by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LNC

Ayurveda is a form of medicine that has been practiced in India for thousands of  years and comes from the root words “Ayur” = life, and “Veda” = revealed knowledge. Certainly, the phrase “revealed knowledge” is appropriate, because as the keen gaze of scientists searching for new remedies is turned on these ancient cures, intensive research is finding the evidence that explains their success.

Some of the herbs from Ayurvedic tradition that are beginning to come into their own universally are Gymnema Sylvestre (blood sugar control), ayurvedaBoswellia Serrata and Turmeric (inflammation) Guggul Gum – (cholesterol),  Bacopa Monnieri (ADD/ADHD)  and Ashwaganda ( an adaptogen and antidepressant). Ayurveda

Turmeric  (often referred to as Curcumin for the active ingredient) has been used in folk medicine in India for many thousands of years for indigestion, (especially flatulence and dyspepsia) and as a topical application for skin outbreaks, including chicken pox and infected wounds. It is, of course, one of the major ingredients in curry powder, a staple of most Indian cuisine, and this is an excellent example of form following function in the use of a herb!  While the actual chemical structure of turmeric was determined in 1910,  studies in the 70s  concluded that the active ingredients in turmeric, the phenolics and curcuminoids, have unique importance as anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. Ayurveda

Much exciting research has shown an important role for Curcumin in Cancer prevention. I am indebted to Catherine Cox, of the yahoo group AdvancingBudwigProtocol for this synopsis:Their action as an anti inflammatory is achieved by inhibition of the enzymes which enable the body to produce Arachidonic acid, thus lessening the inflammatory effect.  Its action is similar to that of aspirin, but differs from aspirin in that it does not affect the prevention of vascular thrombosis, which aspirin in large doses can certainly do.  This is an important advantage for Turmeric (curcumin)  over aspirin, since curcumin selectively inhibits synthesis of inflammatory prostaglandins but does not affect the synthesis of prostacyclin. [1]  Prostacyclin is an important factor in preventing vascular thrombosis, and any drug that affects its synthesis, especially when used in large doses, may increase the risk of this dangerous condition. Curcumin may therefore be preferable for patients who are prone to vascular thrombosis and require anti-inflammatory and/or antiarthritic therapy. Many tests have shown an improvement in ALL participants – to my mind, a powerful endorsement – and the antioxidant qualities are an added bonus.  Ayurveda

Here are a few of Curcumin’s “greatest hits”.

First, in contrast to previous reports, curcumin activates the JNK pathway. This is a death pathway that is activated by most chemotherapy drugs. Now we find that curcumin can induce these very same death pathways. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15256484)  Ayurveda

Curcumin also activates the PPAR-gamma genetic pathway. This pathway inhibits cancer growth in many, many different ways. Interestingly, the activation of this pathway inhibits the _expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor. This is big news. Remember the “fine living icon” Martha Stewart and her little trip to Federal Prison? She lied about her stock dealings with the CEO of http://www.imclone.com . ImClone was attempting to get approval for a monoclonal antibody that blocked the binding of epidermal growth factor to its receptor. This monoclonal antibody, Erbitux, has now been approved for the treatment of certain kinds of cancers but only when used with chemotherapy. If the information cited above about curcumin and its ability to reduce the synthesis of the epidermal growth factor receptor is correct, the monoclonal antibody Erbitux is irrelevant.

Curcumin also inhibits the tyrosine kinase activity and expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor p185neu/c-erbb-2/Her2. The popular monoclonal antibody inhibitor of this receptor is called Herceptin and it is made by Genentech. Like Erbitux, this product is now irrelevant if curcumin can downregulate the _expression of this receptor. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=10430096) Ayurveda

Most important, curcumin inhibits the activation of NF-kappaB and AKT. NF-kappaB is a genetic factor that activates the synthesis of pro-inflammatory hormones and anti-cell death survival proteins. AKT is an enzyme that activates other anti-death pathways. It is critical that both these pathways be inhibited if cancer cell death is to achieved. This scientific paper, as yet to be published, is simply excellent in its detail and analysis of curcumin function. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=16219905)  The Janus kinase-Stat pathway is a MAJOR growth pathway for leukemia cells. Curcumin blocks this pathway at one fundamental level. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=14634121)  The genetic factor Egr-1 is a major factor in many biochemical pathways, including cancer and HIV. Curcumin inhibits this pathway. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=10674404)  The ability of curcumin to downregulate the expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor is dependent on its ability to inhibit the Egr-1 pathway. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=16170359)  Finally, curcumin inhibits multi-drug resistance normally induced by chemotherapy drugs. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=16021489 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15476675 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=12167476 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15090070)  A general review on the ability of curcumin to inhibit the synthesis of anti-cell death molecules in cancer cells. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/queryd.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=12807727)

Gymnema Sylvestre  whose Hindi name literally means ‘sugar destroyer’, has been shown in vitro to have a glycolytic action and the ability to reduce the strength of a glucose solution. It has been used in Ayurveda for several centuries to regulate sugar metabolism. Gymnema increases insulin production, possibly by repairing or regenerating pancreas cells, the site of insulin production. It also abolishes the taste of sugar, which effectively suppresses and neutralizes the craving for sweets. Ayurveda

A Dr. K. Shanmugasundaram,  professor at the medical school of the University of Madras in India, conducted tests using Gymnema on people who needed insulin shots daily. Previous tests on animals whose beta cells were destroyed with a chemical called alloxan showed, after a few months of supplementation with Gymnema, that it either repairs or regenerates the beta cells. Insulin-dependent humans have beta cells that don’t produce insulin because of a hereditary defect. The scientists assumed that if they could generate beta cells in animals that produce insulin, they could do it in humans, too. That’s exactly what happened in the clinical tests on humans. Their insulin requirement dropped, along with lowered blood sugar and improved glucose utilization. Also, the glycogen (stored blood sugar) in the liver became normal after five and a half months of taking Gymnema. Dr. Shanmugasundaram concluded in his clinical report that after administration of Gymnema for several months, “insulin requirements go down.”** Ayurveda

Boswellia Serrata – The gum resin of Boswellia, secreted from the cortex (also known as Frankincense) , has been traditionally used as incense because of its fragrant properties. One active constituent, Boswellic Acid, is a pyrazoline derivative shown to be very effective in supporting healthy joints. Like its cousin Guggul, Boswellia has many cholesterol and triglyceride lowering properties. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this extract, however, is that it has been shown to be effective in cases of ulcerative colitis, an extremely painful and difficult to treat condition. “In patients suffering from ulcerative colitis grade II and III the effect of Boswellia serrata gum resin preparation (350 mg thrice daily for 6 weeks) on stool properties, histolopathology and scan microscopy of rectal biopsies, blood parameters including Hb, serum iron, calcium, phosphorus, proteins, total leukocytes and eosinophils was studied. Patients receiving sulfasalazine (1 g thrice daily) served as controls. All parameters tested improved after treatment with Boswellia serrata gum resin, the results being similar compared to controls: 82% out of treated patients went into remission; in case of sulfasalazine remission rate was 75%.”  (Eur J Med Res 1997 Jan;2(1):37-43) Ayurveda

Guggul (which is actually Myrrh – maybe the Wise Men were really on to something),  lowers both cholesterol  (Science 2002 May 31;296(5573):1703-6) and triglycerides (J Assoc Physicians India. 1981 Jan;29(1):13-7. ) while maintaining or improving the HDL to LDL ratio.
The resin is known to increase white blood cell counts and possess strong disinfecting properties. It may have been one of the very first “broad spectrum drugs” with a wide therapeutic range. A broad mode of action makes this plant very helpful not only in protecting against the common cold, but also in various skin, dental and ophthalmic infections. Ayurveda

Bacopa Monnieri –  is considered the main rejuvenating herb for nerve and brain cells and, therefore, has played a very important role in Ayurvedic therapies for the treatment of cognitive disorders of aging. Countless studies have shown Brahmi helps improve protein activity and protein synthesis, especially in brain cells, which can increase intelligence, longevity and memory and decrease senility and aging. It has tranquilizing effects but, unlike synthetic sedatives which often have side effects of dulling the mind, Brahmi actually improves mental clarity. One way in which it may help (particularly in cases of ADD/ADHD, and the elderly) is by regulating the thyroid: it has a thyroid stimulating effect, increasing T4 by 41% without enhancing hepatic lipid peroxidation. ( J Ethnopharmacol 2002 Jul;81(2):281-5) Ayurveda

Ashwaganda  (Withania somnifera),  also known as Winter cherry, has been used for thousands of years as a popular remedy for many conditions. Perhaps its main use, as described in Ayurvedic literature, is as a daily, long-term ‘rasayana’ or rejuvenating treatment. Ashwaganda is one of the best known and best researched Ayurvedic herbs and holds a place in the Ayurvedic traditions similar to Ginseng in Chinese therapies. For that reason, Ashwagandha has been often referred to as the ‘Indian Ginseng’. It is one of the best health tonics and restorative agents that have been used to treat general debility, exhaustion, stress induced fatigue and insomnia. Studies have shown its rejuvenating effect, particularly for the muscles and marrow. Various alkaloids and withanoloides in Withania somnifera have shown impressive results in scientific tests, two of them as stimulants for the immune system. Ayurveda

Dr. Lise Anschuler, who teaches at Bastyr University,  lists the following benefits:

  • Contains high levels of an absorbable plant iron
  • Improves the results of cancer treatment
  • Reduces the side effects chemotherapy.
  • Increases Red Blood Cells through its action on the bone marrow.
  • She personally finds it effective for anxiety
  • It induces restful sleep.
  • It is an adaptogen, balancing the body
  • It spares the release of Cortisol, moderating its effects on such conditions as PMS, depression, thyroid imbalances, & menstrual irregularities
  • Helpful for arthritis and all chronic inflammatory conditions.
  • Excellent for older people in a weakened state
  • Helps control rhinitis & atopic dermatitis.

Garcinia Cambogia is another “new” star: marketed as Citrimax and also known as Hydroxycitric acid, its effect on appetite and weight loss has been the subject of intense study and interest.  The rind of this fruit has been used in South East Asia as a digestive aid for many centuries, but now we know that through inhibition of certain enzymes it controls the glycogen/glucose cycle in our bodies, diminishing appetite, reducing food intake, and suppressing fatty acid synthesis. Studies have shown that (-) hydroxycitric acid (HCA) present in the Garcinia Cambogia extract (containing not less than 50% w/w of HCA) is known to inhibit lipogenesis and fatty acid synthesis. It acts by inhibiting the citrate cleavage enzyme which catalyzes the formation of precursors for fatty acid synthesis. In a study published in International Journal of Obesity (1996), HCA has also been shown to boost basal metabolic rate so the body continues to burn calories and lose weight. Ayurveda

Increasingly these names are being mentioned in the Press and on TV. But while Ayurveda has certainly discovered and used many highly effective substances. it has never really been about individual remedies, but about something dear to my own heart, as my readers well know: and that is: Balance. Ayurvedic formulas usually contain a blend of herbs. Ayurveda believes that the normal state for the body is a state of health, and that when disease overcomes it, the body struggles to heal itself: the role of medicine is to support the struggle and return the body to natural  balance. Ayurveda

A Doctor skilled in the practice of Ayurvedic medicine will not content himself with just suggesting  a herbal remedy for the problem that is presenting, but will determine the characteristics of the patient and counsel on diet, exercise, massage and meditation as well as prescribing the appropriate substances. Ayurveda places everyone into one of three categories, according to a series of criteria based on physical and mental clues which determine their “Constitutional Type”. While to a certain extent the practice of Ayurved seems to be developing away from this particular diagnostic method, it can still be of value in determining what remedy to choose: certain constitutional types are definitely more susceptible to certain ailments, and matching the patterns of digestion, absorption and diet can be an important part of the cure. Ayurveda

Whether one’s interest in Ayurveda follows the more traditional pattern, or whether one has simply benefited from one of the individual stars in its healing firmament, this ancient approach to health has much to offer.

Baskaran K, Kizar Ahamath B, Radha Shanmugasundaram K, Shanmugasundaram ER.1.Srivastava, V., et al. (1986). “Effect of Curcumin on Platelet Aggregation and Vascular Prostacyclin Synthesis,” Arzneim. Forsch 2. J Ethnopharmacol, 30:295-300, 1990 Antidiabetic effect of a leaf extract from Gymnema sylvestre in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients.

Department of Biochemistry, Postgraduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences Madras, India. Ayurveda

The effectiveness of GS4, an extract from the leaves of Gymnema sylvestre, in controlling hyperglycaemia was investigated in 22 Type 2 diabetic patients on conventional oral anti-hyperglycaemic agents. GS4 (400 mg/day) was administered for 18-20 months as a supplement to the conventional oral drugs. During GS4 supplementation, the patients showed a significant reduction in blood glucose, glycosylated haemoglobin and glycosylated plasma proteins, and conventional drug dosage could be decreased. Five of the 22 diabetic patients were able to discontinue their conventional drug and maintain their blood glucose homeostasis with GS4 alone. These data suggest that the beta cells may be regenerated/repaired in Type 2 diabetic patients on GS4 supplementation. This is supported by the appearance of raised insulin levels in the serum of patients after GS4 supplementation.

Find the recommended supplements here

ayurveda-body-typesDoshas are the Natural Earth Elements that make up an Individual Body – ether, air. water, earth and fire. Find out more at http://www.indianfoodsco.com/Ayurveda/Doshas.htm

Ayurveda – a complete  “Science of Life” – http://www.byregion.net/articles-healers/Ayurveda_Science.html

Ayurveda Infocenter in Holisticonline.com – http://www.holistic-online.com/ayurveda/ayv_home.htm

Dr. Douillard’s  Ayurvedic LifeSpa – http://www.lifespa.com

An Integrated Medical Clinic and Ayurveda School  combining the strengths and knowledge of
both traditional western and alternative medicine in a holistic manner
 – http://www.dreddyclinic.com/

Related articles you may find interesting: