Hyperlipidemia is the elevation of lipids (fats) in the bloodstream. These lipids include cholesterol, cholesterol esters (compounds), phospholipids, and triglycerides. Does Ghee raise cholesterol? Read on to find out!
Hyperlipidemia or elevated lipids lead to atherosclerosis (blockage) of the heart’s vessels leading to vascular diseases. It may be associated with disorders such as diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, kidney failure or Cushing’s syndrome.
They may also be a result of the use of corticosteroid drugs. Hyperlipidemias are associated with the development of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease.
Why Is Ghee Significant In Ayurveda?
Ghee or ghrita is considered to be one of the mahasnehas. That means, it’s one of the four main types of oily substances described in Ayurveda.
Among the fatty substances or lubricants, ghrita is believed to be the best because of its efficiency in assimilating the properties of the ingredients added to it without compromising its own basic properties.1
In Ayurveda, the four main lubricants are ghrita (ghee), taila (oil), vasa (fat), and majja (marrow) as mentioned in Ayurvedic classics. Goghrita (ghee obtained from cow’s milk) and tila taila (sesame oil) are said to be best among all jangama (animal origin) and sthavara (plant origin) sneha respectively.
Murchana: The Processing Of Ghee
Murchana is the processing of ghee. It is a kind of samskara (procedure) strongly advocated as ‘aadousamurchayet sneham’ in the Ayurvedic text Bhaishajya Ratnavali. This means it is used as a procedure before the preparation of ghee or any oushadhi siddha, (medicated) taila, and ghrita.
This samskara(procedure) supposedly changes the organoleptic and physicochemical characters of ghee.
It is a common belief that the consumption of oil or ghee leads to hyperlipidemias.
To explore this scientifically, samples of amurchitaghrita (unprocessed ghee) and murchitaghrita (processed ghee) were subjected to an experimental study.
In this study, albino rats were administered with amurchita ghrita (unprocessed ghee) and murchitaghrita (processed ghee). The results showed that murchana samskara (processed ghee) helps in reducing total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and increases HDL (good cholesterol).
Therefore, this processing of ghee plays a major role in reducing the harmful effects of fats that are believed to be one of the main causes of atherosclerosis and other cardiac diseases.
Ghee can also be consumed after being infused with herbs like Triphala, Guduchi, Curcumin, cyperus rotundus (Musta) and other herbs.
Murchanasamskara (processing of ghee) attributes special properties to ghrita (ghee) by which monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are seen to be increased and trans fatty acids are decreased.2
Does Ghee Actually Raise Cholesterol?
In the classical text Charaka Samhita, the qualities of ghrita are described. Ghrita balances Pitta and Vata. It is conducive to rasa dhatu, shukra dhatu, and ojas. Grhita relieves burning sensation and brings softness. It gives clarity of voice and complexion.
Charaka clearly states the benefits of ghee consumption. Ghee “promotes memory, intelligence, agni, semen, ojas, Kapha and medas. It alleviates Vata, Pitta, poison, insanity, phthisis, inauspiciousness, and fever.”
It is the best of all fats. It is cold, has a madhura rasa, madhura vipaka, and 1000 potentialities. If used properly according to prescribed methods, it exerts 1000 types of actions.3
The Ayurvedic scholar Sushruta clearly mentions in his text Sushruta Samhita that ghrita is sweet, mild in action, soft, cold in potency, and “Anabhishyandi”. This means it does not increase moisture in the tissues and does not cause blockages in the body channels. Ghee promotes memory, intelligence, agni, semen, ojas, Kapha and medas.
Thus, it can be inferred that ghee does not cause any blockage or deposits in the blood vessels or other body channels.
He further mentions that ghee is lubricating. It relieves constipation and upward movement of apan vayu. It is helpful in the management of epilepsy, insanity, colic, fever, and abdominal distension.
It also mitigates Vata and Pitta aggravation. It kindles digestive fire (agni), enhances memory, wisdom, and intelligence. It improves the complexion and voice. It promotes softness of the body and improves vigor, vitality, strength, and life span.
Ghee is an aphrodisiac. It is good for vision and nourishes Kapha. It destroys germs and poisons.4
Charaka further elaborates on the properties and applications of ghee obtained from various types of animals. He states that ghee prepared from cow’s milk is the most superior form of ghee.
Sushruta writes, gou ghrita(ghee from cow’s milk) is sweet after digestion (madhura vipaka), mitigates Vata, Pitta, and effects of poison. It is best for vision, and bestows strength.
Ghee obtained from the milk of buffalos is heavy to digest. It is sweet in taste and cold in potency. It is beneficial for bleeding disorders. It mitigates Vata and Pitta aggravation but aggravates Kapha dosha.4
Ayurvedic scholar Vagbhata, in his treatise, mentions the four types of sneha dravyas. They are – sarpi (ghee/clarified butter), taila (oil), vasa (muscle fat), and majja (marrow). Ghee prepared from cow’s milk (goughrita) is considered to be superior
These are the main fats (lubricants). Ghee is the best of them all because of its ability to acquire the properties of the substances it’s blended with without losing its native properties.
Ghee is sweet in taste (rasa) and after digestion (vipaka). It does not cause burning sensation after digestion, and can be administered since birth.5
Vagbhata further mentions that ghrita, taila, vasa, and majja, in the reverse order, mitigate Pitta. In the succeeding order, mitigate the other two doshas. Ghee mitigates Pitta and tailaor oil mitigates Vata.
Taila (oil) is more heavy and difficult to digest than ghee (clarified butter). Vasa(muscle fat) is heavier than oil. Majja (marrow) is heaviest of them all and is very difficult to digest.6
Ghee In Indian Cuisine
Ghrita (ghee) has been a vital part of Indian cuisines for centuries.
Despite the commonly believed heart-health related warnings regarding ghee consumption in conventional medicine, most of the Indian population wholeheartedly (no pun intended) uses ghrita.
Adulterated Ghee and Ghee from Different Animals
Ghrita can be made from milk sourced from different animals. Ayurvedic classical texts describe eight kinds of ksira (milk) used to prepare ghrita.
The texts also mention how ghee prepared from cow’s milk (goughrita) is superior among the different kinds of ghee preparations.7
The texts mention how ghee made from ewe (adult female sheep) milk is said to be inferior to gou ghrita(ghee from cow’s milk) and bad for heart health. 8
The scholar Charaka has also said that avik kshira (ewe’s milk) is hot and aggravates hikka and shwas.9In today’s day and age, due to low production and high prices, the adulteration of ghrita is commonplace.
To deal with this problem of adulteration, the dairy industry is expanding its infrastructure for manufacturing products made from milk other than cow and buffalo. Ewe’s milk is one such alternative ingredient for preparing ghee.
However, note the fact that a large body of evidence is available in Ayurveda regarding the ahridya effect of avikaghrita (ghee made from ewe’s milk). Ahridya means, detrimental to the heart. This is mentioned in almost all the classical texts. So it is the need of the hour to evaluate avika ghrita scientifically.10
The Right Way To Use Ghee
As mentioned in the classical medical texts, the herbs used in ghrita murchana (processing) should have specific properties. They should be katu (pungent), tikta (bitter), kashaya (astringent) rasa (taste), laghu (light for digestion), ruksha (dry) guna (properties), kaphahara doshagnata, and lekhaniya (scraping) karma (action).
These guna and karma are attributed to the medohara properties (hypolipidemic activity) of murchitaghrita (processed ghee).2
This and the aforementioned analytical study serve as evidence to ‘aaduo murchayeta sneha’ as mentioned in the ancient Ayurvedic medical text Bhaishajya Ratnavali.
Another thing that should be kept in mind is where you live. Dietary habits are usually based on the climatic conditions and availability of such foods in your locality.
Thus, it is very important to take your environment and climatic conditions into account.
While it is good to include ghee in your diet, it should always be used in small quantities.
In the context of India, it is observed that the people living in northern, northwestern, and western parts of the country use ghee in large quantities compared to the eastern and northeastern parts.
This is because the northern, northwestern, and western part of India is comparatively drier. These regions fall under ‘jangam desh’ or ‘sadharan desh’, desert environments and mixed desert/marshy environments, mentioned in the Ayurvedic texts.
The eastern and northeastern parts of India fall under ‘anup desh’.This means these regions have ample water bodies and are “wetter” than the rest of the country.
The humidity is higher in these regions as compared to the western and northern parts of India. Thus, consuming ghee in large quantities in these regions may not be a good idea.
Use Small Quantities of Ghee
While it is good to include ghee in your diet, it should always be used in small quantities. Large quantities of ghee may not get properly digested leading to ama(metabolic waste) formation.
For nourishing effects, ghee should be taken in an appropriate quantity. The amount of ghee should be such that it does not overpower the flavor of the food you are taking.
Ghee obtained from cow’s milk (goughrita) is the best kind of ghee.
Ghee can also be consumed after being infused with herbs like Triphala, Guduchi, curcumin, cyperus rotundus (Musta), and other herbs. Consuming herb-infused ghee has shown to decrease one’s total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides. An increase in HDL was also observed in murchita ghrita (processed ghee) group.
For ghrita murchana samskara (processing of ghee), herbs like Haritaki (Terminalia chebula), Amalaki (Emblica offficinalis), Bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica), Haridra (Curcuma longa), Musta (Cyperus rotundus), and Matulunga (Citrus medica) are mentioned as well.
Consider the climatic conditions and environment before deciding to indulge in ghee or any other food.
If you have any pre-existing cardiac conditions or if you are at risk for heart disease, consult your primary healthcare provider and Ayurvedic practitioner before introducing ghee into your diet.
Dr. Shashirekha H.K, Dr. Bargale Sushant Sukumar Charaka Samhita, Vol 1, Sutra Sthana, Chaukhambha publication, New Delhi, pg 206,Verse 13