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Deepak Chopra, the New Age physician and best-selling author of Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, firmly believes in the interrelationship of mental and physical health. Some of his approach is based on ayurveda (''science of life''), a 3,500-year-old Indian philosophy emphasizing prevention. Ayurveda seeks to achieve a balance among emotions, bodily functions, lifestyle, and diet. To practitioners, disease occurs when any of these factors get out of whack because of bad habits, stress, or injury.

Scientific evidence supports some aspects of ayurvedic medicine, especially meditation, says Dr. Blair Justice of the Center for Alternative Medicine Research in Cancer at the University of Texas medical school at Houston. Bala Manyam, professor of neurology at Southern Illinois School of Medicine, has researched ayurvedic herbal remedies that combine seven or more botanicals, including mucuna prurient, which a National Institutes of Health study suggests may ameliorate symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The NIH has also sent a fact-finding delegation of physicians to India last year to observe ayurvedic doctors.

USE IN COMBO. There are, of course, skeptics. Many practitioners ''have turned ayurveda into a belief system--almost a religion,'' says Dr. William Jarvis, executive director of the National Council Against Health Fraud. Their patients become devout followers who tend not to recognize the ''limitations of ayurveda and might not seek standard medical treatment when they need it,'' he adds.

Still, if you're interested in ayurveda, you should ''approach it as complementary to conventional therapies,'' says Dr. Scott Gerson, an internist and ayurvedic practitioner who directs the Brewster (N.Y.)-based National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine. Be wary of ayurvedic healers who shun Western medicine or promise to cure serious illnesses.

You can find practitioners via the National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (table). An ayurvedic doctor, who usually has five to seven years of training in India, may or may not have a Western medical degree.

The practitioner will start with an interview and physical costing $100 to $300, rarely covered by insurance. The goal is to identify your unique mind-body type. ''It is essential to discover your special constitution,'' says Vasant Lad, director of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque. Once your type, or prakriti, is known, the practitioner will make recommendations about diet, herbs, exercise, meditation, and hygiene. For example, you may be advised to eat cooling foods like melons or to limit your exercise.

As for ayurvedic herbal remedies, teas, foods, and body care products sold in health-food stores, Gerson says that since everyone has a unique constitution, ''it's unlikely any single product will work for everybody.'' And as with all alternative therapies, it's a good idea to keep your physician informed.

By Kate Murphy


TABLE: Ayurveda Sources


Updated June 11, 1998 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1998, Bloomberg L.P.
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