Dhanvantari Ayurveda Center  Michael Dick, Ayurvedic Practitioner, Leesburg, Florida    e-mail:


The Ayurvedist

Volume III Issue 5                                                                                                                   September 2006  

Health and Science in the News

Text Box: Angel of the Waters Central Park NYC




Inside This Issue


Health and Science in the News


The Book Corner--Essential Oils


Treating Structure and Function


Disease Modeling --Toxicity Forms





Researchers (Journal of Ethnopharmacology Jan. 2005) have found that guduci (Tinospora cordifolia) stimulates the increase of white blood cells and decreases allergic reactions. Clinicians use this herb as one of the main anti-inflammatory agents of Ayurveda. It's a rejuvenative in its own right, and good for the liver, chronic fatigue, obesity and more.


Shallaki (Boswellia serrata) was found to be an effective treatment of asthma (BMJ, 1998).  Some of you will know this herb for its use in arthritis.  Energetics suggest pitta type svasa may be most beneficial use.


Other Ayurvedic materia medica found to be useful in asthma include: onion, turmeric, ginger, and vasaka (Adhotoda vasica). All appear to inhibit leukotriene and prostaglandin production (pro-inflammatory agents). Grapes appear to mediate respiratory allergy (from oligomeric proanthocyanidins--OPC's).


Researchers have found that jala neti (a yogic nasal irrigation technique) reduces nasal allergy symptoms (Journal of Family Practice, 2002).  


Regarding indoor air consumer testing groups found that outdoor air is multiple times cleaner than typical indoor air. Better to open the windows than seal off the house. Sharper Image product was inferior by many times to filtration and fan driven systems.


L-arginine gel was found effective in treatment of anal fissures (Dis. Colon Rectum, 2005). Mechanism of action apparently is a reduction of resting rectal tissue pressure, which promotes greater blood flow. No side effects reported.


Newspaper Columnist Susan Susman, writing for The Palm Beach Post, 7-12-06, reports that sugar substitutes have troubling side-effects: called sugar alcohols, mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol are poorly absorbed from the digestive tract, which residues upon attaining the colon induce gas and diarrhea. Look for these in gums and other foods.


10-year study findings, released 8-22-06, found slightly overweight adults 20% to 40% more likely to die early. Most adult Americans are obese (30+lbs.) but now data show that even slight (BMI 25-29.9) is a health risk--cancer, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, etc.


The Book Corner


This month we are bringing to your attention some material that has been associated with Ayurveda for many years, if not millennia--essential oils. David Stewart, PhD has authored the daunting title: The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple, Care Publications, Marble Hill, MO, 2005. "The purpose of the book is not to make you a chemist. It is to inspire you to see God's hand in the creation of the molecules of essential oils," he writes.  More practically, he hopes that its broad-ranging content will fill many voids in understanding this field. The content of the book includes an assessment of prominent modern day approaches to the topic of essential oils, a survey of the literature--with commentary, a primer on essential oil chemistry, answers to frequently asked questions, an overview of issues of science, a discussion of consciousness in essential oils, and an extensive glossary, annotated bibliography, and index.


"There are 4 basic portals through which essential oils can enter the body: through the lungs, through the skin, through the digestive tract, and through the absorbent tissues of the body orifices." There are two basic uses for essential oils: therapeutic and non-therapeutic. Non-therapeutic includes flavoring, scents, and similar uses that extract compounds that serve these ends, but not therapeutic ends. Use of this kind of oil with intention to heal likely produces harm not healing.


Stewart describes three schools of thought which predominate in the market place: British, French, and German. The central premise of the French and German schools regarding essential oils is that: "There are many compounds in oils that, by themselves, are potentially toxic, but when combined (are) in balance and synergy with other compounds, as they are in the natural oil; they are not only harmless, but possess healing powers." For the French essential oils are therapeutic and useful on the skin, in the orifices--mouth, anal, vaginal, and inspired as vapor into the lungs. The British believe that essential oil therapy is aromatherapy, with the emphasis on aroma. They wail against neat use of oils as being toxic and dangerous. Essential oils used by them are in concentrations of about 5%, mixed in a carrier--olive oil among others. The Germans feel that the best way to use essential oils is through inhalation. This by-passes digestion and goes to the brain, etc. directly.


Stewart maintains that essential oils (as well as expressed oils) have been with us for millennia--there are many accounts in the Bible of preventative and healing uses of oils. While technically produced by distillation, a process seemingly too sophisticated for our forefathers, descriptions of many kinds of oils suggests the ancients knew about this processing technology.


Essential oils differ from expressed seed / fatty oils in many ways:

  1. distilled from plant parts vs. expressed from seeds
  2. not involved with seed germination and early growth vs. are involved
  3. essential to the life processes of the plant vs. non-essential for life processes
  4. tiny molecules vs. large molecules
  5. molecules built from rings and short chains vs. built from long chains
  6. aromatic and volatile vs. non-aromatic / non-volatile
  7. circulate thru plants (and human bodies) vs. do not circulate through the plants
  8. can pass through tissues, cell walls, cell membranes vs. do not pass through tissues, walls, membranes
  9. not greasy to touch vs. greasy to touch
  10. do not spoil or turn rancid vs. do turn rancid
  11. are antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic vs. generally are not antibacterial, etc.


Stewart writes that the realm of essential oils is spellbinding:

  • The Great Smoky Mountains are shrouded with a haze, which is the collection of essential oils released by the trees to protect them from heat-induced moisture loss.
  • Tomato plants release an essential oil when attacked by tomato horn worms to attract wasps that feed on the worms. 
  • Essential oils in the skin of oranges and other citrus appear at the right time to enhance the ultraviolet light's effect on ripening.
  • Desert plants release oils through the roots that discourage the germination of seeds, thereby precluding dense vegetation and competition for precious moisture.
  • Some of the colors of plants act as attractors to promote reproduction (pollinating insects, etc.) and these are essential oils.
  • Pheromones are scents (essential oils) that attract mating partners.
  • While humans don't use these oils for these specific benefits they do benefit humans in protective and promotive ways. Some oils kill microbes--viri, bacteria, fungi, parasites--and some act as adaptogens--e.g. myrtle oil speeds or slows thyroid function as needed.


Some oils pass for essential but are truly expressed: citrus, bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, and tangerine, for example. These are not produced by distillation at high temperatures and are affected by temperatures above 1000 F. These are relatively large molecules compared to their cousins the essential oils. Refrigeration extends life from one year to maybe two years.


The author writes that this reference may be read from beginning to end or chapter by chapter in any order. The technical information should satisfy the most techy of our readers. Chapter 12 tries to address directly the many questions that arise in context of essential oils.  Near the end of the book a chapter--The Limits of Science--is included that engages many issues of modern science. Serious students of science will find this relevant and incisive. Another chapter deals with a fascinating topic--Biotransformation of Elements; read this to find out how chickens eating no calcium in their diet produce calcium-rich shells, and more.


Treating Structure and Function


Recently a colleague called me about a client with urinary problems. The discussion focused on the fact that her applied kinesiology indicated gokshuradi guggulu for this case and plain gokshura for a similar one. Accepting for the moment that each was appropriate what was the difference of the two drugs? In my view the guggulu works on the channel aspects and the gokshura works more on the tissue aspects. For the treatment this distinction is important. Reading the classical authority, Caraka, one is informed that the symptoms of problems of the channels (srotamsi) are the same symptoms for problems with the tissues (dhatus). Ugh! So what is the importance of having this distinction of tissue and channel?


The answer to this question rests, in part, with the Ayurvedic maxim that form follows function. Structural changes take place at the guidance of function and the doshas perform this governing role. The structural part of a tissue contains both elements. For example, the kidneys have a typical size and weight--about the size of a clenched fist and 135g - 150g +/- 15% in women and men resp. Some part of this tissue mass serves to support (constitutes framework) and the rest is actively pursuing kidney functions (parenchyma) to produce urine, while maintaining fluid level and electrolyte targets, etc. This provides us with the basic understanding of the difference of tissue and channel = structure vs. function.


Ayurveda states that pathology is defined in terms of imbalance of doshas, dhatus, srotamsi, malas, ojas, and agni. These are the structural and functional components of the body. For most pathology the doshas alter in their qualitative nature and increase in their quantitative aspect. This condition results, over time, in systemic circulation of dosha(s), which then affects the agni of a tissue or organ, etc. Agni controls the nutrition and the production of wastes and toxic metabolites (ama). It (agni) gets impaired then ama forms and then cell, tissue, and organ function will be degraded. This means that the channel (site of production and flow) is impaired.


In pathology there are two conditions:  sometimes there are functional aberrations (fast / slow) where there is no structural change and others where there is organic damage/change (moving out of the channel / forming inappropriate channels).  In the former case therapeutic agents that inhibit (for fast movement) and stimulate (for slow movement) are of value. In the latter drugs balancing tissue agni are important.  Both operate through doshic values to regulate function. For example, if the kidneys are working too slowly then a stimulating agent works--e.g., punarnava. Punarnava, an aquaretic/diuretic, irritates the glomeruli epithelium and this triggers increase in circulatory system throughput to attempt to calm the irritant. More urine output results. The mass of the kidney structure is not affected by this drug, even though it is considered a rasayana (rejuvenating agent). Gokshura, on the other hand, does work on the structure or tissue of the kidneys. It too is a rasayana and helps tonify and build tissue. Ultimately, this drug action may affect the ability of the kidneys to perform their function by working on the tissue rather than on the channel, directly. Take another herb arjuna (Terminalia cordifolia)--it's good for the heart. It strengthens the cardiac muscle. If a person is suffering from high cholesterol, one might ask if this herb is useful. The answer is: "It depends."  If the patient has an enlarged heart or weak heart muscles then this herb is useful. If no organic damage exists then drugs that aim at regulating cholesterol are more appropriate (guggulu for example).


The point of this dialog is to bring focus to the different treatments indicated for a given target organ or tissue. One must assess whether structure or function or both are involved. Drugs having the same affinity (say punarnava and gokshura for the kidneys) may act very differently. Rasayanas generally have sweet taste and post-digestive effect, which act on the tissue agni and promote tissue formation and vitality.  Other drugs operate on the ama and dosha to transform and dispel them so that the channel clears and the function is restored.  Compounds are often designed with the aim to produce both these effects.


Disease Modeling


In numerous past issues The Ayurvedist has taken up the issue of (treatable) disease modeling--stating that there are at least six models of causative agents disruptive to doshic balance--five arising from an excess and one from deficiency of entities. One theme of excess we'd like to examine further deals with toxicity.


Generally, Ayurveda considers ama to be most similar to the term--toxicity. Ama means "uncooked" and is mostly the undigested food that leaves the GIT. There is a small number of verses in the classical texts that expand this definition to include excess doshas that have mixed together and undigested food that mixes with plasma and other tissues. In one verse, Caraka writes about ama visha and in others the term amadosha is seen. Experts have regarded ama visha as a fermented version of ama that becomes particularly virile and evokes stasis or excess motions--up or down. The term amadosha is often used for ama but may also include its mixing with dosha.  Some experts have expanded the notion of toxicity to include heavy metal poisoning (chronic)--gara visha and electromagnetic poisoning--indravajra abhijanya visha (Vd. RK Mishra).


In a narrow sense issues of toxicity are issues of digestion (agni) at one or more levels; e.g. GIT, liver, or cell. If the transformation process fails to convert a substance then it may be considered toxic. So the treatment of toxicity is done with fire promoting substances.


The issue of gara visha (metal poisoning) is a sticky one. It's not discussed as such in the Major 3 or Minor 3 classical texts, to my knowledge. Certainly metal poisoning was known, as the processes of converting metals to oxides (bhasmas) is part of the classical pharmaceutical science. But we don't have a clear treatment of it. The same may be true of electromagnetic toxicity. We don't know of classical discussions but we are pretty certain of this category of patho-physiology. Attention to the category of metals invites attention to the broader category of toxic substances as defined by the EPA and FDA, etc. There are dioxins (a class of over 200 substances), PCB's, petrochemicals and the list goes on.


Our interest in taking up a definition of toxins is both practical and theoretical. On the one hand we want to be able to identify this source of disease, so we can avoid it and treat it. Also, we want to think about its treatment and compare this with the classical theory. While metal poisoning was well known in ancient Rome and elsewhere, electromagnetism was not, with the exception of lightning strikes.


One of the vaidyas I have studied with (RK Mishra) has taken up challenge of toxicity and offers some interesting treatment protocols. Just so we are clear about treatment there is a classical contraindication of panchakarma when ama is present. It is treated first with digesting and burning drugs (dipana and pacana) then PK may be done.  Some years ago I read of research conducted in Germany on PK. Researchers concluded that PK does in fact do some chelation (rids body of heavy metals)--up to 50% effective. But we should remember that one of the issues for our definition of ama is that agni is treated, not dosha, as PK is specifically aimed at. So this is where the theory and our definitions are important. If toxins are sticky, as mercury and other heavy metals seem to be, then what is the best treatment mode? It may turn out that we can use PK and agni-builders and so on or maybe only one of them. One advantage for the patient and the average clinician that modern science brings to bear on this topic is the blood, wastes, and tissue assays that shed light on the qualitative and quantitative aspects of toxicity.


I and some other clinicians have observed that most all of the xenotoxins are pittagenic. The mechanism for this effect is through their observed estrogenicity. This term means that they universally stimulate reproductive tissue and cell receptors that are estrogen-sensitive. They are hormone disruptors. No wonder high pitta and cancer are linked. No wonder there is so much cancer.


Now for treatment--Vd. RK Mishra proffers pH-related dietary guidelines that serve the purpose of chelation without the expense and time commitments of PK.  See www.ayurveda-florida.com\cooking_and_nutrition_ayurvedic\detoxification_diet.htm . The diet relies upon the chelating influence of coriander, cilantro, cardamom, daikon radish, turmeric, etc. The volatile oils of these and other spices act as a digestive stimulant without increasing pitta.  The pH assay may be approximated with a buccal saliva test paper made by Micro Essential Lab (comes in small plastic flat case). A word of caution--moving toxins out of the body too quickly may injure the pathways used for their removal.


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