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How Ayurvedic Herbs Work

herbal-treatment By Christine Tara Peterson, PhD AHP and Deepak Chopra, MD

From being unknown in the West, the past twenty years have seen a rise of popularity in the West for Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India. From an Ayurvedic perspective, disease originates in the digestive tract. A potential disorder is identified during the first stage of imbalance as it develops in the gut.  Considering the huge interest that has developed around the microbiome, Ayurveda has for centuries looked to the digestive tract as the root cause of disease, and the location of prevention and cure.

Medicinal herbs play a key role in the Ayurvedic treatment plan. They’ve now caught on throughout integrative medicine, but how do they work? Herbs might promote therapeutic benefits via a variety of mechanisms, not all of them known or even discovered yet. The known mechanisms are already quite intriguing. They include the direct absorption across the intestinal lining into the bloodstream, taste receptor signaling on both the tongue and intestinal walls, bacterial metabolism in the gut, and secretions of various health-promoting products called postbiotics by the intestinal microbes upon breaking down the herbs.

If you are attracted to the herbal applications of Ayurveda, looking into how they work is fascinating. It is also chemically complex, much more than the word “herb’ usually implies—Ayurvedic herbs potentially yield a host of medicinal properties with far-reaching effects on multiple targets and body systems. Their complexity stands in stark contrast to drugs that affect single targets. Therefore, many herbs commonly used in Ayurveda are adaptogens: they have the chemical“intelligence,” based on their complexity, to perform multiple services for the body.

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