TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, THE AYURVEDIC WAY
I’ve been a vegan for years. I pride myself in eating delicious, nutritious food from the earth. I practice yoga daily and walk almost every day. I have a spiritual life and my health is relatively good. I have liver disease but it doesn’t bother me too much. I have learned to live with it for over 40 years and I am even grateful for it because it motivated me to live a better, healthier lifestyle. But one thing I do get, on occasion, is arthritic pain. Hips, back, legs…and I have to wonder, it’s either something I ate or something I thought. I’m no angel. I have my moments of jealousy, anger, self-pity…but they don’t last long. So, where does the arthritis come from?
Is it just my older bones, lack of hormones…? I don’t buy into this age thing so much. Sure, we have our aches and pains but nothing we can’t conquer. Seriously, we’re tougher than that!
So, lately, I am focused on Ayurvedic healing. Basically, Ayurveda is a system of traditional medicine native to India. It provides guidelines on ideal daily and seasonal routines, diet, behavior and the proper use of our senses. Ayurveda reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit. Ayurveda stresses the use of plant-based medicines and treatments which is one of the reasons I am so drawn to it. Hundreds of plant-based medicines are employed, including cardamom and cinnamon.
You should find out what your Dosha is. There are 3 Doshas; Pitta, Kapha and Vata (basic personalities, body types) I am mostly Pitta. And because I am, I have started consuming more of the foods suggested for Pitta. Some of these things I use on a regular basis. I happen to love turmeric. It is great on scrambled tofu and so many other things.
Ayurvedic herbs are used for many reasons: to maintain overall health; to boost immunity; support mental clarity and focus; to calm the nerves; to improve digestion; to protect the body from toxins and support the detoxification process; and to support innate healing processes.
The following six herbs have long histories of traditional use in Ayurveda, and they are increasingly popular with American consumers:
Visit a grocery store that sells indian goods. Or go on line. Find good quality spices.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves & berry
ASHWAGANDHA (Withania somnifera): The name of this shrub roughly translates as, “Strength of a horse.” It’s roots have been medicinally used for thousands of years. In classical Ayurveda, the described properties of Ashwagandha include: Medhya (promotes intellect and cognitive development), Balya (increases strength and recovery), Rasayana (rejuvenator or life-extending substance) and Nidrajanana (promoter of sleep).
Today, Ashwagandha is best known for it’s ability to promote energy and stamina without stimulating the heart. As a body-balancing herb, it also addresses insomnia.
Most commonly, Ashwagandha is dispensed in doses of 500 mg once or twice daily, before meals. Maximal responses are generally seen within 2-4 weeks of regular use.
Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)
BITTER MELON (Momordica charantia): This edible gourd should be every physician’s “go-to” plant for the 16 million or more Americans with high-normal glucose readings or ‘boderline diabetic/metabolic syndrome patients.
Bitter Melon increases insulin output from the pancreas, and it also provides a unique compound called polypeptide-P, which is an insulin mimetic with a similar structure to bovine insulin.
Compounds produced by this intriguing gourd have been shown to reduce triglyceride levels and bitter melon may have a role in reducing cardiovascular risk, particularly in people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Bitter Melon is usually dispensed in 500-600 mg doses, twice daily, following meals. As it does have an insulin mimetic action, it may be necessary to adjust the dose of concurrently prescribed hypoglycemic drugs.
Holy Basil aka Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum).
HOLY BASIL (Ocimum sanctum): Also known as Tulsi, this plant is actually considered sacred by many people in India. As such, it can be found growing in temple gardens, where the rich fragrance opens respiratory passages and some say, help the spirit soar.
Holy Basil’s key compounds, including eugenol and caryophyllene, are similar to those found in oregano (Origanum vulgare) and it shares the anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic actions typical of the oregano family.
This plant is also native to West Africa. In Sierra Leone, it is called ‘Fever Plant.’ The various fixed oil compounds found in the plant have shown extensive antimicrobial and antifungal activity against a variety of pathogens including Escherichia coli and Candida albicans. In classical Ayurveda, Holy Basil was used as an anti-tussive, to clear “excess dampness in the lungs.” Recent human trials have validated this, the data showing that this herb can increase lung capacity as well as reduce labored breathing.
It has also been shown to significantly reduce several measures of stress in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) patients.
Holy basil can be taken in capsule, tea and in liquid forms. It is dispensed in 600-700 mg doses, twice daily, before meals. Allow 2-4 weeks for optimal results.
TURMERIC (Curcuma longa)
TURMERIC (Curcuma longa) is one of Ayurveda’s true treasures. Consumption of the bright yellow rhizomes of this plant was first advocated in millennia past by yogis who claimed it enhanced flexibility and joint integrity. In recent years, a vast amount of research has been done on Turmeric’s main components curcuminoids and curcumin. These compounds have been shown to provide many diverse benefits for human health, including preservation of brain function, high antioxidant activity, regulation of inflammation in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer prevention.
Turmeric can provide a nice anti-inflammatory effect without the gastric complications sometimes seen with other anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin.
Turmeric also reduces thromboxane synthesis, meaning that it can reduce vasoconstriction as well as platelet aggregation. Turmeric has shown unparalleled antioxidant activity. It is interesting to note that routine consumption of Turmeric can significantly increase vitamin E plasma levels within 90 days.
Due to poor bioavailability, it is best to use standardized Turmeric extracts, which are available at 95% curcuminoid content. Conservative dosing starts at 600-700 mg once or twice daily, after meals. Some trials have used doses as high as 2-3 g/day in chronic conditions. However, higher doses can cause minor GI complaints.
Triphala (lit. “Three fruits” in Sanskrit) is a classical Ayurvedic formula comprised of Emblica officinalis, Belleric myrobalan and Chebulic myrobalan. Image courtesy Pukka Herbs
TRIPHALA: A common element in many Ayurvedic protocols, Triphala is not one plant, but three. The Sanskrit word actually means “three fruits,” (tri = three, phala = fruit), and it represents the combination of Emblica officinalis, Belleric myrobalan and Chebulic myrobalan. This standardized combination has existed in Ayurveda for thousands of years, and as such, it is considered as a single entity.
Use of Triphala is based on a key tenet of Ayurvedic theory, that disease is most able to take hold when digestion is compromised. As such, two major formulas were created to normalize digestion and prepare the groundwork for overall wellness: Triphala and Trikatu
Triphala provides detoxification and digestive correction by promoting peristalsis and providing organ specific anti-inflammatory action in the lower GI tract. Today, Triphala is most commonly used for those with GI complaints such as bloating, sluggish digestion, food sensitivities, fatigue after meals, or chronic constipation.
The Triphala ‘cocktail’ challenges modern scientific investigative methods, since the unique compounds within each fruit seem to take on different attributes when combined, which may not be replicated when the fruits are analyzed separately. In fact, the therapeutic dose of each ingredient can be significantly reduced when formulated together in equal amounts.
Triphala is best used in capsules, standardized to 50% tannins, and at a dose of 500-600 mg before each meal (15-20 minutes prior is sufficient). Taken consistently, results are generally seen in as little as two weeks. However, it may take as long as 4-6 weeks to obtain the full therapeutic effect.
TRIKATU: A complimentary formula to Triphala, Trikatu means “three peppers” or “three pungents.” It is a combination of Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Indian Long Pepper (Piper longum) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). While Triphala lends a hand to the lower GI tract, Trikatu has its primary effects in the upper GI tract, where it enhances the “digestive fire” necessary for the breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients.
Ayurvedic practitioners consider Trikatu a “warming formula,” used to awaken Agni (digestion) and destroy Ama (accumulated waste & toxins).
According to Ayurvedic theory, poor quality food and inconsistent eating habits can create a dullness to the upper GI, which, if uncorrected, will result in further deviations from overall health. Specifically, it can lead to unhealthy food cravings. This creates a feedback loop, since the poor food choices driven by the cravings reinforce the digestive dysfunction.
Today, we use Trikatu to enhance bioavailability of nutrients, drugs, and supplements, possibly through increasing the production of digestive enzymes and/or enhancement of first pass hepatic metabolism. Trikatu also seems to promote the assimilation of food through the intestines and normalizes gastric emptying, thereby reducing the tendency toward flatulence and distention while improving overall energy levels and nutritional status.
Trikatu was shown to reduce LDL and triglycerides levels in rabbits fed high-fat diets. It also increased cardioprotective HDL levels.
Trikatu is best taken in capsule form, and is standardized to gingerols and piperine. Similar to Triphala, Trikatu is usually taken with meals. If used consistently, it gives results in as little as two weeks, though the most significant therapeutic results may take 4-6 weeks.
The ancient roots and modern branches of Ayurveda span the very corners of time itself, and it remains a driving force in the world of natural healthcare. It was one of the earliest systems of recorded medicine in the world, and it shows no sign of waning. In fact, it seems to be on the rise in the US and many other parts of the world.
There are a few excellent Ayurvedic practitioners. Seek them out if necessary.