Caution: Some complementary agents or therapies may be useful for cancer patients; however, some may be harmful in certain situations. MD Anderson Cancer Center cautions patients to consult with their oncologist before attempting to use any agents or therapies referenced on these pages. Inclusion of an agent, therapy or resource on this CIMER Web site does not imply endorsement by MD Anderson Cancer Center
Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest holistic health and medical systems, originated in India several thousand years ago. Ayurveda aims to integrate the body, mind and spirit to help prevent illness and promote wellness and longevity. A chief aim of ayurvedic practice and medicine is to reestablish harmony and balance in the body and mind so that the power of ones inner consciousness can come into action through it.
The major beliefs in Ayurveda that pertain to health and disease are:
- Interconnectedness: The belief that all things in the universe are joined together and that every human (microcosm) contains the five elements found in the universe (macrocosm), i.e., ether, air fire, water and earth
Disease is believed to arise when a person is out of harmony with the universe and nature.
- Basic Constitution: Refers to a person’s unique qualities and tendencies, how likely he is to become out of balance and his ability to resist and recover from disease or other health problems
Three qualities or life force energies, called doshas (vata, pitta and kapha), form important characteristics of constitution and control the activities of the body. Each dosha is a combination of two of the five elements. A person’s chances of developing certain types of diseases are related to the way these doshas are balanced, the state of the physical body, the strength of the digestive fire and mental or lifestyle factors.
How it is taken
Ayurvedic diagnosis is based on inspection (of general body form, skin, nails, tongue, etc.), palpation (pulse, skin temperature) and questions (regarding disease symptoms, sleep, elimination, dreams, etc.). Ayurvedic treatments generally use several approaches at a time, and require changes in diet, lifestyle and/or habits. Ayurvedic medicine incorporates herbs, metals, minerals, massage with medicated oils, yoga, meditation and other products and techniques used with the intent of cleansing undigested toxins from the seven tissues and the subtle channels of the body and restoring balance between the three doshas. Food and diet are important components of ayurvedic practice, so many treatments are based on herbs and plants, oils, common spices (such as turmeric) and other naturally occurring substances.
Some risks may be involved with unsupervised ayurvedic medicine using herbs, metals, minerals or other materials, due to potential drug interactions and toxicity. A study in the United States found that of 70 ayurvedic remedies purchased over-the-counter, one-fifth contained lead, mercury and/or arsenic at levels that could be harmful.
The United States currently has no national standard for certifying or training ayurvedic practitioners, so consumers should be aware that practitioners offering services or treatments called "ayurvedic" may not have been trained in an ayurvedic medical school.
MD Anderson Cancer Center does not currently offer this therapy; however, our investigators are conducting research concerning certain ayurvedic herbs such as turmeric/curcumin.
This summary is based upon the more in-depth review by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). For more information, you may read the NCCAM Review of Ayurveda.
To avoid potential interactions, be sure to let your health care provider know if you use this or any other type of complementary therapy.
Authors and Editors
Lorianne Janszen, health education specialist, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Integrative Medicine Program Education Resources
Prachi R. Garodia, M.D., integrative medicine practitioner, Houston. Board certified in internal medicine, diploma in Ayurveda (AVP, Coimbatore, India)
Nancy C. Russell, Dr.P.H., senior health education specialist, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Integrative Medicine Program Education Resources