Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

What Is the Scientific Evidence for Tibetan Medicine?

For millennia, doctors of Tibetan medicine have done their own traditional research by carefully observing and documenting the effects of Tibetan therapies and medicines on their patients. This precise knowledge has been passed from one generation of Tibetan physicians to the next. Now Tibetan medicine is being researched using Western scientific methodology, although the number of studies is relatively small.

One area of research relies on the pharmaceutical model of scientific testing. These studies focus on identifying the active components in and efficacy of specific Tibetan medicines. Often the studies are carried out in vitro or in animal models. The results validate the bioactive components and demonstrate biochemical pathways showing a plausible mechanism of action. However, the limited availability of Tibetan medicines in the United States makes this type of research less relevant for the use of Tibetan medicine as self-care.

Tibetan medicine incorporates many lifestyle practices designed to promote health, such as yoga, meditation, compassion, lovingkindness, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. A great deal of research is being published about these practices, with positive results. For example, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing has several studies underway about these practices. Moreover, researchers are using cognitive science and neuroimaging to study the impact of mind-body practices, such as yoga and meditation. Scientists are collaborating with the Dalai Lama to conduct studies about how to create and maintain a healthy mind at the Mind & Life Institute.

More research is needed about Tibetan medicine. However, research into the overall efficacy is challenging because Tibetan medicine is a holistic system, so health results are not attributed to only one activity, component, or medicine. New qualitative methodologies may be needed to study Tibetan medicine holistically. Researchers are particularly interested in determining how Tibetan medicine can impact immunity, longevity, chronic disease, and regeneration.

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