Bottom Line: There is no documented value for any Ayurvedic therapies in treating cancer. However, recent studies demonstrate that yoga helps improve sleep pattern and also reduces symptoms of stress in cancer patients.
Ayurveda emphasizes both health maintenance (Svasthavritha) and diagnosis and treatment (Athuravritha). Patients are classified by their prominent dosha, or physical, emotional, and metabolic type, Kapha, Pitta, or Vata, each located in specific organs and associated with two of the five elements (earth, fire, water, air, and ether) and five senses. The dosha represent properties shared by the organs, body, environment and cosmos. When a patient's unique state of dosha is out of balance, illness occurs. Therapy is personalized to the individual's problems and metabolic characteristics to restore individual dosha balance through diet and lifestyle modifications, medicinals (herbs, spices, metals and/or animal products), breathing exercises, and meditation. Detoxification (panchakarma) occurs before medicines begin, including bloodletting, induced vomiting, and bowel purging. The therapeutic approach seeks to cure the disease by reversing the steps that led to it, balancing the dosha (e.g., administering cooling medicines if Pitta, the hot dosha, is predominant) (1) (2).
Many of the more frequently used herbs, such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), guggul (Commiphora mukul), Boswellia (Boswellia serrata), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), curcumin (Curcuma longa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), aloe (Aloe barbadensis), and garlic (Allium sativum), have been studied extensively in vitro and in vivo and show antioxidant, antitumor, antimicrobial, immunomodulatory, or antiinflammatory properties. (See monographs on these herbs for more information). Rasayana herbs (said to promote positive health) such as ashwagandha, Asparagus racemosus, Emblica officinalis, Piper longum, and Terminalia chebula show immunostimulant and adaptogenic activities in an animal study (6). Mucuna pruriens, used in preparations for Parkinson's disease, contains L-dopa (3). Ayurvedic gold preparations (e.g., Swarna Bhasma) have antioxidant and restorative effects in animal models of ischemia (7). The herbs most often used to treat diabetes, Gymnema sylvestre, Momordica charantia, fenugreek, Coccinia indica, and Pterocarpus marsupium, show hypoglycemic activity in vitro and in vivo. The herbal mixtures Maharishi Amrit Kalash-4 and -5 have antioxidant properties, inhibit LDL oxidation in vitro, inhibit platelet aggregation, and cause a reduction in aortic arch atheroma in hyperlipidemic rabbits (4). Maharasnadi Quathar, a medicinal used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, increases antioxidant enzyme activity, decreases TBARS generation, and improves symptoms in human subjects (8). Clinical trials confirmed that some Ayurvedic botanical formulations can be used to treat acute viral hepatitis (16); acne vulgaris (19); obesity (21); and rheumatoid arthritis (14) (20).