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  • Dhatus: An Introduction To Ayurveda's 7 Tissue Layers

    Dhatus: An Introduction To Ayurveda's 7 Tissue Layers

    The Ayurveda Experience July 31, 2023

    Rooted in the belief that our bodies are composed of interconnected systems, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of maintaining harmony between mind, body, and spirit. The human body starts with a cell. The cells form tissues, which further form organs, and these organs form systems that sustain and constitute the entire human body. This is what modern science has to say about our bodies. 

    But Ayurveda has a completely different approach towards the functioning of the human body. Ayurveda explains that the human body is controlled by three specific energies, which control all the tissues of our body. These controlling energies are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The tissues on which these energies work are known as dhatus. Let us unlock the secrets of the seven tissue layers or dhatus, rekindling the connection between our inner selves and the world that surrounds us. 

    The word dhatu is derived from the sanskrit word “Dhru,” which literally means holding together. Thus, dhatus can be understood as the constituent elements that hold the body together. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, a total of seven body tissues or dhatus form the different parts of the body.  

    It is essential to understand and know about these seven dhatus as they form the base on which the different doshas perform their action. All the dhatus perform different functions and are regulated by the different doshas1. Any imbalance in these dhatus can lead to an imbalance in the doshas, potentially leading to diseases and other problems. 

    What do we know about the seven dhatus? 

    The seven dhatus can be understood as the basic constituent elements that provide support and structure to our body. These are the seven kinds of tissue systems in our body: plasma (rasa), blood (rakta), muscle tissues (mamsa), fat tissues (meda), bone tissues (asthi), bone marrow (majja), and reproductive tissues (shukra). The nourishment we get from the food is passed into each of these dhatus, and they accumulate the nourishment/doshas derived from the food that enters our system1. The accumulation of the dosha from the food in our body is responsible for creating any balance or imbalance that manifests in the form of diseases.  

    Plasma (Rasa) 

    Rasa performs the function of preenana, i.e., nourishing all body tissues. Rasa dhatu is responsible for helping circulate nutrients, hormones, and proteins throughout the body. Rasa can be understood as the essence of the digested food absorbed into the body. It is the first dhatu that is directly derived from the food we consume and forms the foundation of all other dhatus. The rasa dhatu is supported by the water element. Bodily fluids like plasma, or the non-cellular portion of the blood; the lymph, and interstitial fluids are associated with it as well2. 

    The quality of rasa dhatu depends on the quality of food we eat and the strength of a digestive fire (agni). When the rasa dhatu is healthy, a person feels physically and psychologically satisfied. This physical and psychological satisfaction is the sense of health and well-being that every cell experiences when it gets proper nourishment and a sense of satisfaction when our basic needs are met.  

    As mentioned above, since the rasa dhatu is made up of water elements, therefore the rasa dhatu and the Kapha dosha are intrinsically related3. Vata or Pitta-dominant people typically have less rasa dhatu in their bodies and are more vulnerable to depletion. Pitta dosha naturally contains some water, thus individuals with a pitta nature typically have a little more rasa than those with a Vata nature. The amount of rasa dhatu is influenced by fluid consumption. 

    When the rasa dhatu is depleted, the qualities of Kapha and water get diminished, resulting in dry and rough skin, constipation, dry mucous membranes leading to poor immunity, poor fertility, lower secretion of breast milk, scanty menstrual flow, and a person becoming prone to infections. Depletion of rasa dhatu can also be associated with a growing sense of dissatisfaction. Ayurveda2 says that rasa dhatu brings out smooth and soft skin texture and is full of happiness with proper functioning of sensory organs. 

    Blood (Rakta)

    Rakta performs the fundamental function of jeevana, i.e., enlivening and revitalizing. It sustains human life by transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. The literal meaning of rakta can be traced to being colored, reddened, or vibrant. Rakta dhatu has agni as its primary element due to the influence of Pitta. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, rakta dhatu is constituted due to the metabolic refinement of the rasa dhatu and provides color, complexion, and strength to the body. The Pitta element is present in rakta dhatu, which gives it a red color and feeds energy and vigor to the body and mind. Rakta directly refers to blood, red blood cells, tendons, and bile in our physical body4. 

    The health of rakta dhatu plays a crucial role in managing the health of Pitta dosha. When the rakta dhatu is healthy, a person feels energized with a healthy passion for life. However, an imbalance may lead to health complications.  

    The deficiency of rakta dhatu in the body can lead to decreased body heat due to diminished Pitta. As a result, a person feels cold and constipated, the skin loses its luster, becomes pale or gray, and there is a reduction in the amount of urine and sweat, dullness, difficulty processing and understanding information, confusion, and misunderstandings. On the other hand, an excess of rakta can lead to skin diseases, inflammation, autoimmune conditions, increased frequency of bowel movements, urination, sweat, burning sensations, etc., due to increased heat in the body5. 

    Muscles (Mamsa)

    Mamsa is the tissue that acts as the primary cover of bone and the body's structure and translates to the flesh. It is formed from the rasa and rakta dhatu and performs the function of lepana, i.e., giving shape to organs, sticking to the bone, and aiding locomotive function. The mamsa dhatu refers directly and indirectly to the muscles, ligaments, and skin in our physical body6. However, it is essential to understand that mamsa dhatu is more than muscle; it provides strength, courage, and fortitude. 

    According to Ayurveda, this dhatu comprises of elements of the earth, and is influenced by Kapha dosha. Therefore, these doshas play a significant role in its development and maintenance. Muscle is formed from earth. Earth provides the substance from which the structure of muscle is made., and air helps initiate its motion. 

    However, imbalanced mamsa dhatu can manifest in the form of health complications.  

    Consumption and proper absorption of food containing adequate earth elements like grains, nuts, and legumes are necessary to have strong muscles. In addition to this, the mamsagni (the agni that transforms rakta dhatu into mamsa dhatu) should also be maintained. Mamsagni is affected by exercise. 

    Fat tissues (Medas)

    The primary function of meda is snehana, lubrication. The word meda is derived from a Sanskrit word that means oleation or applying oil. Medas is solid and firm, with water and earth as its dominant elements. Meda dhatu constitutes the finer part of the mamsa dhatu and is known as fatty tissue. It maintains lubrication between the various body organs, stores energy to support the body, and maintains the proper internal temperature. Since it comprises water and earth, meda has a nourishing nature due to the water element, and due to the earth element, it helps stabilize the functions of the mind and body. Medas is associated with our body's fat tissues and sebum (skin oil).5 

    To produce healthy meda dhatu, consumption and proper absorption of food containing adequate earth and water elements.  

    A healthy medas dhatu ensures soft skin, healthy hair, a deeper level of satisfaction, and calmness.7 However, when excess, it results in a closed mind, fat deposits in the abdomen and various body parts, slowing down the movements of the body, lethargy, and poor metabolic activity. An unhealthy amount of medas dhatu may pave the way to many ailments like obesity, fatty liver, and cardiac issues7. On the other hand, a deficiency of meda dhatu can potentially make the body excessively thin, and restricted joint movements5. 

    Bone (Asthi)

    The primary function of asthi dhatu is dharana, to hold the body straight. The asthi dhatu gives solid structure and stability to the body as it is the firmest and hardest dhatu. Asthi is the finer essence of the meda dhatu and is nourished by the food consumed. It is mainly associated with Vata and Kapha dosha, and therefore, it is supported by the earth and air elements. In addition to the bones, the teeth are also formed by asthi dhatu. 

    Excessive asthi dhatu results in abnormal growth of bones and teeth, very dense hair, calcification, etc. Whereas deficiency of asthi dhatu results in conditions like osteoporosis, joint pain, hair falling, hair breakage, cracked, or weakened nails, etc. Therefore, consumption and proper digestion of food containing adequate earth and air elements are necessary to have strong bones. Vitiation of different doshas has a different impact on asthi dhatu. For example, Vata vitiation leads to fragile bones that fracture easily. Pitta vitiation leads to bone infections and inflammation, and vitiation of Kapha leads to excessively thick, dense bones. Asthi dhatu8 is more than the structural tissues of the body. It allows people to stand up for themselves. 

    Bone Marrow (Majja)10 

    The primary function of majja is poorana, i.e., filling the bone cavities. Majja is associated with the nervous system, the brain, and the spinal cord. According to Ayurveda, majja is the finer essence of the asthi dhatu.9 Majja means marrow. However, the term has become synonymous with the nervous system.5 This can be attributed to the fact that the nervous system and the bone marrow are treated as homologous structures in Ayurveda. 

    The majja dhatu's primary function is to produce red and white blood cells. It also makes up the tissue that carries impulses in the nervous system and fills up the empty spaces inside the bones, brain cavity, spine, and nerve channels. In addition, the eye's sclera and sclerotic fluids are also formed from majja dhatu. 

    A healthy majja dhatu brings a sense of fullness and makes a person focused and compassionate. Vitiation of different doshas has a different impact on majja dhatu. The increase or decrease in quality and/or quantity of majja dhatu can lead to various abnormal conditions. 

    Reproductive tissues (Shukra)11 

    Shukra is the seventh and final dhatu in the dhatus formation cycle, and unlike other dhatus, shukra dhatu does not get digested and transformed into another dhatu. The primary function of the dhatu is gharbhotpadana, i.e., reproduction. The meaning of shukra can be traced back to the Sanskrit word "Shucha," which means pure. Shukra is produced from the most refined essence of the bone marrow and is responsible for life, vitality, and energy. Shukra universally applies to sperm or the entire makeup of semen.  

    The increase or decrease in the quality and/or quantity of shukra dhatu can lead to abnormal conditions. The decrease of shukra dhatu can potentially lead to debility, dryness of mouth, giddiness, impotency, pain in the penis and testes, delayed ejaculation, absence of ejaculation, etc.  


    1. 7th ed. Chaukhambha Orientalia, Varanasi; 2002. Dalhanacharya, Commentator. Sushruta Samhita, Sutra Sthana, Doshadhatumalakshayavriddhi Vigyaneeyam Adhyaya, 15/41; pp. 75–6.
    2. Archana Gupta and Dr. P. S. Byadgi, An Understanding of Rasa Dhatu as Described in Ayurveda in the Light of Modern Science, International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Phytopharmacological Research. ; 
    9. Gargi Pareek, Dr. Purushottam Das Sharma, Dr. Dinesh Kumar Sharma, Dr. Deepa, Asthi Dhatu. (2022) Ayurveda And Modern Perspective. World Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 8(4), 79 – 83

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