Ayurveda & Medicine

Ayurveda & Medicine

A doctor explains

An old Indian proverb says: "If the diet is not right, medicine (note: medicinal herbs) will not be of any use. If the diet is correct, medicine will not be needed.”

In my practice, I notice clearly when someone adheres to the type-appropriate diet according to Ayurveda. My services as a doctor in such cases are hardly needed (except for serious and chronic illnesses). Blood pressure medication, cholesterol-lowering drugs, sleeping pills, antidepressants, stomach protectors, painkillers, laxatives, allergy tablets and the consumption of alcohol or caffeine can, in my experience, often be reduced or stopped by following dietary rules and changing lifestyle behaviour with medical supervision.

Ayurveda offers individual recommendations to people for diet, behaviour and therapy depending on their dosha. Doshas are reflected in the human body in an individual form and are recognisable through their characteristic properties. Ayurvedic recommendations always depend on the current symptoms and the basic constitution, metabolic status, etc. However, some basic principles of nutrition can be described here:

In Ayurveda, quality implies the effect on the doshas. It describes in detail what properties (gunas) certain foods have and how storage, fermentation, processing, etc. can alter these properties to benefit an individual.

In case of roughness (such as joint arthrosis), dryness (constipation, scaling), flatulence, cramps, nervousness, sleep disorders, aching pains and sensitivity to cold drafts, the Vata dosha is dominant. Here I recommend avoiding cold, flatulent, bitter, pungent, light, dry foods, especially in the evening. Salad, in spite of its "good" nutrients and low-calorie count, would not be good in such cases because it is usually cold, bitter, flatulent and light and would worsen the symptoms mentioned.

You should start to feel hungry about 4 - 6 hours after eating - where "hungry" means a feeling of real hunger with a rumbling stomach. Only then should you eat. If it takes longer than that, you should reduce the number of meals. If you get hungry sooner than that, you should eat more. Three meals per day is the recommended number. Ideally, after eating, there should be 1 fist of liquid, 1 fist of solid food, and 1 fist of free space in the stomach so that it can process the meal well.

Combinations of Foods
Certain combinations of foods can increase inflammatory responses in the body. In my experience, ideal examples of negative combinations are: salami pizza, cordon bleu, and ham & cheese toast with ketchup. These are unfavourable combinations such as meat/cheese or cheese/tomato with wheat, which tend to cause bloating and increase sluggishness. However, good combinations with spices or herbs can reduce the flatulent effect of food or promote the absorption of vital nutrients in the intestines.

If you are going through menopause, tend to lose your temper, sweat easily or don't tolerate direct sun or muggy weather, avoid chilies, ginger, black pepper and oily foods. If you like spicy foods, use cooling cardamom seeds and cloves, or dried ginger instead of fresh.

By drying foods, water (Kapha) is removed from it and roughness, hardness, lightness and dryness (Vata properties) are added. This can reverse the effect on the body - avoid dried fruits in Vata! However, dried fruits can also be cooked to change their effect on the body.

Time and Location
The season, phase of life and time of day have an influence on the dosha balance. Spicy foods should be avoided during autumn as this is when the heat of summer is enriched. In winter, food can be a little heavier and greasy. During the cool and moist transition to spring, fasting with lighter foods is a good idea. Breakfast should be taken at or before 6 a.m. as Kapha peaks at 8 a.m. and can make us feel heavy. For dinner, I recommend soup or a smaller portion of reheated leftovers from lunch.

Effect on the Psyche
The gunas of the psyche (Tamas, Rajas and Sattva) are influenced by the same elements as the doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha).
Tamas: Mental sluggishness, fear, dullness and thoughtless actions are aggravated by alcohol and other depressants, canned foods, charred foods such as chips or bread crust, foods that are no longer fresh or meat, fish, eggs and aged cheeses. Eating too much healthy food is also not a good idea.
Rajas: The warrior-like psyche with an unconsciously egocentric and driven spirit is strengthened by business meals and restaurant foods that are high in heat, fried foods, and garlic.
Sattva: Relaxation and conscious connection with the environment makes you happy. Moist, juicy and nutritious, natural food is recommended here. It may be sweet or slightly oily, such as nuts, honey, ghee, milk, grains that have been stored for a long time, young vegetables and fully ripe fruit.

I recommend a spice-herbal tea until 4 p.m., otherwise just water or a cold extract of coriander seeds. When it comes to water, I look at its nitrate content (nitrate is a carcinogen) and make sure it is far below the permitted value of 50 mg/L (a meta study showed higher incidences of stomach cancer).

Additional recommendations:

  • For weight gain: Drink after meals
  • For weight maintenance: Drink with meals
  • For weight loss: Drink before meals

These general guidelines and the right dosha-related food chart can result in more energy and well-being in a short time. However, diet and lifestyle behaviours should always be adapted to any current diseases, symptoms and medications based on medical advice.

About the author:
Dr Daniel Scheidbach (MSc in Ayurvedic Medicine) started an integrative Ayurveda practice near Graz, Austria 8 years ago. He offers advice on type-appropriate behaviour and nutrition based on Ayurveda, cooking courses as well as oil applications and massages. He delivers lectures in his practice, at congresses, at the Medical University of Graz, in communities and companies. He also runs an Ayurveda blog on vedizin.at (in German) where he argues for Ayurveda to be used as a medically effective teaching of life in addition to its more well-known character as a promoter of wellness.

Note: This article reflects the opinions of the author in his role as an Ayurveda doctor and general practitioner and does not necessarily correspond to the views of Ayurveda101. The article is not intended for advertising, but for informational purposes only and is not intended to call into question the safety and suitability of other foods, encourage excessive consumption of certain foods or give the impression that they could replace an adequate, balanced and varied diet.