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Five Popular Ayurvedic Herbs

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Updated April 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Ayurvedic herbs are a key component of ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. In general, practitioners use ayurvedic herbs to cleanse the body, boost defense against disease, and keep the mind, body, and spirit in balance. Other healing approaches and techniques (including massage, yoga, and specialized diets) are also central to ayurvedic medicine. Along with ayurvedic herbs, practitioners frequently use certain therapeutic oils and spices to treat illness and promote well-being.

Types of Ayurvedic Herbs

More than 600 herbal formulas and 250 single plant remedies are included in the pharmacy of ayurvedic treatments. These remedies are typically grouped into categories according to their health effects, such as pain relief or increased vitality. In recent years, scientific studies have begun testing the health effects of ayurvedic herbs (many of which are now widely available in natural-food stores in the United States).

Here's a look at several ayurvedic herbs shown to offer various health effects in recent research:

1) Triphala

Triphala is a botanical formula that contains three different ayurvedic herbs (amla, myrobalan, and belleric myrobalan). Test-tube studies suggest that triphala may offer antioxidant effects and strengthen the immune system, while animal research shows that the herb may lower cholesterol levels and suppress the growth of certain types of cancer cells.

2) Guggul

An ayurvedic herb traditionally used to cut cholesterol levels, guggul was found to benefit adults with moderately high cholesterol in a 2009 study. However, an earlier study found that participants taking guggul for eight weeks actually experienced an increase in their levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

3) Boswellia

Sourced from the resin of the boswellia tree, boswellia extract is rich in boswellic acid (a substance shown to fight inflammation). Several small clinical trials indicate that this ayurvedic herb may aid in the treatment of several inflammation-related conditions, including ulcerative colitis, asthma, and arthritis.

4) Gotu Kola

A number of small studies show that gotu kola may help ease anxiety, improve mood, and treat varicose veins. In ayurveda, gotu kola is often used to alleviate mental fatigue, manage asthma, and soothe fever.

5) Fenugreek

Often used to soothe irritation in ayurveda, fenugreek has been found to lower cholesterol levels, protect against alcohol-induced liver damage, and keep blood sugar in check (which may in turn aid in diabetes prevention). However, most of the research on this ayurvedic herb's health effects has been conducted on animals rather than in humans.

Are Ayurvedic Herbs Safe?

Certain ayurvedic herbs may produce adverse effects or interact with conventional medicines. Since ayurvedic herbs may be harmful when used improperly, it's important to work with a qualified herbalist rather than attempting to self-treat with ayurvedic herbs. Furthermore, you should consult your primary care provider if you're considering the use of ayurvedic herbs in treatment of any chronic health condition.

Sources:

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