includes diet, lifestyle, yoga, and
pressure point treatment.
■ Studies the mechanism by which an extract from Butea monosperma (BME)
flowers may protect against joint destruction from osteoarthritis (BME is widely
used in Ayurveda for arthritis and other inflammatory diseases in India).
More to Consider
■ Don’t use Ayurvedic medicine to postpone seeing a conventional health care
provider about a medical problem.
■ If you have a health condition, talk with your conventional health care provider
before using Ayurvedic products.
■ There is no significant regulation of Ayurvedic practice or education in the
United States, and no state requires a practitioner to have a license. For more
information on credentialing complementary health practitioners, see the NCCIH
fact sheet Credentialing, Licensing, and Education .
■ If you’re pregnant or nursing, be sure to consult your (or your child’s) health
care provider as some Ayurvedic products may contain products that could be
harmful.
■ Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative
health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage
your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
For More Information
NCCIH Clearinghouse
The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and
integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal
databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide
medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
Toll-free in the U.S.:
1-888-644-6226
TTY (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers):
1-866-464-3615
Website:
nccih.nih.gov
Email:
info@nccih.nih.gov(link sends e-mail)
PubMed®
A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information
and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For
guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About
Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed .
Website:
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed
NIH Clinical Research Trials and You
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a website, NIH Clinical Research
Trials and You, to help people learn about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to
participate. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on
how to find clinical trials through ClinicalTrials.gov and other resources, and stories
about the personal experiences of clinical trial participants. Clinical trials are necessary
to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.
Website:
www.nih.gov/health/clinicaltrials/
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews is a collection of evidence-based
reviews produced by the Cochrane Library, an international nonprofit organization. The
reviews summarize the results of clinical trials on health care interventions. Summaries
are free; full-text reviews are by subscription only.
Website:
www.cochranelibrary.com(link is external)
Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools Expenditures & Results (RePORTER)
RePORTER is a database of information on federally funded scientific and medical
research projects being conducted at research institutions.
Website:
projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm
Key References
Breeher L, Mikulski MA, Czeczok T, et al. A cluster of lead poisoning among
consumers of Ayurvedic medicine . International Journal of Occupational and
Environmental Health . 2015;21(4):303-307.
Chopra A, Saluja M, Tillu G, et al. Ayurvedic medicine offers a good alternative to
glucosamine and celecoxib in the treatment of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: a
randomized, double-blind, controlled equivalence drug trial . Rheumatology .
2013;52(8):1408-1417.
Clarke TC, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Barnes PM, Nahin RL. Trends in the use of
complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2002–2012 .
National health statistics reports; no. 79. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for
Health Statistics. 2015.
Furst DE, Venkatraman MM, McGann M, et al. Double-blind, randomized,
controlled, pilot study comparing classic Ayurvedic medicine, methotrexate, and
their combination in rheumatoid arthritis . Journal of Clinical Rheumatology .
2011;17(4)185-192.
Koch I, Moriarty M, House K, et al. Bioaccessibility of lead and arsenic in
traditional Indian medicines . Science of the Total Environment .
2011;409(21):4545-4552.
Kuptniratsaikul V, Dajpratham P, Taechaarpornkul W, et al. Efficacy and safety of
Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee
osteoarthritis: a multicenter study . Clinical Interventions in Aging .
2014;9:451-458.
Kurian GA, Manjusha V, Nair SS, et al. Short-term effect of G-400, polyherbal
formulation in the management of hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia conditions
in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus . Nutrition . 2014;30(10):1158-1164.
Meiman J, Thiboldeaux R, Anderson H. Lead poisoning and anemia associated
with use of Ayurvedic medications purchased on the Internet—Wisconsin, 2015 .
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report . 2015;64(32):883
Sridharan K, Mohan R, Ramaratnam S, et al. Ayurvedic treatments for diabetes
mellitus . Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews . 2011;(12):CD008288.
Accessed at http://www.cochranelibrary.com(link is external) on June 23, 2016.
Taylor RA, Leonard MC. Curcumin for inflammatory bowel disease: a review of
human studies . Alternative Medicine Review . 2011;16(2):152-156.
White B, Judkins DZ. Clinical inquiry. Does turmeric relieve inflammatory
conditions? Journal of Family Practice . 2011;60(3):155-156.
Other References
Darvesh AS, Aggarwal BB, Bishayee A. Curcumin and liver cancer: a review.
Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology . 2012;13(1):218-228.
Patwardhan B. Bridging Ayurveda with evidence-based scientific approaches in
medicine. EPMA Journal . 2014;5(1):19.
Pinto B, Goyal P, Flora SJ, et al. Chronic arsenic poisoning following Ayurvedic
medication. Journal of Medical Toxicology . 2014;10(4):395-398.
Singh HK. Brain enhancing ingredients from Ayurvedic medicine: quintessential
example of Bacopa monniera , a narrative review. Nutrients . 2013;5(2):478-497.
Acknowledgments
NCCIH thanks Dr. David Shurtleff, Deputy Director of NCCIH, and Dr. Craig Hopp,
Deputy Director of NCCIH’s Division of Extramural Research for their review of the 2019
update of this fact sheet.
This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is
encouraged.
NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for
the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to
discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The
mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.
Reference: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm

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