A renewed interest in ancient methods of healing has reemerged in recent years. Ayurveda—meaning “Science/Knowledge of Life”— is India’s unique take on traditional medicine system, dating back to the Vedic era. Ayurveda promotes achieving homeostasis in the body by treating it as a holistic, aggregate system. It achieves this by addressing mind, body, emotions, spirit and environment. The principles of Ayurvedic medicine comes from ancient texts, including Sushruta Samhit and Charaka Samhita, that describe physiology, body systems, body constitutions, surgical methods, herbs, herbal mixtures, and other key information that can be used to better health and well-being. By integrating all of these components, Ayurveda helps people sustain balance and ward against disease.
lthough modern biomedical research certainly has its strengths, it lacks the inclusiveness and breadth of ancient health strategies. Instead, its framework works solely with personalized, biological problems and solutions. This reductionism—a process of narrowing a complex subject into simpler, bare terms—is the biomedical world’s greatest weakness. It ignores huge aspects that impact health and well being by limiting its scope so drastically. However, there are benefits to the reductionist lens. In the case of biomedicine, it helps understand sophisticated cellular and molecular actors and how they contribute to disease and health. A technical understanding of genomes, metabolism, proteomes, tissues, molecules, and other small-scale workings of the body are tremendously valuable in treating people. The key is to take what is good about biomedical research and merge it with something that captures the dynamic, complex aspects of life.
This is where Ayurvedic medicine’s roots are beneficial. To promote health and well-being, it is vital to understand disease and pathology in regards to ecological homeostasis. From here, individual and environmental relations in equilibrium can be understood as the epitome of health, whereas disruptions in this delicate balance between individual and environment can be seen as vulnerabilities in health.
This broadened medical paradigm provides more answers and more strategies for solving problems and creating better lives. A biomedical way to understanding the benefits of Ayurvedic medicine is through epigenetics.
Epigenetics is a branch of biology that studies change in organisms; these changes are the result of modified gene expressions instead of an altered genetic code itself. In other words, it monitors the impacts of environment over time and even across generations. Because of the connections between epigenetics and Ayurvedic systems, the effects of Ayurvedic herbs and lifestyle recommendations can be examined through epigenetic processes.
The Biomedical Perspective: Epigenetics and Phenotype
As described above, epigenetics seeks to understand the changeable interactions between environment and gene expression. It does this by honing in on the chromosomal level and reading which part of DNA reads or transcribes to produce proteins via translation. This external adjustment of DNA is what people mean when they talk about genes being either “on” or “off.” The fundamental DNA sequences is unchanged, but its expression is.
The main actors in this process are methylation, a cytosine nucleotide modifier, and histones, a type of protein. Histones compact the genome (DNA) into the nucleoprotein called chromatin. In this process, DNA becomes accessible to the many processes it needs to perform for the aggregate being to survive. The range of these basic but fundamental processes include: replication, transcription, repair, recombination, and interaction. These regulatory functions require unobstructed access to DNA, in turn modifying how the DNA is expressed.
In simplest terms, this translation of DNA is what allows a single cell to transition into a multicellular, independently functioning organism. These DNA patterns are what is transmitted from parent to child in the creation of life. Moreover, this cycle continues throughout every stage of life.
DNA’s expression is altered to heal, adapt, and function. It is the body’s way of improvising in the face of change. Clearly, this epigenetic process is absolutely crucial in creating and sustaining life. However, in some circumstances, methylation and histones can falsely suppress the wrong genes. For example, in some cases—such as with cancer patients—these chromosomal actors have been known to wrongly let tumor suppressor genes operate in the body. This maladjustment can be devastating.
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Factors that Affect Phenotype
According to epigenetic research, a variety of factors can tweak gene expression. These include: diet, obesity, physical activity, tobacco, alcohol, environmental pollution, psychosocial stress, and working nights. These disruptions have an influence on methylation, histone, and microRNA in ways that have been associated with a variety of dangerous health conditions. Cancer, neurodegenerative disease, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, and other disease have been identified. Fluctuations in genal expression are not limited to what some does to their body or the lives they chose to live. Factors as uncontrollable as season have been shown to cause differential genal expression, altering immunity and physiology most notably. Although this area of research is yet to be fully explored, some preliminary research suggests that these temporary shifts in gene expression can be transmitted onto future generations leading to pathological complications.
Phenotype + Ayurvedic Teachings
Although the connection between Ayurveda and epigenetics is probably apparent already, take a closer look at Ayurvedic tradition. It is created by five basic elements, or Mahabhutas. Each of these has a property: space (Akasha), air (Vayu), fire (Tejas), water (Jala), and earth (Prithivi). These combine and reduce into three energies called Doshas. These Doshas are principles of body and mind that control aspects of the human body.
The first Dosha is Vata, composed of light and air. It heads up movement and communications. Functions in this domain include circulation, heart function, repiration, digestion, and cell/nerve impulses. The second Dosha is Pitta, composed of fire and water. It controls digestion, metabolism, and transformation. Transformation entails energy exchange, appetite, and endocrine functions. The third and final Dosha is Kapha, water and earth. It is the heaviest of the three Doshas. It shapes structure and cohesion. This realm includes strength, stability, balance, and weight. Learn more about the ayurvedic body types here.
Each individual has their own balance of ratios with regards to the three Doshas. These are said to be connected to the person’s phenotype and physiological constitution. According to Ayurveda, there are four factors that influence phenotype: Lifestyle and behavior; digestion, diet, and nutrition; stress; and, environment.
Dosha balance is a complex, shifting thing. All phenotype influencers (see below) should be considered in balancing out the three Dosha. However, consider boosting the harmony with herbal remedies to jumpstart the process. Nariveda’s Guruji’s Grace has many bodily benefits that support tri-Dosha healing.
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The first Dosha is Vata, composed of light and air. It heads up movement and communications. Functions in this domain include circulation, heart function, repiration, digestion, and cell/nerve impulses. The second Dosha is Pitta, composed of fire and water. It controls digestion, metabolism, and transformation.
Transformation entails energy exchange, appetite, and endocrine functions. The third and final Dosha is Kapha, water and earth. It is the heaviest of the three Doshas. It shapes structure and cohesion. This realm includes strength, stability, balance, and weight. Each individual has their own balance of ratios with regards to the three Doshas.These are said to be connected to the person’s phenotype and physiological constitution. According to Ayurveda, there are four factors that influence phenotype: Lifestyle and behavior; digestion, diet, and nutrition; stress; and, environment.
Dosha balance is a complex, shifting thing. All phenotype influencers (see below) should be considered in balancing out the three Dosha. However, consider boosting the harmony with herbal remedies to jumpstart the process. Each and every Nariveda Elixir support tri-dosha healing and balance.
01. Phenotype Influences: Lifestyle + Behavior
Ayurvedic insights span every stage of life: prenatal, postnatal, infancy, childhood, puberty, and every bodily change thereafter. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine recommends certain habits be followed at each of these life stages. For example, it includes seasonal routines, such as bed times, wake up times, meal times, exercise times, study times, and meditation times among others. This regimentation extends to how one should behave. Relations between people of different ages and status levels and circumstances are all detailed. In general, these behavioral guidelines promote maximizing love and compassion, while avoiding negative emotions and actions, such as anger, violence, and mean speech. Ayurvedic tradition suggests that the youth should be guided and elders should be respected. Altogether, these behaviors and lifestyle choices shape health through the neuropeptides. When one experiences a negative emotion, neurochemicals are released that stain the body, damaging organs, and slowing down vital functions in the body. On the other hand, positive emotions release feel-good neurochemicals that promote health and well-being in the mind and body.
Ayurvedic tradition details that food is essential to health. Heating and cooling is a vital component in this. Agni or fire is a digestive force that allows consumed food to assimilate to the body and its tissues properly. When fire force is weak, foods are not digested properly.
This leads to an accumulation of Ama. According to Ayurvedic thought, Ama refers to the toxic byproduct of incomplete digestion and environmental toxins; it gathers in cellular spaces and imbalances homeostasis of energy flow.
At its worst and most severe manifestation, this creates autoimmune insufficiencies such as inflammation, artery issues such as atheroma, hypercholesterolemia, joint issues such as pain and swelling, and difficulties absorbing and processing nutrients.
To avoid the swelling on Ama in the body, Ayurveda has guidelines for digestion and food. The taste of food, qualities of food, geographic location all play an important role, as does factors related to the individual, such as time of day, season, and age. These factors each impact the balance of the three Doshas in ways that can either derail or promote health. For those new to understanding these complex relationships, consult with Ayurvedic specialists and text.
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03. Phenotype Influences: Stress
Of course, major stressful life events are unavoidable and impact the psyche and in turn body in detrimental ways. However, consider smaller sources of stress, too. Small conflicts and disputes halt progress and attack the body. Fortunately, Ayurvedic tradition offers plenty of strategies to mitigate stressors. Having a proper knowledge of life and following through with such recommended habits is of upmost important. Yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, massage, herbs, and psychotherapy are other strategies to incorporate into a healthy life.
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04. Phenotype Influences: Environment
Near environments are the physical spaces where an individual lives and works. Ayurveda guides followers in terms of which places to live, which architectural structures to look for in homes, what types of work buildings are ideal, among other factors. These elements work to avoid contact with toxicity and maximize benefits to one’s overall, holistic well-being.
Far environments are environmental conditions far outside of an individual’s control, primarily cosmic bodies. The planets, moons, and stars are the most notable ones to consider. These bodies touch the individual in certain ways, thus affecting physiology. Understanding far environments can help identify natural strengths and weaknesses that may need to be accommodated for in the Dosha balance.
Ways to Mitigate Damage: Ayurvedic Pharmacopeia and Meditation
The Ayurvedic texts offer vast insight into how to use plants and herbs to health and sustain health. On a biological level, these botanicals have features such as flavonoids, terpenes, and polyphenols that may help in the alteration and realignment of epigenetic errs. Though the preliminary research is promising, more research is needed to verify and detail the epigenetic value of Ayurvedic herbs. Palatable herbal options include Nariveda’s line of elixirs. They are ideal for people without the know-how to craft their own herbal remedies.
Like herbal remedies, meditation is one of the primary ways Ayurvedic health care suggests people promote physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. It suggests that the deep, pure consciousness triggers the inner, working consciousness, which then triggers the physical body. This feedback loop occurs in meditation. In meditation, one consciously connects to the deep inner self and transcends those layers of consciousness. Inner peace, creativity, and bliss replace stress, thus elevating overall health.
In some ways, this mirrors the epigenetic feedback loop with the cells of the body. The “DNA” of the consciousness is stable, but how it is expressed can be altered and realigned through mediation and similar forces, much like how chromosomal structures are shaped by the environment and other facts that then shape how DNA is expressed.
The Philosophical Backbone
Vedic science states that the human being has two parts: the never-changing and ever-changing. Much of what is discussed in this article is part of the ever-changing. The physical self, inner faculty, working consciousness, and other features are in flux. These are the aspects most responsive to Ayurvedic medicine and the elixirs from Nariveda. The parts of a person that are more durable rather than changeable include the pure consciousness. The Absolute—translated from “Sat-Chit-Anand” translating to “Pure Existence-Pure Consciousness-Bliss”—is the sources of knowledge, intelligence, creativity, and all rules that govern existence.
The Absolute refers to overall order and intelligence of nature. However, there is also a Relative aspect, an aspect that related to the everchanging, called Prakriti. This is about impulse, initiative, and expression. This language should sound familiar when reflecting on earlier conversations about epigenetics. Gene expression leads to a material existence, to Prakriti. DNA is silent possibility and law, like the Absolute, the source of creation. Via external signals or tissue microenvironment, the cells modify their external self, their Prakriti, their material existence.
Consider conception as an application of these concepts. Every living being begins as a single cell. In the case of humans, a fertilized embryo is composed of two cells joining together from a male and from a female respectively. These two cells alone do not constitute reproduction. The fusion of these two cells does. This is reminiscent of the Absolute. It is silent, invisible, all encompassing; Prakriti is needed to initiate the existence in material form via cell expression. In this extended metaphor, DNA is like the Absolute, which is the source of all, but it does not to anything to act or create. It just is. In ancient Indian Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, there is a saying that translated to “Man is a miniature universe.” In man, the workings of the universe—both Absolute and Prakriti—are demonstrated and in constant effect.
Samhita, meaning put together or joined, is part of this consciousness. From this underlying force, Verdic texts describe different aspects of existence, awareness, and material creation. These are Rishi, referring to the knower; Devata, referring to the process of knowing; and, Chhandas, referring to the known. This, too, has parallels to epigenetic schools of thought regarding DNA expression. DNA is the totality of genetic sequence information, which resembles Ayurvedic Samhita or unity. MRNA is the conveyor of information like Rishi the knower. TRNA is concerned with translation and actual action in the expression, as Devata is the activity force. Finally, amino acids and other protein components relate to Chhandas, the known, final product.
All of this means that the genetic code of DNA is relatively unchanging, unless in severe circumstance. Similarly, the Absolute is relatively constant. However, the dynamic, adaptable elements of phenotype is always in a state of change and relativity. This conversation between parts is a feedback loop that function to either maintain or disrupt bodily homeostasis by overcharging or shutting off different genes. This methylation and histones response is what makes these modifications based on environmental cues detailed throughout this article. So, two epigenetic parts, genes and phenotypes, represent two primary concepts in Vedic text, Absolute and Relative.
The Intertwined and Mirrored Loops of Epigenetics and Ayurveda
In summation, homeostatic factors combine to create a map of one’s life. Interfering with this balance will cause detriment to health and well-being, similar to how epigenetic expression is altered when disrupted by incongruent external factors. In this way, Ayurvedic medicine and epigenetic medicine are interrelated. Vedic text recognizes both genetic and phenotypic components in its comprehensive, holistic, personalized approach to health and wellness.