Using Ayurveda – Traditional East Indian Medicine in the United States to treat patients
- India as one of the largest and most populous country in the world; diversity in every aspect of the lives, including the medicine.
- 70 % lives in rural area.
- No insurance plans. Most can’t afford health care cost.
- Ayurvedic medicine includes herbs, dietary plans, stones, oils, water, yoga and meditation.
- Concept of mind-body system and three regularity Doshas.
- Many Colleges and Universities for Ayurvedic Medicine study.
- Strong belief in non invasive procedures
Similarities and differences to mainstream America:
- Natural herbs rather than chemicals
- Ayurveda include more mind body system into medicine
- Both involve physical therapy of some sort
- Allopathic far more prevalent in America than Ayurveda is in India
- Ayurvedic medicine has a strong hold on natural forms of treatment that is non invasive
- Ayurveda limited to common illnesses
Nursing care adjustments for Ayurvedic follower
- Patients given choices for final decision making
- Education about drug interactions
- Caring from a holistic viewpoint
- Developing rapport and trust as a priority
Practice of Ayurvedic Medicine among East Indians
India is one of the largest and most populous countries in the world. Because of that, it has diversity in wide ranges of cultural aspects from religious beliefs to medicine practices. Ayurveda is one of medical practices there; it’s an ancient medicine and healing therapy that originated in Indian subcontinent. The word Ayurveda in Sanskrit language translates to as “related to science or knowledge of life.” Even though the accurate origination date of Ayurveda is uncertain, many experts agree that the practice of this medicine can be dated far back to over several thousands of years ago. It is still being practiced in India, especially in the rural areas which is inhabited by over 70 percent of its population. Whether people live in a city or in any rural areas, majority of them don’t have any health insurance plans and therefore can’t afford the cost of modern day health care. Even though the practice of western allopathic medicine is on the rise there, over one-third of the rural area population still rely on Ayurveda (Harrington, 2006). Ayurvedic medicine is also being practiced in the United States, and since there are many differences between the health care beliefs and practices of Ayurveda and the western allopathic medicine the nurses have to carefully adjust the care for patients who follow Ayurvedic medicine.
Unlike modern day allopathic medicine, the practice of Ayurveda isn’t well regulated and often times its practice is transferred from one generation to the next. The main drawback of Ayurveda is how the knowledge has been transferred traditionally, through oral, rather than relying on verifiable written sources. The only written sources to be found are Vedas, a group of religious and philosophical writings. The practitioners usually set up small clinics and provide the same-day type services, where they diagnose as well as give medicine the same day the patient is present to them. These factors of easier accessibility and fast-paced medicine in addition to seeing it as a cheaper alternative treatment makes the Ayurvedic medicine so preferable to people in India. The United States National Institute of Health has listed Ayurveda as a Complementary Alternative Medicine (Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction, 2009). The 2007 National Health Interview Survey published in their website suggests that more than 200,000 people in the U.S. used Ayurvedic medicine in the previous year.
The main concept of Ayurveda is grounded in understanding the five elements, three doshas or energies, and prakriti or constitution. All these three concepts consider mind-body system and balanced interaction between the two and other components very important for maintaining good health. These metaphorical concept help Ayurvedic practitioner understand the process involving anatomy, pathophysiology and pharmacology.
The five great elements are ether, air, fire, water and earth. They are considered the building blocks for everything, whether it’s an organic substance or inorganic. The five elements also influence all the interactions of matter and energy in our body and environment and thus it affects how we feel through our sensory organs (Singh, 2009, p. 6-9). These five elements also help form doshas or energies, which are vatta, pitta and kapha. According to the book Ayurveda: A Comprehensive Guide to Traditional Indian Medicine for the West, Vatta is a combination of air with space, Pitta is fire with water and Kapha is water with earth. When they are balanced, we are healthy and have a sense of well being. Different factors such as rest, diet, exercise, relaxation and elimination of toxins can help achieve balance of a specific regulatory dosha.
The third main foundation principle of Ayurveda is Prakriti or nature. It is the natural form of build and constitution of the body including the psychological characteristics. Prakriti is how the three doshas are present in our being; it could be mono type where only one of the dosha is predominant, dual type in which combination of two doshas exists, or equal type of all the three doshas are present in equal proportions. Understanding prakriti helps patient’s susceptibility to or recovering from illnesses, for instance (Ninivaggi, 2008, p. 43-46).
Health Care Beliefs Different from Mainstream America
Because Ayurvedic medicine has a very stronghold on the concept nature, its healthcare beliefs about prevention, cause and treatment of illnesses are very different from mainstream allopathic medicine in America.
In the recent years, modern health care in America has been starting to stress on prevention of disease through lowering high fat and cholesterol diet. Ayurveda has always been a strong advocate of preventative health maintenance through good nutrition and herbal medicines. Ayurveda emphasize immunity before catching illness, whereas allopathy puts a lot of emphasis on detoxification. Therefore, often time we find that Ayurveda is treating more chronic illness and common problems such as obesity, allergies and depression; whereas modern day allopathic medicine is used for acute illnesses such as bleeding profusely that deserves immediate attention (Lim, 2006).
Ayurvedic health care believes that the illnesses are the consequence of imbalance in nature or Prakriti; illnesses happen when the five elements are disturbed and not working harmoniously in our body to sustain good health. Allopathic health care believes that illnesses are caused by other factors such as metabolic imbalance and harmful pathogens. Therefore, in allopathy the medicine is taken to kill the pathogens, whereas in Ayurveda the purpose of the medicine is to form harmony among the five elements of doshas (Singh, 2009, p. 6-9 and Lim, 2006).
Unlike allopathy, Ayurvedic treatment doesn’t include surgeries, and therefore it is lacking procedure of organ transplant and prosthetic surgery in patients. Ayurvedic medicine is limited to utilizing natural elements such as herbal plants, minerals, waters and stones which are freely available in natural environments; whereas in allopathy the main ingredient of most of the medicine are drugs and chemical substances that are produced synthetically in the laboratories (Lim, 2006). Thus, allopathy is treating the specific symptoms of an illness, whereas Ayurveda is targeting the whole person in its entirety. This become very clear when patient with the same illness are treated with same medicine in allopathy; in Ayurveda, however, everybody is treated differently even when patients are presented with the same illness.
Health Care Beliefs Similar to Mainstream America
Even though there are many differences between Ayurveda and mainstream allopathy medicine in America, there are still some similarities between the two as well. Both of the health care system’s goals are to treat the illness using their different routes. Besides medicine, they both rely on physical therapy too; Ayurvedic medicine employs massage therapy to relieve stress and maintain balances, whereas allopathy emphasize on exercising regularly and rehabilitating after surgeries (Singh, 2009, p. 66-67).
Nursing Care Adjustments for East Indian Ayurvedic Believer
In the United States there isn’t any governing state that is regulating the standard for training or certifying Ayurvedic practitioners. So it is important to note that nurses here don’t have any reliable source to refer to when they have patients who use Ayurvedic medicine. However, there are many published studies and resources available online that provide education about this type of medicine. The United States National Institute of Health has outlined many specific points relating to Ayurveda that are very educating to the nurses in its National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine webpage:
Patients in Ayurvedic medicine are very active participants due to the nature of therapy involving changing in diet and lifestyle, which means that the nurses should expect patients to be not only compliant in their therapy but also actively participate in deciding and learning about the goals highlighted in their nursing care plans.
Focus of Ayurvedic medicine is similar to modern day nursing care, in which patients are treated holistically with mind-body relationship taken into consideration. Therefore, Ayurvedic following patients should be treated as a whole person instead of treating just the symptoms of an illness (Singh, 2009, p. 63).
Drug to Ayurvedic medicine interaction is highly likely since most of the Ayurvedic medicines are formulated with a combination of herbs and other medicines (Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction. 2009). Therefore, it is very important to educate the patient about the risk for either antagonism or potentiation effects.
As a nurse who is providing cares from a mainstream standpoint to a patient who has been following Ayurvedic medicine, one of the biggest priorities will be developing rapport and trust. Once they are established, the patient will be more willing to share his or her health conditions and the Ayurvedic medicine and treatments that have been received thus far. Therefore, a good patient-nurse relationship will be established.
Lim, D. (2006). Ayurveda vs. Western Medicine Comparison. In Ayurvedic Herbalism: Comparison of
Ayurveda and Western Medicine. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from University of Vermont website:
Ayurvedic Medicine: An Introduction. (2009, July). National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm
Ninivaggi, F. J. (2008). Ayurveda: A Comprehensive Guide to Traditional Indian Medicine for the West.
Westport, CT: Praeger.
Harrington, A. (Ed.). (2006). A Closer Look at Ayurvedic Medicine, 12(4). Retrieved from
Singh, K. P. (2009). The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs: A Contemporary Introduction and Useful Manual for
the World’s Oldest Healing System. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.