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Ayurvedic medicine based on common herbs

Mitchell Clute

April 24, 2008

6 Min Read
Ayurvedic medicine based on common herbs

Proponents of herbal medicine have long looked to other cultures and traditions for insight into healing. One such tradition is Ayurveda, which means simply ?the knowledge of life.? Originating in India, Ayurveda may be the world?s oldest form of herbal medicine, with texts dating back to the first millennium B.C.E. Ayurvedic medicine takes a holistic approach to healing, with a view of individual health that takes into account emotional well-being and external factors as well as physical processes.

The rising profile of this ancient system has fueled an increase in the sales of Ayurvedic supplements in the West.

What makes it Ayurvedic?
Many Ayurvedic supplements simply contain one or more herbs that are traditionally used in India. Many such herbs have grown increasingly popular in herbal formulas and are no longer strictly associated with Ayurveda.

?Herbs like ashwaganda, turmeric and gotu kola aren?t really considered to be just Ayurvedic herbs anymore,? says Trinity Ava Rizzi, herbalist and sales and education director for Om Organics, a supplements manufacturer and raw materials supplier of Ayurvedic ingredients in Boulder, Colo. ?Turmeric, for example, is one of the best-studied anti-inflammatories that we have.?

In other words, there?s nothing particularly strange or arcane about the ingredients. ?The herbs themselves are not any different from herbs anywhere in the world,? says Ken Seguine, national sales manager for Ayurceutics in Chatsworth, Calif. ?There is nothing that makes the herbs Ayurvedic other than the fact that they happened to be native to the area in which Ayurveda developed. Like all herbs, they contain phytochemicals that can have an effect on the body.?

Though the same ingredients may be found in other, non-Ayurvedic products, there is a difference in Ayurvedic products imported from India. The Indian government has a separate regulatory category for Ayurvedic products, which governs how such products can be manufactured. This Ayurvedic certification for supplements and cosmetics can be likened to kosher certification for foods; it serves as a guarantee of purity and quality.

?Ayurvedic products promise two things,? says Robert Holdheim, president of Better Botanicals, an Ayurvedic personal care company based in Herndon, Va. ?The first is a guarantee of cleanliness?no animal ingredients, no mineral oil, no synthetic fragrances or colors. The second, more importantly, is a guarantee of functionality. If an ingredient doesn?t add functional value, it doesn?t go into the product.?

Vatta, pitta, kapha
One of the central ideas of Ayurvedic medicine is that of doshas. Doshas are body types or constitutions, and ingredients affect different doshas in different ways. Although there are three primary doshas, called vatta, kapha and pitta, in reality everyone is a combination of two or more doshas, and this combination changes depending on age, health and even the seasons.

An Ayurvedic practitioner assesses a client?s dosha and prescribes specific herbs based on that person?s constitution. It?s obvious how this system would be difficult to put into practice at a retail level, since a customer would have to know his or her primary dosha before choosing a product. Most manufacturers avoid this confusion by crafting products that are tridoshic—that is, they contain a balance of ingredients that are appropriate for all constitutions.

?You shouldn?t have to see a physician to know what dosha you are; that?s too complicated in marketing terms,? says Holdheim. ?But we also don?t feel it?s justified in Ayurvedic terms, because everyone is a combination of at least two doshas, and they?re in constant flux.?

?I think that the best approach is to have general, tridoshic formulas,? says Carrie Schwerin of Banyan Botanicals, based in Albuquerque, N.M. ?That?s the approach we take with most of our tableted formulas.? Banyan Botanicals does sell digestive formulas that are dosha-specific, but consumers are able to choose the appropriate remedy based on symptoms—for example, sluggish digestion suggests a kapha formula, while excess gas suggests a vatta formula.

How to sell Ayurveda
?Many retailers feel intimidated that they don?t know enough about Ayurveda to be able to effectively sell these products,? Seguine says. ?Not surprisingly, this has become a significant barrier for many retailers.?

But no one is expecting retailers to become Ayurvedic physicians. Since most Ayurvedic formulas are appropriate for all body types and contain the same structure-function language found on other supplements bottles, selling these products successfully is less difficult than many retailers imagine.

?You don?t need to learn Sanskrit to recommend Ayurvedic herbs,? Seguine says. ?The first and primary goal for retailers is to learn about the herbs themselves. Just as you would with any herb, you need to learn about the Western research that backs up the structure-function claim and familiarize yourself with the traditional use.?

Few of the patented, multiherb formulas on the market have specific research, largely because of the cost involved. But there is a huge body of research on the individual ingredients common in Ayurvedic formulas, including the use of ashwaganda as an adaptogen, turmeric as a digestive tonic, hawthorn for cardiovascular health and many others.

Another selling point is the long history of use for all Ayurvedic herbs. ?With Ayurveda in general, the added value is 5,000 years of efficacy and safety backing these plants,? Rizzi says.

In most cases, Seguine says, stores should place Ayurvedic products in the general herb categories, whether alphabetized or by condition. But in some cases, it may make more sense to highlight the products with their own shelf space. ?I?ve been in stores that have developed an excellent business in Ayurvedic herbs,? Seguine says. ?This is sometimes due to the interest of the owners, geographic location or even a store?s proximity to a yoga studio. If that?s the case, it?s best to create a separate section where customers can compare various brands.?

Ayurveda for today
Ayurvedic products on shelves today don?t much resemble their Indian counterparts of a thousand years ago. Many products have ?value-added? benefits as well. For example, Om Organics uses only organic ingredients and pays Indian farmers directly so they receive a living wage. Ayurceutics is one of the first companies to develop standardized extracts of many Ayurvedic herbs. And Banyan Botanicals uses its catalog as an educational tool on the benefits of integrating Ayurvedic principles in daily life.

Manufacturers say that it?s important to create products that work for the life situations of modern consumers. ?The principles of Ayurveda aren?t meant to be limited to their country of origin,? Rizzi says. ?Knowledge of life means knowledge of your own life, and here in the West we can apply these energetic principles to everything we do.?

Seguine agrees. ?In Ayurveda,? he says, ?there has always been a history of adaptability as the knowledge spread to various areas, incorporating new herbs and materials.?

Ayurvedic products, then, can be the best of both worlds, combining the age-old knowledge of the East with the technical capabilities of the West to create supplements that are highly effective. And as it turns out, selling these products effectively can be easier than most retailers realize.

Mitchell Clute is a Crestone, Colo.-based writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 90-91

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