Ayurveda: The Facts

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Ayurveda is a healing system that originated thousands of years ago in India.

Ayurveda means "the science of life" and focuses on restoring the body's balance.

The premise of Ayurveda is that wellness depends on a healthy balance among mind, body, spirit, and senses.

This balance is achieved through a personalized plan that can include massage, specialized diets, herbs and foods, exercise, detoxification, and rejuvenation therapies.

Ayurvedic warming spices
Shana Novak/Getty Images

According to Ayurvedic theory, elements combine in the body to form three life forces called doshas.

The doshas are vata, kapha, and pitta.

An individual's unique mix of the three doshas is thought to predispose them to certain diseases and influence disease progression and treatment.

Read on for more information about Ayurveda's benefits and potential precautions to consider.

Uses of Ayurveda

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure or prevent disease.

Ayurveda is considered a complementary health approach in the United States.

Research on its effectiveness is limited.

Ayurvedic treatments have shown some benefit in clinical trials for conditions like anxiety, brain function, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, and low testosterone.

Here's what you need to know from the latest research.

May Reduce Anxiety

Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that may act as an adaptogen to help the body combat stress.

Several clinical trials have studied its effect on anxiety.

A study of 52 adults with chronic stress examined the effects of 300 milligrams (mg) of ashwagandha vs. a placebo. Both were given twice daily for eight weeks.

The people who took ashwagandha felt less stressed and reported fewer food cravings than those taking a placebo.

There was also a decreased level of the stress hormone cortisol produced in the people who took ashwagandha.

A review of five studies concluded participants in all sample groups showed greater improvement in anxiety or stress scales for people taking ashwagandha compared to placebo.

Interestingly, one study showed more significant drops in anxiety scores for people taking ashwagandha than those receiving psychotherapy.

Of note, the review mentioned that the studies had a high risk of bias. More definitive studies are certainly needed to support these results.

May Improve Cognition

An analysis of 518 people enrolled in nine studies showed the chronic use (at least 12 weeks) of the Ayurvedic herb bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) helped with some brain functions, particularly speed of attention.

Researchers noted that more data is needed to determine how effective bacopa is compared to existing dementia medications.

Another review of five studies showed improved executive function, attention, and reaction time in people who took ashwagandha.

Importantly, though, most of the data came from older adults with mild cognitive disorders and adults with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

These results may not translate to other populations.

May Lower Cholesterol

A review of 32 clinical trials found three Ayurvedic herbs—garlic, guggulu, and black cumin—moderately lowered cholesterol in people with elevated levels.

There were minimal side effects. This may be an advantage over conventional cholesterol-lowering medications like statins, which can cause notable adverse events.

The average trial length was just 12 weeks, creating a need for longer-term studies.

May Benefit Knee Osteoarthritis

In a study of 440 people with knee osteoarthritis (OA), two Ayurvedic herbal formulations were compared to standard treatments of glucosamine and Celebrex (celecoxib) over 24 weeks.

The herbal formulations included herbs like amalaki and guggul and were as effective as glucosamine and celecoxib in reducing knee pain and improving knee function.

Of note, seven patients in the Ayurveda treatment groups had to be removed from the study due to elevated liver enzymes.

A trial of 150 people with knee OA compared the effects of Ayurvedic treatment to conventional treatment over 12 weeks.

Both treatments were multimodal, meaning several different treatments were used.

Ayurvedic treatment consisted of massage, oils, sweat induction, yoga, and herbs like ashwagandha or guggulu.

Conventional interventions included physical therapy, leg exercises, and pain medications like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen).

People treated with Ayurveda saw a greater improvement in OA symptoms, pain and sleep quality, and quality of life at 12 weeks.

The beneficial effects continued up to twelve months after the treatments were given.

May Increase Testosterone

Ayurvedic treatments have been shown to increase levels of the male hormone testosterone and its precursor dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

In a trial of 50 overweight people assigned male at birth between ages 40 and 70, an ashwagandha extract taken for eight weeks increased testosterone and DHEA-S levels by at least 15% compared to a placebo.

However, the group taking ashwagandha had no significant increase in fatigue or sexual vitality vs. the group taking a placebo.

And 250 milligrams of purified shilajit twice daily for 90 days was also shown to increase testosterone and DHEA levels in 96 healthy people assigned male at birth aged 45 to 55.

Additional Uses

In addition to the potential health benefits listed above, some people use Ayurvedic medicine for the following conditions:

So far, there is limited data to support Ayurveda for any of these uses.

Robust human clinical trials are needed before Ayurveda can be safely recommended for specific conditions.

What Are the Side Effects of Ayurveda?

Your provider may recommend Ayurveda for anxiety, osteoarthritis, or other conditions.

However, even complementary medicine therapies may have potential side effects.

These side effects may be common or severe.

Common Side Effects

In general, Ayurveda is well-tolerated. Some side effects mentioned in clinical trials include the following:

Severe Side Effects

Serious side effects of Ayurvedic herbs include the following:


There isn't enough safety data to recommend Ayurveda for children or during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Ayurvedic products have been adulterated with heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. A study of Ayurvedic products found 21% of products tested contained detectable levels of these metals.

Remember that Ayurvedic products are considered dietary supplements in the United States.

Dietary supplements are not required to meet the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety and effectiveness standards as prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Look for brands or products certified by third-party testing, such as ConsumerLab.com, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), or NSF.

While these organizations cannot guarantee that a product is safe or effective, they can ensure that it likely contains the ingredients on the label and is free of contaminants.


There are numerous herbs used in Ayurveda.

The following are just a few interactions noted with common Ayurvedic herbs:

Always discuss Ayurveda options with your healthcare provider to ensure the treatments you plan to use don't interact with other prescriptions, OTC medicines, or supplements you take.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Ayurveda?

    Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic system that focuses on the individual's whole body and mind. It's considered a complementary health approach in the United States. Treatment modalities include diet, exercise, herbs, and massage.

  • What is Ayurvedic massage?

    Ayurvedic massage, or Abhyanga, is a traditional Indian massage that uses warm herbal oils and gentle pressure to relax the body.

  • How do you become an Ayurvedic practitioner?

    Ayurvedic education or practice in the United States has little regulation. Practitioners are not required to become licensed, unlike certain other complementary health providers like chiropractors and massage therapists.


If you are considering Ayurveda, talk with your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate and safe for you.

Ayurveda shouldn't replace (or delay) standard medical care.

Be aware that some Ayurvedic products may be contaminated with metals such as lead and mercury.

Ayurveda hasn't been proven to be safe for children or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Please call your primary healthcare provider for health questions or concerns.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Megan Nunn, PharmD
Megan Nunn, PharmD, is a community pharmacist in Tennessee with over twelve years of experience in medication counseling and immunization.