Understanding the Relationship Between Ayurveda and Western Medicine

A Moderation of All Things

Looking at the healthcare systems of Traditional Indian Medicine (TIM), or Ayurveda, and allopathic, or western medicine, it is easy to see where the two philosophies diverge. However, a powerful case can also be made for an integrative approach to health and wellness that encompasses the “best of both worlds.”

Image of Ayurveda spices with nusapia logo in middle

Nowhere is this more evident than in India itself, where today, both traditions are often practiced side by side. In a country where Colleges of Ayurvedic Medicine and western medicine are equally common, it is generally recognized and accepted, that Ayurveda is not a substitute for all of the advanced technology of allopathic medicine, but it can be a powerful adjunct.

For example, Ayurvedic doctors understand that there are instances where “dosha imbalances” have gone untreated too long. When this happens, disease processes are allowed to progress to the point where they are so severe that they cannot respond to TIM methodologies alone – and are best treated with modern drugs or surgery. However, it is in these very instances after being treated with western medications, surgery, or other high-tech procedures, that Ayurveda can be used in harmony with Western medicine to get a body back “in balance”, recover quicker, and be far less likely to relapse.

What is Integrative Medicine?

As this idea of “integrative medicine” becomes more popular the world over, it is not surprising to find an increasing number of physicians here in the United States with the letters, D.Ay. for Diplomate Ayurvedic Medicine following their MDs.

In 1992, the US government founded what is now known as the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The stated mission of NCCAM is to explore complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous scientific research. With grant money from the NIH, NCCAM’s research is being conducted in leading medical schools nationwide, and also involves many other mainstream health organizations including the American Heart Association, and the National Cancer Institute. Through NCCAM’s efforts, many therapies once thought to be "quackery" are now proving to be both safe and effective.

With the ongoing debate about healthcare reform, there is no greater indicator of complementary medical practices such as Ayurveda being more accepted by western medicine than the fact that an increasing number of HMOs and insurance companies are now willing to pay for CAM procedures.

The concept of integrating Ayurvedic principals with allopathic medicine is certainly catching on, but it is hardly a new idea. In fact Paracelsus, a medieval physician who is generally recognized as the Father of Modern Pharmacy held views that were very much in step with Ayurveda. Paracelsus believed that sickness and health in the body relied on man’s harmony with nature, and yet he pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals to create medications, and is generally credited with converting alchemy into the science of chemistry. Hippocrates, namesake of the Hippocratic oath sworn by the graduates of all western medical schools himself once said, “Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.”  

Well-known advocate of mind-body medicine, Deepak Chopra, MD is a living, breathing embodiment of the concepts of western medicine and Ayurvedic principals working together. Before establishing the world-renowned Chopra Center, he was chief of staff at Boston Regional Medical Center. Dr. Chopra received his medical Degree from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and did his internship, residencies, and fellowships at several major teaching hospitals in the Boston area. Today at the Chopra Center, he says, “Our approach to health and wellbeing fuses the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda with the most advanced developments in modern allopathic medicine.”

A Moderation of All Things

One of the most basic tenets of Ayurveda is to live life with moderation in all things. In essence the mantra is to not deprive oneself, nor practice anything to excess. That would seem a great recipe for health and long life when combined with western, or any other form of medicine!



Bill Sheridan

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