Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine that uses a wide range of treatments and techniques.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine which began about 5,000 years ago. It is not just one treatment. It is a way of diagnosing illness and using a wide range of treatments and techniques.
Ayurveda is an Indian word. Ayur means life and veda means knowledge.
Ayurvedic medicine can include:
- advice on diet and special diets
- taking specific Ayurvedic medications
- herbal medicine
- yoga, breathing and relaxation techniques
- bowel cleansing
An Ayurvedic practitioner might suggest any or all of these treatments. It will depend on your particular health problems.
There is no scientific evidence to prove that Ayurvedic medicine can treat or cure cancer or any other disease.
How it works
The main belief behind Ayurvedic medicine is that health problems happen when your mind, body and spirit are out of balance.
Ayurvedic practitioners believe we are made up of 3 elements known as doshas.
- air and space (vata dosha) which allows movement
- fire and water (pitta dosha) which allows for change and handles digestion and metabolism
- water and earth (kapha dosha) which gives structure or cohesion
These 3 doshas let the body’s organs work together in harmony. They also create your relationship with the environment and universe.
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that our health depends on the correct balance of all 3.
Practitioners claim that different combinations of Ayurvedic medicine bring balance and harmony into the body to help:
- increase energy and wellbeing
- balance mind, body and spirit
- decrease stress
- prevent and cure disease
Why people with cancer use ayurvedic medicine
People with cancer often use touch therapies such as massage and aromatherapy. Many people say these therapies help them to cope better with cancer and its treatment.
Research is looking into whether some herbs or plant treatments used in Ayurvedic medicine could help to prevent or treat cancer.
But, we still don’t know much about some of the treatments that are part of Ayurvedic medicine, such as special diets and herbal remedies.
These treatments could be harmful to your health or interfere with conventional treatment such as cancer drugs and radiotherapy.
What having Ayurvedic medicine involves
Your practitioner will aim to restore or maintain your health and well being by balancing many factors in your life.
To plan your treatment, they will take your medical history and assess your doshas.
They will examine your tongue, lips and nails, and look inside your eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth. They might also examine your back passage (rectum) and genital area. They will listen to your lungs and heart, and take your pulse.
They will ask about your emotions and relationships with other people. They will even consider the time of day and what season it is.
Then they’ll discuss which treatments they think will help you most.
Some practitioners might recommend getting rid of toxins. They might cleanse the bowel (intestines) by putting liquid into your back passage (enemas). Or, they might suggest taking medicines to make the bowel work more quickly (laxatives).
Other ways of cleansing and detoxifying include forced vomiting and drawing blood from the body. These methods can be harmful. Most therapists don’t use them.
Some Ayurvedic methods such as yoga, massage and relaxation are generally helpful for people with cancer. But others such as some herbal treatments, diets and bowel cleansing can be harmful.
Always check with your doctor first as some treatments can have serious side effects. Ask your doctor for advice if an Ayurvedic practitioner diagnoses you with a new medical condition.
Your relationship with your practitioner is very important. They are responsible for creating a safe space for you to work together to decide on your treatment.
Tell your practitioner if you don’t feel comfortable with anything that they are doing.
Possible side effects of Ayurvedic medicine
You might have some side effects depending on which treatments you have. Herbal treatments, diets and bowel cleansing can have harmful side effects.
The safety of Ayurvedic medicines
Yoga, relaxation techniques and massage are generally safe. But, other remedies that you ingest need more attention.
Most Ayurvedic medicines are made from different herbs. There has been no research to test many of them.
Some herbal medicines might interact with treatment you are already having, such as cancer drugs or radiotherapy. Or, some might contain harmful substances.
In 2004, a US study found that 14 out of 70 Ayurvedic medicines bought over the counter had harmful heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic in them. All the remedies had been made in South Asia.
How unlicensed traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic medicines are made can vary. Some contain illegal substances and toxic herbs which may not be listed on the packaging. The amount of active ingredient can also vary widely between products.
Companies that make herbal products to be bought over the counter in health food shops and pharmacies have to meet quality standards. They need to provide information about their product, including exactly what it contains, the dose and how safe it is.
Only use herbal products that are registered under the Traditional Herbal Remedies (THR) scheme. Registered remedies have a THR mark and symbol on the packaging. THR products have been tested for quality and safety.
To be safe, only buy plant remedies from a trained and qualified herbal practitioner who can trace where their herbs and plants come from.
Always check with your doctor first before having any type of herb or medicine.
Research into Ayurvedic treatment
Some research has found some types of Ayurvedic treatment can help relieve cancer symptoms and improve quality of life.
For example, massage can lower stress and help you to relax. Meditation can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and boost general wellbeing.
Studies have shown that yoga helps lymphoma patients sleep better, and reduces stress in people with breast or prostate cancer.
Ayurvedic medicine uses more than 200 herbs and plants. Researchers have looked at some compounds used in Ayurvedic medicine in the laboratory and tested them on animals.
Some of this early laboratory research suggests that it might help slow the growth of cancer in animals. But, there is no evidence that Ayurvedic medicine can prevent, treat or cure cancer in humans.
We won’t know until we carry out large randomised clinical trials.
Finding an Ayurvedic practitioner
There is no single professional organisation that regulates Ayurvedic medicine in the UK. Therapists and practitioners can join several associations but there is no law to say that they have to.
You must choose a trained and qualified therapist or practitioner if you are considering having Ayurvedic medicine. Contact the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association (APA) first.
According to the APA, Ayurvedic practitioners are qualified to diagnose diseases and conditions from an Ayurvedic perspective. They can prescribe and give Ayurvedic remedies and treatments, as well as nutrition and lifestyle advice.
Ayurvedic therapists are not trained as practitioners and do not have to finish any specific training. They can give Ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle advice and hands-on treatment such as massage. But they can’t diagnose conditions or prescribe Ayurvedic remedies.
There are several places that people can train to become Ayurveda therapists and there are different levels of training. Many therapists go to India to study as there are more than 180 Ayurveda training schools there. Some of the training in India can take up to 5 years to complete.
Some therapists train in a specific treatment that is part of the Ayurvedic medicine system such as massage or meditation, but not in others such as herbal treatments.
The cost of Ayurvedic medicine
The cost will depend on the treatments that you have.
The first consultation can cost anything between £25 and £65. Follow up appointments usually cost less.
Some Ayurvedic clinics encourage overnight or longer stays for intensive detoxification treatments. These can be very expensive.
Make sure you get full information about treatment costs before agreeing to have it. Check with your cancer doctor first to make sure the treatments are safe for you.
These organisations can give you useful information about Ayurvedic medicine in the UK.
More information about Ayurvedic medicine
For further information about Ayurvedic medicines go to the websites of these organisations.