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  • Understanding Obesity From An Ayurvedic Perspective

    Understanding Obesity From An Ayurvedic Perspective

    The Ayurveda Experience January 07, 2024

    In today's world obesity has become one of the primary global health concerns affecting millions of individuals throughout the globe. WHO states since 1975, the rate of obesity has nearly tripled and since 2016, 650 million of the population has been obese.[1]

    It's alarming that obesity is affecting all age groups (adults, children, or adolescents). A person suffering from obesity because of several associated diseases has a lesser life expectancy and decreased quality of life.   

    But, have you also wondered if obesity is only a modern world disease and there was no history back?   

    Then you are mistaken. In Ayurveda, the ancient medical science, there is a mention of obesity as sthaulya. A disease condition caused due to the imbalance of tridoshas along with meda and mamsa dhatu.  

    Let's delve into and read about the Ayurveda view on obesity (sthaulya).  

    An overview of obesity 

    How obesity affects the body

    Obesity, a complex and multifactorial disease, has been affecting over a third of the world's population. It is a condition where excessive body fat accumulates in your body, leading to several adverse effects on health.  

    Obesity increases the chance of health concerns like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, hyperlipidemia, kidney-related health issues, hypertension, and much more, which in many ways directly hampers life.[2] 

    It is caused by an imbalance between consumed calories and expended calories due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Therefore, while treating obesity, the main emphasis is on burning calories through physical exercise, various diet plans, medications, and sometimes even surgery.  

    Ayurveda's perspective on obesity 

    Acharya Charaka, an Ayurveda scholar, defines sthaulya (obesity) as an accumulation of meda (fat/adipose tissues), and mamsa (flesh) leading to fat accumulation on the hips, abdomen, and breasts. 

    Sthaulya (obesity) develops primarily due to an imbalance of doshas in your body. Due to various ill dietary habits, a sedentary lifestyle, a carefree approach, eating only sweet and heavy food items and not being physically active, it becomes the nidana or cause for obesity. These causes ultimately lead to the aggravation of Tridosha, especially Kapha dosha and thus give rise to several other health issues. 

    Moreover, Acharya Charaka has kept sthaulya (obesity) under santarpan janya vyadhi (diseases caused due to overnutrition) become the reason for numerous health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and many more. 

    Causes of obesity 

    In Ayurveda, it is a must to eradicate the primary causative factor of any disease to seize its root and treat it completely. The same goes for obesity.

    For a better understanding, Ayurveda's scholars have divided causative factors into different categories.  

    Dietary causes: Also called as aharatmaka nidana 

    • Consumption of high fat and carbohydrate-rich diet  
    • Intake of sweet, oily, and heavy food items 
    • Poor digestion 
    • Overeating 
    • Eating heavy meals
    • Irregular eating habits 

    Lifestyle causes: Also called as viharatmaka nidana 

    • Sedentary lifestyle 
    • Lack of physical exercise  
    • Sleeping during day hours 
    • Sleeping on an over-comfortable bed 

    Genetic causes: Also termed as bijatmaka nidana

    • Hereditary - Family history of obesity   
    • Hypothyroidism  
    • Cushing syndrome  
    • Congenital leptin deficiency  
    • Prader willi syndrome  

    Psycholgical Causes: maansika nidana 

    • Stress  
    • Anxiety  
    • Sadness 
    • Depression  

    According to Charaka, an Ayurveda scholar, the above-mentioned causes the disbalance in Kapha dosha and meda dhatu. The aggravated meda dhatu obstructs the channels of the body. Due to obstruction of these channels, the Vata dosha present in the region gets irritated and increases the agni (digestive fire). This increase in agni leads to rapid digestion of food and increases the pseudo-hunger. Thus, people tend to eat more food and the cycle continues. In this way, it becomes a cycle inducing more deranged Kapha and meda dhatu in the body leading to sthaulya.

    According to Sushruta, another Ayurveda scholar, unhealthy lifestyles, improper diets, lack of exercise, and several other causes lead to the accumulation of ama (toxins). These toxins move in the whole body and obstruct the channels leading to sthaulya (obesity).

    After a deep understanding of the causes of sthaulya (obesity), let know the associated symptoms. 

    Associated symptoms of obesity 

    Obesity never comes as a single health issue but brings a cascade of health issues.

    Some of the common symptoms are: 

    • Breathlessness, even with less physical work - Extra fat especially around the neck, abdomen, and chest puts strain on the muscles and thus makes breathing difficult.
    • Low enthusiasm- When Kapha dosha and meda dhatu are imbalanced due to obesity, the body gets unusually heavy, drowsy, and unenthusiastic.
    • Profuse sweating- In Ayurveda, sweat is said to be the waste product of meda dhatu. Therefore, the aggravation of it in obesity eventually increases sweating.
    • Body aches - No physical movements, prolonged hours of sleeping, and overeating all lead to stiffness that gives rise to various strains and aches in the whole body.
    • Excessive sleep - As per Ayurveda, sound sleep requires Kapha and tama guna. However, when Kapha dosha is aggravated it results in excessive sleep which happens in obesity. 

    Treatment for obesity as per Ayurveda 

    The treatment of obesity in Ayurveda focuses on rebalancing the doshas, dhatus, metabolism and digestion. This treatment requires a multifaceted approach of medicine, dietary changes, lifestyle modifications and regular exercise or physical movements.  

    In the management of any disease, Ayurveda has two methods shamana (medicinal treatment) and shodhana (purification treatment). 

    Shamana treatment:This treatment includes various changes in ahar (the food you consume), vihar (the habits you follow) and Ayurvedic medicines to cure the condition. 

    It involves: 

    • Cutting off the causes (nidana parivarjana) – Includes saying no to oily, heavy, sweet and fat-rich diets. Doing regular exercise and being oriented about your health concerns. 
    • Langhana – Eating a light diet 
    • Ama pachana – Use of Ayurveda digestive medicine or herbal teas to enhance metabolism and digestion and to prevent the accumulation of toxins in the body. 
    • Physical exercise – Helps to enhance the metabolism and promotes better digestion and stability. 
    • Ayurvedic medicines – Different Ayurvedic medicines are mentioned in the Ayurveda text to help you in obesity management such as triphala, guggulu, etc., to fight against obesity. 

    Remember, it is always advisable to start taking any medication only under the guidance of a qualified Ayurveda practitioner to avoid any side effects and get full-fledged results. 

    Shodhana treatment – It includes purificatory procedures to detoxify the body, destroy the root cause of the disease, and abolish the chances of its recurrence. 

    It is believed that “doshas of any disease cured by Shodhana treatment have very low or negligible chances of their recurrence until the causes hit the body again”.  

    Panchkarma – A bio-purificatory procedure to restore your health in every way possible. For obesity, the Panchakarma procedures described in Ayurveda texts are the following: 

    • Vamana (Therapeutic emesis) - In this treatment, the aggravated doshas are expelled out of the body through the mouth. 
    • Virechana (Therapeutic purgation) - A treatment in which imbalanced doshas are expelled out of the body by an induced purgation via the anal route. 
    • Lekhana basti (Medicated enema)- A bio-purification treatment in which a medicinal enema is given to scrap out excess fat from the body.  
    • Ruksha udvartana – It includes massage with dry medicated powder to combat the effect of imbalanced meda dhatu and Kapha dosha on the body. 

    However, always remember the treatment plans may vary from person to person as per the requirements of their bodies. It is necessary to consult a qualified Ayurveda practitioner before switching any treatment to avoid complications and have a personalized treatment plan. 

    Diet & lifestyle tips to combat obesity 

    Ayurveda's take on obesity: Causes and treatment

    Ayurveda treats different individuals with different treatment approaches. As we all are different from each other in our ways, the same are our bodies and their constitution.  

    However, there are some general guidelines to stay away from obesity.  

    The guidelines are as follows: 

    • Eat a balanced diet 
    • Practice mindful eating 
    • Consume a diet that has a sense of fullness for a long period. Refer to the following article to know such food items in detail.[3]
    • Add natural ingredients like barley (yava), dry ginger (shunthi), giloy, triphala, honey, and amla into your daily routine in any way possible.
    • Make physical activities a part of your daily routine, for example, walking, jogging, swimming or yoga. 
    • Try to manage stress. It is one of the most common causes that lead to overeating. So, try to avoid and manage your stress via meditation, deep breathing or yoga. 
    • Always practice good sleep practice. 

    READ MORE: How Ashwagandha Can Help Treat PCOS? | Know Ayurveda's Take On Naps And Weight Gain

    Conclusion: 

    In a nutshell, sthaulya (obesity) is an unparalleled epidemic growing at high speed and not showing any sign of stopping anytime soon. It is a global health concern that requires demand and attention.  

    Here, Ayurveda can extend its helping hand. Ayurveda science offers a comprehensive and personalized approach to addressing the root causes of it and thus treating it accordingly. However, it is pivotal to understand that it is a lifestyle disorder so lifestyle changes are a must to fight against it.  

    Written By:

    Dr. Vaishali Atri, holding an MD in Panchakarma from Maharashtra University of Health Science and a BAMS from Ch. Brahm Prakash Ayurveda Charak Sansthan, possesses extensive knowledge and experience in Ayurveda medicine. 

    With over 5 years of experience, Dr. Vaishali draws upon her expertise in traditional medicine, purification therapies, and dietary plans to guide patients toward optimal physical and emotional health. She has performed various Ayurveda procedures and therapies, aiding in detoxification and rejuvenation.

    References: 

    1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
    2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-consequences/health-effects/%23:~:text=Weight%2520Problems%2520Take%2520a%2520Hefty%2520Toll%2520on%2520Body%2520and%2520Mind&text=Excess%2520weight%252C%2520especially%2520obesity%252C%2520diminishes,heart%2520disease%252C%2520and%2520some%2520cancers#gsc.tab=0
    3. http://ijapc.com/upload/Swanand%20Avinash%20Joshi_MNAPC-13-I3-28-P-110-115.pdf   

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