Indian Traditional Ayurvedic System of Medicine and Nutritional Supplementation | Core Spirit

Food is the main source for serving the nutritional needs, but with expanding modernisation some traditional ways are being forgotten. Affluence of working population with changing lifestyles and lowering affordability of sick care, in terms of time and money involved, are some of the forces that are presently driving people towards taking care of their wellbeing. There has been boosted global interest in traditional medicine. Attempts to monitor and regulate traditional herbal medicine are already being made by the World Health Organization. Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine, is still the most ancient yet popular tradition. Although India has been successful in promoting its therapies with more research and science-based approach, it still requires more thorough studying and evidence base. Enhanced side effects, lack of curative treatment for a few chronic diseases, high cost of new drugs, microbial resistance and emerging, maladies are some reasons for reoccurring public interest in complementary and alternative medicines. Several nutraceutical combinations have come into the international market through exploration of ethnopharmacological statements made by various traditional practices. This review gives an overview of the Ayurvedic system of medicine and its role in translational medicine in order to overcome malnutrition and related illnesses.


India is popular for its traditional medicinal systems—Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani. Medical systems are found mentioned even in the ancient Vedas and other scriptures. The Ayurvedic idea appeared and developed between 2500 and 500 BC in India. The literal translation of Ayurveda is “science of life,” because ancient Indian system of health care concentrated on views of man and his disease. It has been emphasised that the positive health means metabolically well-balanced human beings. Ayurveda is also called the “science of longevity” because it offers a complete system to live a long healthy life. It offers programs to rejuvenate the body through diet and nutrition. It provides treatment strategies to cure many common illnesses like food allergies, which have not enough modern treatments. Nonetheless, one should realise that Ayurvedic nutrition is not a “magic bullet” system but needs the full participation of the patient to succeed. It is an interactive system that is user-friendly and educational. It teaches the patient to become responsible and self-empowered. Ayurveda is not a nutritional system for those seeking an escape or excuse to further abuse their body or mind. It is a system for empowerment, a system of freedom, and long life.

Medicinal Plants Used in Alternative/Traditional Medicines

Alternative medicines are being used by about 60 percent of the globe's population. These medicines are not only used by the rural masses for their main health care in developing countries but are also used in developed countries where modern medicines prevail. The Indian subcontinent is a large repository of medicinal plants that are used in traditional medical treatments. The alternative medicines in the traditional systems are extracted from herbs, minerals, and organic matter, while for the preparation of herbal drugs only medicinal plants are used. Use of plants as a source of medicine has been an ancient practice and is an essential part of the health care system in India. In India, about 70% of rural population depends on the traditional Ayurvedic system of medicine. Most healers/practitioners of the traditional systems of medicine prepare formulations by their own recipes and give them out to the patients. In the Western countries, approximately 40% of people are using the herbal medicine to treat different illnesses. This interest in traditional medicines is growing fast due to the attention being given to it by the governmental agencies and different NGO’s comprising of general public and scientists as well as the increased side effects, bad drug reactions, and cost factor of the modern medicines.

India is the largest producer of medicinal plants. There are currently about 250,000 registered medical practitioners of the Ayurvedic system, as compared to about 700,000 of the modern medicine. In India, around 20,000 medicinal plants have been documented; but traditional practitioners use only 7,000–7,500 plants for treating various illnesses. The proportion of use of plants in the different Indian systems of medicine is Ayurveda 2000, Siddha 1300, Unani 1000, Homeopathy 800, Tibetan 500, Modern 200, and folk 4500. In India, around 25,000 effective plant-based formulations are used in traditional and folk medicine. More than 1.5 million practitioners are using the traditional medicinal system for health care in India. It is estimated that more than 7800 manufacturing units are involved in the production of natural health products and traditional plant-based formulations in India, which requires more than 2000 tons of medicinal plant raw material annually. More than 1500 herbals are sold as dietary supplements or ethnic traditional medicines.

Alternative medicines are being used by those people who do not use or cannot be helped by conventional medicinal system. 

Expanding Complementary and Alternative (CAM) Approaches

More than 80% of people in developing countries cannot afford the most basic medical check-ups, drugs, and vaccines. Among wealthier populations in both developed and developing countries, complementary and alternative practices are widespread although proof of their safety and effectiveness is modest. Evidence-based studies in Ayurveda are receiving larger acceptance in India and abroad. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has been inaugurated as the United States Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research in this field of medicine. Its goal is to explore complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, support sophisticated research, train researchers, disseminate information to the public on the modalities that work, and explain the scientific rationale underlying discoveries. The center is committed to explore and fund all such therapies for which there is sufficient preliminary data, compelling public health need and ethical justifications.

Complementary and alternative practices are adjuncts or alternatives to Western medical approaches. Economic factors influence user behavior. Although social, cultural, and medical reasons account for most of the appeal of traditional approaches, economic factors also play a role. It is believed that users of these approaches pick them because they are cheaper than conventional therapies or systems. Nonetheless, several studies have revealed that CAM approaches cost the same or more than conventional treatments for the same conditions; thus, people look for them for reasons other than cost. At least one research demonstrated that financial factors ranked behind such reasons as confidence in the treatment, ease of access, and convenience, in the choice of a traditional healer. Another common misconception is that the poor are more likely to use traditional medicine, but this is not always true. Nowadays people seek CAM techniques because they believe the side effects will be lower. In both developed and developing countries, users of complementary methods also commonly seek conventional care. 

Nutraceuticals an Evolving Alternative Approach

Nutrition is a basic need. Different risk factors related to health result from an imbalance in nutrition. These imbalances in India are widely prevalent causing bad results. A particular section of the population consumes diet which does not provide sufficient calories, let alone sufficient nutrients. In India, nearly 20% of the total population and 44% of young children (below 5 years of age) are undernourished and underweight. On the other hand, there is a huge population that is nourished in calorie intake but not in terms of nutrient intake. This segment would normally involve lower middle to upper class population with sufficient purchasing capacity but perhaps less awareness about their nutrient requirements, leading to imbalanced nutritional uptake. In fact, in our population about 30% in urban and 34% in rural areas consume more than the recommended number of calories with higher than recommended levels of dietary fats and could be the largest contributor in making India the future cardiovascular and diabetes capital of the world. The third population segment, which is about 80 million, consumes nutrients and calories more than those recommended for the lifestyle they have opted for. The main risk factors in developing countries like India are related to nutrition and contribute to nearly 40% of total death and 39% of total disease burden. 

According to WHO report, India has the largest burden of cardiovascular illnesses and largest number of diabetes patients on the planet. The amount of cardiovascular diseases patients in Brazil, Russia, China, and India are 4.1, 11.8, 24.5, and 28.9 million, respectively. Likewise the numbers of diabetes patients in same countries are 4.6, 4.6, 20.8, and 31.7 million, respectively. An estimate of the cost of productivity lost on account of mortality due to nutrition-related disorders was estimated to be 0.85% of the GDP in 2004 and is expected to increase up to 1.2% for India’s GDP by 2015. About 340 million people, 30% of the population in urban areas and 34% of the population in rural areas, consume calories more than the norms. Even in the population that demonstrates sufficient calorie intake, the micronutrient consumption is not at desired levels. While the intake of calorie-rich foods may be high, micronutrient-rich foods are being consumed in low proportions. As an outcome, significant micronutrient deficiencies exist in urban as well as rural areas.

Thus, the requirement of external intervention, that can supplement diet to help prevent nutrition-related disorders and foster wellness over treatment of different illnesses, has become a need, and such products are known as nutraceuticals. A nutraceutical is a food or food component that claims to have health benefits, including treatment and prevention of disease. Nutraceuticals, an emerging concept, can be broadly categorized as products which are extracted from natural sources (nature-like) or manufactured synthetically (man-made), which supplement the diet to provide nutrition over and above regular food and help prevent nutrition-related disorders. Nutraceuticals, foods or food components that help in prevention or treatment of disease, are made from herbal/botanical raw materials. They do more than just supplement the diet. They, as was noted, aid with illness prevention and cure. Theoretically, the appeal of nutraceuticals is to accomplish treatment goals without side effects.

The nutraceutical industry is growing fast (7%–12% per year). With extensive anecdotal data on great health results, nutraceuticals promise significant contributions to disease prevention. The global nutraceuticals market is estimated at 117 billion US dollar of which India’s share is a meager 0.9%. United States and Japan are key markets for nutraceutical consumption. Indian nutraceuticals market is about 1 billion USD which is increasing day by day. Globally, this market is expected to reach 177 billion USD in 2013. The dietary supplements category is expected to be the fastest growing product category globally.

Herbal Medicines in Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements and herbal remedies are popular complementary or alternative products for people. These are the supplements that are intended to supplement the diet and contain one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances) or their constituents. These are intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid and are labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement. Such products may range from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements, and diets to genetically engineered “designer” foods, herbal products, and processed foods such as cereals, soups, and beverages. These botanicals are sold in many ways as fresh or dried products, liquid or solid extracts, tablets, capsules, powders, tea bags, and so forth. For instance, fresh ginger root is often used in different food stores; dried ginger root is sold packaged in tea bags, capsules, or tablets, and liquid preparations made from ginger root are also sold in the market. A certain group of chemicals or a single chemical may be isolated from a botanical and sold as a dietary supplement, usually in tablet or capsule form. An example is phytoestrogens from soy products.


Even though there is some uncertainty about the safety, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of CAM methods, expanding their use, where reasonable evidence of their effectiveness and good evidence of their safety is already there, may bring health, social, and economic benefits. For instance, improving the information and services provided in local pharmacies, that are the primary source of treatment for many ailments in rural areas, may become an effective substitute for allowing unregulated use of conventional medical treatment. So, expanding CAM would need large investment of time and resources if it is to be done appropriately and have an influence on population health. There is a significant role for CAM. Nonetheless, more evidence is needed before CAM approaches can be broadly integrated into national health systems for illnesses for which they have promise.

Besides, several nutraceutical combinations have entered the international market through exploration of ethnopharmacological statements made by various traditional practices. To truly keep to a healthy diet, the vast majority of the diet must be composed of health-promoting foods and nutraceuticals but disease-promoting foods or junk food must be eliminated. 90% of the daily diet should be made up of nutrient rich plant foods, whose calories are accompanied by health-promoting phytochemicals, vegetables, fresh fruits, beans and legumes, raw nuts, seeds, and avocados, starchy vegetables, and whole grains. These foods or nutraceuticals construct a health-promoting, disease-preventing diet with protective substances. The rich nutrient food intake will provide maximum protection against not only infections, asthma, and allergies but also against heart disease and cancer in adulthood.

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