In this newsletter we talked to an expert on ayurveda from The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians about the ayurvedic approach to balancing cholesterol.
A: First of all, it is important to understand that cholesterol is not mentioned in the ayurvedic tradition. Rather, the ayurvedic texts discuss meda dhatu (lipid tissue) and explain how to maintain a healthy quantity and quality of fat tissue in the body. When meda dhatu is balanced and healthy, that subsequently helps to maintain balanced cholesterol.
Meda dhatu, fat tissue, is one of the seven dhatus, or body tissues. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, the body is a combination of the following:
- Doshas — fundamental physiological governing principles (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha)
- Dhatus — 7 tissue elements that support and sustain the body, including rasa dhatu (nutritive fluid), rakta dhatu (blood plasma), mamsa dhatu (muscle), meda dhatu (fat), asthi dhatu (bone), majja dhatu (bone marrow), and shukra dhatu (sperm and ovum)
- Malas — metabolic impurities (urine, bowels, and sweat)
To understand how to maintain healthy meda dhatu, you first need to understand that balance is the main principle of Maharishi Ayurveda. A moderate lifestyle, diet and daily routine upholds balanced functioning of every aspect of life: body, mind and senses. One also has to maintain peacefulness in mind, a blissful consciousness, and balanced control over the senses.
The principle factor behind balance in the body is balanced agni (digestive fire). Digestion is quite literally the basis for good health in every part of the body.
For instance, the creation of healthy body tissue (dhatu) requires a brightly-burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. A strong agni is equally important in maintaining balance in the doshas and malas.
Therefore, when digestion, assimilation and elimination are balanced, fat tissue and cholesterol will also be balanced.
It's important to understand that fat tissue (cholesterol) in itself is not bad, and is actually essential for the body to function properly. So in the ayurvedic perspective, the production of cholesterol does not necessarily need to be lessened, but it needs to be balanced. When the digestion is balanced and healthy, then the body produces the right amount of cholesterol, in the right proportion to nourish the body.
A: Digestion depends on the strength of the digestive fire (agni). Digestive fire is sustained with the fuel of wholesome foods and drinks. If we eat too little, or if we eat unwholesome foods and drinks, the digestive fire dwindles.
There are 13 agnis that work together in the digestive process. First, the food is metabolized by the main digestive fire (jathar-agni), located in the stomach and duodenum. Next it is metabolized by the five elemental fires located in the liver (bhut-agnis), and finally by seven dhatu-agnis, located in the seven tissues. These 13 types of agnis form the metabolism and digestive system in the body.
When we eat fatty or oily food, it is metabolized by these 13 agnis in a sequential process. Jathar-agni helps to break down the food. The bhut-agnis help to screen toxins and ensure that the food is transformed into healthy, good-quality body tissue. The dhatu-agnis help transform the food into their respective tissues.
So the strength of the various digestive fires is needed for the tissues to be formed properly, including the fat tissue. When the production of meda dhatu is disturbed, the quantity (amount and proportion) and quality (contents) of meda dhatu are also disturbed. In other words, because cholesterol is one of the contents of lipid tissue, the production of cholesterol becomes imbalanced when meda dhatu is imbalanced.
A: It's important to understand that the liver not only produces cholesterol, but it's also part of the digestive system. It's the place where toxins are screened before they enter the bloodstream. If the liver becomes overloaded with toxins, due to certain mental, physical and environmental factors, its functioning can become impaired. When this happens, it disturbs the 13 types of digestive fires (agnis).