Ancient Systems of Medicine 231 Traditional Indian Medicine

Modern Ayurveda

Ayurveda the Science of Life

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The word Ayurveda is derived from 'Ayur', meaning life, and 'veda', meaning knowledge. Ayurveda means the science of life. It is an ancient system of health care and longevity. Ayurveda takes a holistic view of human beings, their health and illness. It aims at positive health, which has been defined as a well-balanced metabolism coupled with a healthy state of being. Disease, according to Ayurveda, can arise from the body and/or mind due to external factors or intrinsic causes. Ayurvedic treatment is aimed at the patient as an organic whole and treatment consists of the salubrious use of drugs, diet and certain practices. This doctrine was conceived when science was not developed enough to understand even the human body, let alone drug molecules [6-11].

Ayurveda, perhaps the most ancient of all medicine traditions, is probably older than traditional Chinese medicine. The origin of Ayurveda is lost in prehistoric antiquity, but its characteristic concepts appear to have matured between 2500 and 500 BCE in ancient India. The earliest references to drugs and diseases can be found in the Rigveda and Atharvaveda, dating back to 2000 BCE. Atharvaveda, comprised of 6599 hymns and 700 prose lines, is considered as the forerunner of Ayurveda.

The 'Samhitas,' or encyclopedia of medicine, were written during the postvedic era, and include 'Charak Samhita' (900 BCE), 'Sushruta Samhita' (600 BCE) and 'Ashtang Hridaya'(1000 CE). Later on, many more treatises were prepared and the use of medicinal plants is described in 'Nighantu Granthas' between the 7th and 16th centuries. The most basic concept of Ayurveda is that all living beings derive their subsistence from three essential factors (three doshas), namely vaata, pitta and kapha, which operate in unison. It believes that the human body is composed of living and non-living environments including earth, water, fire, air and space. Illness is the consequence of imbalance between the various elements, and it is the goal of treatment to restore this balance [11, 12].

Ayurvedic drugs are also attracting much attention for diseases for which there are no or inadequate drugs for treatment in modern medicine, such as metabolic and degenerative disorders. Most of these diseases have multifactorial causation, and there is a growing realization that in such conditions, a combination of drugs, acting at a number of targets simultaneously, is likely to be more effective than drugs acting at one target. Ayurvedic drugs, which are often multicomponent, have a special relevance for such conditions [12]. For various reasons, Ayurveda has not incorporated much of modern science/scientific tools. Investigation of the biological activity of multicomponent Ayurvedic drugs will bring Ayurveda into the mainstream of scientific investigations.

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