Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tulsi – A medicine Divine

It is intriguing to understand the rich traditional Indian knowledge in all walks of life. And it is more interesting to know the outreach of this widespread knowledge through the skillful documentation of the information since the time unknown. There were different methodologies for the nomenclature and common ways to identify the herbs were devised. Methodologies to name and identify the drugs were formed in such a way that medicinal properties should be known to even those who are unaware of the common herbs and their uses. Sometimes I wonder, is it really necessary to do a scientific research on all the documentation done in past? Isn’t it a futile effort to establish something which has already been established for ages? I really do not know when we will believe that Ayurvedic approach towards human health is the most scientific and holistic approach.
Tulsi or Holy basil is one of the most common herbs known to Indian house hold. It is grown uniformly in almost every house, not to mention the reason – religious. Most of us might not be aware that it is more due to scientific reason than religious alone which would be discussed later. Holy basil has following synonyms and each of it signifies properties of Tulsi.
तुलसी         – तुलां सादृश्यं – which relates to balance or brings balance
सुरसा          – possesses good tasteholy_basil2
ग्राम्या         – which grows in villages
सुलभा         – available easily
बहुमञ्जरी    – one with multiple flowering pods
अपेतराक्षसी  – which removes evils
भूतघ्नी         – which eradicates negativity
देवदुन्दुभिः    - Dundhubi is a synonym for Lord Vishnu
It is incredible to find so much of information about a medicine hidden in its names.
Latin name  - Ocimum sanctum Linn.
Family          - Labiatae
तुलसी कटुका तिक्ता हृद्योष्णा दाहपित्तकृत् !
                        दीपनी कुष्ठ कृछ्र अस्र पर्श्वरुक कफवातजित् !! भाव प्रकाश/ पुष्प वर्ग/६३
Primarily, holy basil is pungent in taste and it has bitter secondary taste. It means technically its potency should be hot in action. Due to its hot potency, Ocimum sanctum (OS) increases Pitta (Fire) and results in burning sensation. Especially to those already suffering from gastritis, they should avoid excessive use of the herb except when needed. Due to its property of being hot it is a drug of choice in diseases of Kapha and Vata origin like common cold, cough with expectoration, asthma, colic pain and so on. As per the synonyms Apetrakshasi and Bhootaghni, it suggests the role of this herb on devils. It has to be understood in right context. In ancient times devils were described as disruptive elements that possessed extraordinary qualities to create trouble in bodily society. They had evolved to remain invisible and create turbulence around. This is why they required special human beings with an insight to distinguish them and kill the evil. In fact, in my opinion sages meant to explain bacteria and other microorganisms that were invisible to naked eyes (Bhoot means the one beyond the physical elements –microorganism may fall in the category). Modern scientific understanding of the herb establishes the fact.
As per the review article by S. K. Gupta et al – Department of Pharmacology, AIIMS, New Delhi, India (Indian Journal of experimental biology/ vol. 40/ July 2002/ pp. 765-773), the aqueous leaf extract showed insecticidal and antibacterial activity against Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria. The ethanolic extract from Tulsi was demonstrated to be a better antiviral agent. Today, we have a devised radiotherapy against cancer, and in context to the ancient references it shall also be considered as Bhoota (invisible foreign invasion). Scientifically, we know today the Radioprotective, anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties of Tulsi (P Uma Devi, Department of Radiobiology, KMC, Manipal; Indian Journal of experimental biology/ vol. 39/ March 2001). There is no doubt why altruistic sages named the herb Bhootaghni. Leaves of Tulsi can be used for local application on chronic infected wounds in paste form. It can be highly effective in those having diabetic foot. It is due to the fact that as per a recent study on mice, ethanolic OS leaf extract showed the efficacy in lowering the blood glucose levels substantially. In diabetic foot the dual efficacy of the single herb could be utilized to its maximum. For its optimum results, dry powder of Tulsi leaves can be taken empty stomach in the dosage of 3 – 4 gms with warm water.
As per Bhav Prakash, Tulsi promotes digestion. It especially works on Dhatuagni (Metabolic digestion and absorption mechanism). No wonder why it makes pancreas to work and helps in reducing blood sugar. As per traditional knowledge of healing, Tulsi is a very good remedy for Kushtha (leprosy). It is again to understand that as per Ayurveda any chronic skin infection with non-healing nature which results in damage of tissues is called as Kushtha (कुष्णाति वपुः). It is also very effective in chronic urinary tract infections. In cases of painful and burning micturition cold infusion prepared with Tulsi leaves could be very effective. It is a good blood purifier and an excellent remedy in circulatory disorders. As per the research paper above, Tulsi leaf powder in 1% of dosage to mice showed significant hypolipidaemic effect. It is no doubt that Tulsi remains a wonderful drug and probably that is why it has been regarded so much in ancient texts. Due to its multiple benefits and the ease of availability it became an Indian tradition to grow the herb in household.
OS leaves contain 0.7% volatile oil. This oil contains multiple chemical structures in it. This makes Tulsi to be very effective herb against worms, parasites, mosquitos and other microorganisms. In India it has been a tradition to grow this herb in front of the house and to light an earthen lamp with a cotton wick soaked in oil. It would be interesting to see the reaction. This light must be helping green leaves of Tulsi to emit some component of instable oil into the air thus removing mosquitos and moths from surrounding area although it needs to be validated and experimented. But, as far as my knowledge goes I haven’t seen mosquitos feeding around Tulsi. Indian tradition always had logic behind every action; unfortunately we do not have time to understand the wisdom but to follow rituals blind folded.
Further adding on to the properties of this amazing herb, Bhav Prakash explains its role on abdominal colic. Due to its hot potency and volatile oils in it, Tulsi becomes and obvious choice in spasmodic pains of abdomen. A hot infusion is prescribed in such cases. During the menstruation some of the females go through an excruciating pain in abdomen. It is due to aggravated Vata. Hot infusion made up of Tulsi leaves along with bishop seed relieves the pain by regulating Vata channels. Ayurveda recommends Tulsi in aggravated Kapha disorders like allergic cough, asthma, COPD, bronchitis. Volatile oil present in Tulsi removes congestion from the channels, helps in broncho dilatation and increases oxygenation. It is found to be very effective in allergic cold and viral fever conditions.
To enlist properties and uses of Tulsi is an exhaustive task. It is antibacterial, anti-allergic, antipyretic, analgesic, it reduces cholesterol levels, brings down increased blood sugar levels, strong antioxidant, adaptogenic, contains antiviral properties, radioprotective, possesses anticarcinogenic properties, aphrodisiac and don’t know what else. And if nothing at all, growing Tulsi in your garden does not harm at all; at least it could protect your house from deadly mosquitos. Ayurvedic wisdom says,
तदेव युक्तं भैषज्यं यत् आरोग्याय कल्पते !
               स चैव भिषजां श्रेष्ठो रोगेभ्योः यः प्रमोच्येत् !! च. सू. १/ १३५
The best medicine is the one that restores health and the physician who removes the fear of diseases is the paramount in his race.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Grapes – A food for your Blood

Blood is a liquid connective tissue which has three general functions- transportation, regulation, and protection. It has two major components: 1) blood plasma which is watery liquid that contains water, protein and other solutes like electrolytes, gases etc. and 2) formed elements – Platelets, WBCs, and RBCs.

Platelets occupy less than 1% of the formed elements. Platelets break off from the megakaryocytes in red bone marrow and then enter the blood circulation. In between 150,000 to 400,000 platelets are present in each µL of blood (Tortora). Platelets help to stop blood loss by forming platelet plug and have a short life span, between 5 to 9 days, while dead platelets are removed by spleen and liver.

Platelets essentially contribute towards the immunity of the body by periodical repair of the blood vessels and saving blood loss. Number of platelets becomes essential marker in cases of sever immune attack by extrinsic or intrinsic factors. In cases of Dengue, which is caused by Aedes aegypti there is a constant lapse in number of platelets which may result in internal hemorrhage resulting in potential life risk. Restoration of platelets can be achieved by incorporating dietary changes alone and Ayurveda can contribute essentially in saving lives. Routine consumables can be used judiciously in order to achieve medicinal effect and Ayurvedic life style is all about using food as a medicine.

Food, which help in nourishing our blood is described below with references of its properties and uses mentioned in traditional system of healing – Ayurveda.

द्राक्षा (Grapes)

द्राक्षा पक्वा सरा शीता चक्षुष्या बृहणि गुरुः I grapes

स्वादुपाकरसा स्वर्या तुवरा सृष्टमूत्रविट II

कोष्ठमारुत्कृद वृष्या कफपुष्टिरुचिप्रदा I

हन्ति तृष्णाज्वरश्वासवातवातास्रकामलाः II

कृछ्र अस्रपित्त संमोह दाह शोष मदात्ययान I

आमा स्वल्पगुणा गुर्वी सैवाम्ला रक्तपित्तकृत II

वृष्या स्याद् गोस्तनी द्राक्षा गुर्वी च कफपित्तनुत् I 

                                                             भाव प्रकाश/ फल वर्ग/ ११२- १३

Latin name – Vitis vinifera Linn.

Family – Vitaceae

Bhav Prakash says ripened grapes are naturally laxatives and cold in potency. It increases eye sight, heavy to digest and increases muscle mass in the body. Due to being naturally laxative and cold in potency it helps in removal of excessive pitta from the circulation.

Pitta, when increases by virtue of its hot and liquid qualities results in vidah (sensorial discomfort) which is commonly seen in Dengue fever, like burning of eyes, excessive thirst, aversion to food, itching of the skin and so on. Ayurveda suggests in order pacifying a specific dosha and its qualities, properties which are opposite to the nature of the vitiated dosha should be incorporated. Pitta shares a symbiotic relationship with metabolic factor blood, thus results in multiple disorders related to circulatory system. It is important to find out a drug which should have laxative effect (as it is a default treatment for Pitta) and also possesses cooling effect. Interestingly, Grape contains both the qualities and becomes an obvious choice of medicine where in blood is vitiated due to increase of Pitta.

Grapes, when completely formed are sweet in taste and clears voice. It can be effectively given to those suffering from hoarse voice. It also contains slight astringent taste and increases out flow of urine and stool. It creates bloating of abdomen. Grapes increase male sexual strength but may increase kapha. It induces strength in the body and enhances taste.

It removes excessive thirst. It is highly recommended to those who constantly complain of dry mouth. In such cases dry grapes (raisins) soaked overnight seems to be more appropriate. Ripened grapes which are sweet in taste should be given in fever as it reduces Vidaha which is integral symptom in Fever. Grapes especially are very effective in Asthma. As per Ayurveda, asthma can lead to degeneration of metabolic factors (Dhatu) and deterioration of metabolic factors can lead to various disorders related to malnutrition. In asthma, people generally suffer from anemia especially iron deficient. This is due to poor digestive capacity that metabolic factors cannot absorb heavy minerals from the food. It reduces the oxygen binding and further results in breathlessness on exertion and other symptoms. In such cases iron loading cannot be very good decision due to poor digestive state and in many cases it has been resulted in diarrhea. Grapes become a drug of choice in this case and Ayurveda specially recommend. It removes excess loading of pitta from the circulation being naturally purgative. It also nourishes Rakta Dhatu (Blood), induces strength and increases oxygen binding capacity of the blood cells thus helps in Asthma.

As per Bhav Prakash, seasoned grapes help to treat Arthritis. It is due to the chemical composition of the grapes. It is a rich source of all essential minerals and vitamins which are helpful in bone regeneration. It is a natural source of potassium (185 mg), calcium (11 mg), zinc (0.05 mg), phosphorus (13 mg), vitamin C (10.8 mg), B1 (0.092 mg), B2 (0.057 mg), B6 (0.110 mg), and E (0.700mg) per 100 grams( These all are essential components of healthy bones and tissues. In early changes of osteoarthritis grapes could be used as a natural remedy (diabetic people should use soaked raisins). It is also recommended to those suffering from Gouty Arthritis and Jaundice. It is due to the principle of Pitta detoxification as per Ayurveda. Grapes are naturally diuretic (promotes urination), thus they are helpful in dysuria (painful and burning urination).

In Ayurveda, grapes are essentially recommended in Raktapitta which is generally compared to epistaxis (nasal bleed). It is important to understand that when Ayurveda discusses Raktapitta, it is not about one single disease but a syndrome with various representations which is essentially caused by vitiated Pitta (Fire) and Rakta (Blood). As mentioned before about symbiosis of Pitta and Rakta, whenever pitta gets vitiated especially due to the increase of its hot and liquid properties it results in increase of the blood volume. This increased heat has its own effect on the physiology of rakta (blood) and may result in destruction of essential components of the blood, especially those which help in continuous arterial repair – platelets. This is how raktapitta manifests as per Ayurveda. Due to the increased blood volume and thinning of the arterial walls because of vitiated Pitta especially in the areas where arteries/ capillaries are naturally weak sudden bleeding occurs due to any external/ internal factors like stress, strenuous exercise etc. When it bleeds per nasal it is called Urdhvag Raktapitta (epistaxis), while it per anal bleeding is called as Adhog Raktapitta. When it starts to bleed per cutaneous (through skin) it is named as Tiryak Raktapitta. Per cutaneous bleeds are seen in multiple conditions and generally arise from drastic loss of blood platelets. In dengue also when platelets see a sharp decline red blue rashes are seen on the skin. Grapes, not only removes excess pitta from the blood but also help in bone marrow rejuvenation due to its natural properties and increases platelet count when used as a medicine. It is a useful herbal medicine in all types of Raktapitta. It could be recommended in early stages of Dengue/ Yellow fever to avoid further complications of the deadly viral fever. It is advisable to have 10 – 15 number of fresh ripened grapes especially black grapes three times a day to have medicinal effect of the same. It may generate lose stools which is normal and part of the treatment only. Grapes are also recommended to those suffering from Delirium, burning sensations and mal nutrition. Ayurveda says that soaked raisin is a very effective remedy for post alcohol toxicity and chronic alcoholism.

This article intends to spread awareness about medicinal use of indigenous herbs and common foods available around us. One should use these remedies as medicine only and avoid repetitive, continuous, and excessive use of the same substance because,

योगादपि विषं तीक्ष्णं उत्तमं भेषजं भवेत् !

भेषजं चापि दुर्युक्तं तीक्ष्णं संपद्यते विषं !! च. सू. १/ १२७

With a judicious planning deadly poison could be used as an effective medicine, while a misuse of a lifesaving drug results in a deadly poison.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Curd – Let this food be your Medicine

दध्युष्णं दीपनं स्निग्धं कषायानुरसं गुरु
पाके अम्लं ग्राहि पित्तास्रशोथमेदः कफ़प्रदम्
मूत्रकृच्छ्रे प्रतिश्याये शीतगे विषमज्वरे
अतीसारे अरुचौ कार्श्ये शस्यते बलशुक्रकृत
                                          भाव प्रकाश
Curd is prepared by fermentation of milk with bacterial cultures consisting of a mixture of Streptococcus subsp. thermophilus and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus (Ref. W. J. Lee & J. A. Lucey).
Due to its medicinal properties, curd or yogurt is widely used across the globe, and also becomes an essential part of the diet. Ayurveda, an opulent traditional culture through the time immortal evaluates everything through the scientific eye and establishes the principles of healthy living for generations to come. Indigenous pharmacopeia is very rich and references are found in form of Nighantu (Indian Materia Medica). Bhav Prakash Nighantu explains properties of the curd in detail and also throws light upon medicinal value of it. It is essential to understand that food remains an essential therapy in traditional medicine of India. Achrya Charak says, all the diseases are an outcome of poor absorption capacity of the system. Bringing out the properties of curd and its uses from the traditional books in view of facts and to remove the myths related to the consumption of the curd.
Properties of curd
It is hot in potency. Curd, due to fermentation process possesses hot potency. It is by virtue of change in chemical structure of the milk due to bacterial action. As it is evident that no chemical reaction can occur without the presence of heat, milk which is potentially cold by nature attains pitta property by virtue of the transformation of the chemical structure. Achrya Bhav Prakash says, curd helps in stimulating digestive fire. As per the basic principle of Ayurveda, sour taste is composed of fire and earth. The presence of fire in sour taste stimulates digestive fire, thus curd.
Curd is unctuous in nature and contains astringent sub taste. It is heavy to digest; having said that means that it should be consumed in small quantities in order to maintain a healthy digestive fire.
The final metabolic taste of the curd is sour (amla) as per Bhav Prakash which means it should have a tendency to increase Pitta due to high fire quotient. It has a tendency to create congestion and also binding in nature, this particular effect of the curd is seen in cases of diarrhea where in it helps to bind the stool. Due to its properties of being heavy and unctuous, curd tends to increase fat and may also result in water retention. This is why it is avoided in cases of diseases of kapha origin, specially obesity, cellulite and rheumatoid arthritis. Due to its hot potency and sour metabolic taste, curd tends to vitiate pitta and creates imbalance in blood metabolism resulting in certain skin diseases. Probably, that is the reason why Ayurvedic texts suggest avoiding curds in leukoderma and psoriasis kind of disorders of the skin.
It is specially recommended in Dysuria – a condition with painful micturition. One needs to understand that it specially refers to the condition associated with urinary tract infections or similar to that. In these conditions, ayurveda recommends a specific type of curd which is not fully formed and tasteless; it is called as Mandak (मन्दं दुग्धवत् अव्यक्त रसं). It is diuretic in nature and helps in cleansing of the bladder and urethra. It may result in epigastric burning if consumed in excess.
Curd is also recommended in common cold condition. In common cold after 3 days or so only curd should be advised. Due to its properties of increasing kapha, curd increases per nasal discharge, so once the cold is chronic and nasal discharge is scanty and creating congestion in the nostrils, curd consumption increases the discharge and works as a mucolytic agent. In these conditions completely formed curd having sweet taste should be prescribed.
As per Bhav Prakash, use of curd is beneficial in Visham Jwara (Pyrexia of unknown origin). It is equally beneficial in cases of aversion to food and indigestion. It works well in cases of altered bowel habits and also helps to maintain normal colonic flora being rich in probiotic bacteria. Ayurveda recommends it to those suffering from loss of weight and malnutrition. It induces strength and helps in spermatogenesis (production of sperms).
Rules of consumption
Ayurveda recommends that one should adhere to the rules of food consumption. It is essential to understand that due to complex chemical structures of certain consumables body requires optimum assimilation capacity.
न नक्तं दधि भुञ्जीत...
                                                      च. सू. ७/६१
As per Agnivesha in Charak Samhita one should never consume curd at night. Due to fermentation process curd by nature becomes very heavy to digest. It requires a good amount of metabolic activity in order to be digested thoroughly. Also, at the end of digestion curd increases Kapha and creates congestion in the channels which leads to poor lymphatic drainage. During the day when body is physically active it is easier to manage such congestion but at night when metabolic activity naturally slows down it may result in morning stiffness and water retention, thus leading to poor metabolic absorption (indigestion at cellular level). This is one another reason why curd has been contraindicated for people suffering with Rheumatoid arthritis or chronic indigestion. In order to maintain an optimum health one should never consume curd at night. Although, few other classical author believe that one can consume curd at night mixing it with other foods, but a critical analysis of the previous statement seems more appropriate and one should avoid consuming curd at night in all circumstances. It may generate generalized stiffness, weight gain, edema, puffiness of eyes, heaviness of the head etc.
Furthermore, permutations along with mode of consumption of curd with other foods have been mentioned by Ayurvedic texts as following.
When curd is consumed with ghee, it increases Kapha and pacifies Vata. It could be advised in cases where patient is having chronic cough with scanty mucous which is creating congestion. In such cases curd mixed with ghee would work as a mucolytic agent by virtue of increasing the quantity of Kapha helping in clearing the channels. But this combination may result in indigestion, so it should not be practiced continuously and used for curative values only.
Curd mixed with sugar is very effective in cases of gastritis. In people suffering with burning sensation of the stomach, sugar works as a catalyst to curd and generates cooling effect in curd thus relieving gastric burning. It is recommended to those suffering peptic ulcers and also effective in ulcerative colitis. Diabetic people should be careful using sugar and consume it with mint leaves (Pudina) instead, if required. Curd with sugar is also recommended to those suffering excessive thirst.
Curd, when it is consumed with green lentil clear soup (Mudga Yusha), pacifies vata and maintains pitta equilibrium. It can be used in Pain Abdomen associated with gaseous distention or bloating.
It becomes tastier to eat and produces minimum undue effects when consumed with Honey. And, when consumed with Indian Goose Berry (Amla), curd pacifies Pitta and relieves various skin problems generated by vitiated blood. It is a very good combination in those suffering skin sensitivities due to sun exposure like sun burn, rashes, boils and so on. Curd can also be consumed adding salt into it.
Winter (Hemant), Late winter (Shishir), and Monsoon/ Rainy (Varsha) are the best seasons to consume curd, while in Autumn (Sharad), Summer (Greeshma), and Spring (Vasant) either it should be consumed in moderation or completely avoided in order to maintain an optimum digestive fire.
Ayurvedic wisdom says,
अहाराचार चेष्टासु सुखार्थी प्रेत्य चेह च I परम् प्रयत्नमातिष्ठेद बुद्धिमान् हितसेवने I
                                                                                                   च. सू. ७/ ६०
The one, who seeks best in this life and salvation later, should constantly and continuously engage him/ herself in healthier practices of food and social conduct.


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