Metabolism in terms of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is that branch of science which deals with the internal body, mind, and soul as a whole to study medicine. It forms the base of the functioning of the body not only physically, but also in spiritual forms.
- What goes on in the body?
- How do you react to that?
- How does our mind get affected by it?
- How is that connected with what we eat?
- How is that associated with universal energy?
The very first law of thermodynamics states that "Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed, but can be transformed from one form to another". This implies that we are a form of energy; and that's what Ayurveda preaches. We are composed of three main energies - Vata, Pitha and Kapha . It also specifies that we eat nutrients that are a form of energy and water in the body, those nutrients get converted into another form of energy that is responsible for our day to day work. That energy produced is called "Ojas" the purest form of energy produced by our body.
- But, do we know how this energy is produced?
- Do we know how our food intake is converted into a form of energy?
- Do we know how our system works from the very first bite till the waste is thrown out of our body?
According to Ayurveda, Agni (fire) is responsible for the conversion of Aahara (food) into energy. The entire metabolism of our body relies on "Agni''. From the definitions from Vachaspatyam, Shabdakalpadruma, Unadikosha, Agni is described as one which can carry anything, move everywhere, can metamorphose a substance, bring about assimilation, digestion, can take a substance and also liberate it, which can go through intracellular paths, can burn and also grow. All these statements point out that- Agni is important for transformations.
Agni being a derivative of Tejas (fire) and brings about metabolic changes. Agni has 13 categories. Jatharagni (1 type) looks after the functions of Ahara (food) digestion and its absorption. Bhutagni (5 types) turns all the vijatiya panchabhautika dravyas consumed to sajatiya panchabhautika dravyas, i.e. conversion of heterogeneous to homogeneous. Dhatu Agni (7 types) performs synthesis of food and breakdown at a cellular level.
The metabolic process usually leads to the formation of two things:
- Prasada (essence or we can say energy/nutrients)
- Kitta (excretory waste)
In our body, the energy Pitha is the one responsible for digestion, and Agni is a crucial part of it. Pitha regulates the thermodynamics and chemo-dynamics of the body. Agni is representative of the heat of Pitha . When Pitha is normal, body functionalities of digestion, joy, happiness, vision, and the balance of hormones are in a good state. Whereas, when Pitha is abnormal, it's responsible for indigestion, bad moods, anger and imbalance in hormones. So from this context, we understand how important it is to regulate Agni which is a part of Pitha.
Let's now overview how this process takes place:
The first step is Jatharagni Paka, which is digestion in the gastrointestinal tract. This is again subdivided into three stages, which are Madhura Bhava, Amla Bhava, Katu Bhava.
- In the first stage of digestion, Madhura Bhava is shown, which takes place by mixing Aahara with Saliva amylase on starch, that is conversion of carbohydrates into glucose which is suitable for absorption.
- In the second stage of digestion, Amla Bhava is shown, by the release of Pachaka Pitha (Bile and Pancreatic enzymes) which results in the formation of semi-liquid acidic mass in the stomach which breaks down proteins and fats into amino acids and free fatty acids.
- In the third stage, the remnant nutrients are absorbed in the large intestine and rest is excreted out from the body. This process is known as Katu Bhava in Ayurveda.
After these processes, Jatharagni transforms Vijatiya Annarasa into Sajatiya Poshaka dhatus, which is into nutrients that are to be circulated in the entire body.
The ultimate change in the ahara rasa that occurs at the end of digestion of Jatharagni Paka is called a Vipaka. According to Acharya Charaka, the six rasas yield three kinds of Vipaka. Madhura and Lavana rasa yield Madhura vipaka (sweet). Amla Rasa yields Amla Vipaka (sour). Katu, Tikta, Kasaya Rasa to Katu Vipaka (pungent).
Later, Bhutagni paka adya ahara rasa transports the essential nutrients into the entire body, in each tissue of the body.
Every cell of our body has five elements, namely; Parthiva, Apya, Tejas (Agni), Vayavya (vayu) and Nabhasa (akasha). These are known as Panchabhoutika. Each of these elements absorbs its nutrients (essential amino acids and fatty acids) to produce the required amount of energy.
The last stage is Dhatu Agni, which means tissue metabolism. There are Seven Dhatus namely: Rasa, Rakta, Mamsa, Meda, Asthi, Majja and Shukra. These Dhatus have two types, one is static and another is nourishment. These Dhatus are responsible for cellular nourishment and yield of energy. It stimulates muscles, bones, fat, bone marrow, blood optimization and plasma, leading to cell regeneration and body growth.
Thus, this eternal study of Ayurveda has indeed helped to understand the body more precisely. The segregation of Tatva at every stage gives a meaning that later seemed apt after advancements. Metabolism is not only a process of a part of the body, but it's an entire system. Every process is headed and followed by every other and incomplete without any one of it!