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Ayurveda’s Contributions To Science

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Ayurveda’s Contributions To Science (Without Being Itself Rooted in Scientific Method)

Yesterday, we asked you for your opinions on ayurveda, and got the above-depicted, below-described, set of responses. Of those who responded…

  • A little over 41% said “I don’t know what ayurveda is without looking it up”
  • A little over 37% said “It is a fine branch of health science with millennia of evidence”
  • A little over 16% said “It gets some things right, but not by actual science”
  • A little over 4% said “It is a potentially dangerous pseudoscience”

So, what does the science say?

Ayurveda is scientific: True or False?

False, simply. Let’s just rip the band-aid off in this case. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily without merit, though!

Let’s put it this way:

  • If you drink coffee to feel more awake because scientific method has discerned that caffeine has vasoconstrictive and adenosine-blocking effects while also promoting dopaminergic activity, then your consumption of coffee is evidence-based and scientific. Great!
  • If you drink coffee to feel more awake because somebody told you that that somebody told them that it energizes you by balancing the elements fire (the heat of the coffee), air (the little bubbles on top), earth (the coffee grinds), water (the water), and ether (steam), then that isneither evidence-based nor scientific, but it will still work exactly the same.

Ayurveda is a little like that. It’s an ancient traditional Indian medicine, based on a combination of anecdotal evidence and supposition.

  • The anecdotal evidence from ayurveda has often resulted in herbal remedies that, in modern scientific trials, have been found to have merit.
    • Ayurvedic meditative practices also have a large overlap with modern mindfulness practices, and have also been found to have merit
    • Ayurveda also promotes the practice of yoga, which is indeed a very healthful activity
  • The supposition from ayurveda is based largely in those five elements we mentioned above, as well as a “balancing of humors” comparable to medieval European medicine, and from a scientific perspective, is simply a hypothesis with no evidence to support it.

Note: while ayurveda is commonly described as a science by its practitioners in the modern age, it did not originally claim to be scientific, but rather, wisdom handed down directly by the god Dhanvantari.

Ayurveda gets some things right: True or False?

True! Indeed, we covered some before in 10almonds; you may remember:

Bacopa Monnieri: A Well-Evidenced Cognitive Enhancer

(Bacopa monnieri is also known by its name in ayurveda, brahmi)

There are many other herbs that have made their way from ayurveda into modern science, but the above is a stand-out example. Others include:

Yoga and meditation are also great, and not only that, but great by science, for example:

Ayurveda is a potentially dangerous pseudoscience: True or False?

Also True! We covered why it’s a pseudoscience above, but that doesn’t make it potentially dangerous, per se (you’ll remember our coffee example).

What does, however, make it potentially dangerous (dose-dependent) is its use of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic:

Heavy Metal Content of Ayurvedic Herbal Medicine Products

Some final thoughts…

Want to learn more about the sometimes beneficial, sometimes uneasy relationship between ayurveda and modern science?

A lot of scholarly articles trying to bridge (or further separate) the two were very biased one way or the other.

Instead, here’s one that’s reasonably optimistic with regard to ayurveda’s potential for good, while being realistic about how it currently stands:

Development of Ayurveda—Tradition to trend

Take care!

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