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Denise Millstine

, MD, Mayo Clinic

Last full review/revision Sep 2018| Content last modified Sep 2018

Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India, originated > 4000 yr ago. It is based on the theory that disease results from an imbalance of the body’s life force (prana). It aims to restore balance within the body. The balance of prana is determined by equilibrium of the 3 bodily qualities (doshas): vata, pitta, and kapha. Most people have a dominant dosha; the specific balance is unique to each person. (See also Overview of Integrative, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine.)

Evidence for Ayurveda

Ayurveda has been studied, including in allergic rhinitis, neurologic conditions, pain, and diabetes. As with other studies of whole medical systems, high-quality research is difficult to conduct (1).

Uses for Ayurveda

After determining the balance of doshas, practitioners design a treatment specifically tailored to each patient. Ayurveda uses diet, herbs, massage, meditation, movement, and therapeutic detoxification (panchakarma)—typically with enemas, oil massages, or nasal lavage—to restore balance within the body and with nature.

Possible Adverse Effects

In some of the herbal combinations used, heavy metals (mainly lead, mercury, and arsenic) are included. Several studies found that Ayurvedic herbal supplements contain heavy metals in doses that could cause toxicity (2, 3). Cases of heavy metal toxicity have been reported (4, 5).


  • 1. Patwardhan B: Bridging Ayurveda with evidence-based scientific approaches in medicine. EPMA J. 5(1): 19, 2014. doi:  10.1186/1878-5085-5-19.
  • 2. Saper RB, et al: Heavy metal content of Ayurvedic herbal medicine products. JAMA 292(23):2868–73, 2004. doi: 10.1001/jama.292.33.2868.
  • 2. Martena MJ, Van Der Wielen JC, Rietjens IM, et al: Monitoring of mercury, arsenic, and lead in traditional Asian herbal preparations on the Dutch market and estimation of associated risks. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess27(2):190–205, 2010. doi: 10.1080/02652030903207235.
  • 4. Gair R: Heavy metal poisoning from Ayurvedic medicines. BCMJ 50(2):105, 2008.
  • 5. Mikulski MA, Wichman MD, Simmons DL, et al: Toxic metals in Ayurvedic preparations from a public health lead poisoning cluster investigation. Int J Occup Environ Health 23(3):187-192, 2017. doi: 10.1080/10773525.2018.1447880.

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