Ayurvedic Approach to Endocrine Disorders
Endocrine system is the network of the glands which secrete hormones that regulate physiological regulation and behavioral activities like digestion, metabolism, respiration, tissue function, sensory perception, sleep, excretion, lactation, stress, growth and development, movement, reproduction and mood. For simplicity, endocrine hormones can be divided in three main categories based on their basic functions:
- Hormones for development and growth such as Growth Hormone, Thyroid Hormone which regulate metabolism and bodily functions
- Sex hormones such as Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone, FSH, LH
- Stress Hormones such as Adrenaline, Cortisol which in turn affect insulin and metabolism
- Endocrine gland hyposecretion (leading to hormone deficiency)
- Endocrine gland hypersecretion (leading to hormone excess)
- Tumors of endocrine glands( benign or malignant)
Common endocrine disorders are Hyper/hypothyroidism, Type1 & 2 Diabetes, Adrenal disorders, Pituitary disorders, Polycystic ovarian disease in females and testosterone abnormality in males etc.
What Are The Causative factors?
Endocrine disorders have several potential causes, such as tumors, genetic factors or hormonal imbalance. The inability of the specific glands to produce the hormones is one of the most common cause. Along with genetic factors, a person’s lifestyle, diet and stress levels also have direct effect on endocrine system and hormonal levels.
What are the Clinical Manifestations:
Men and women show many similar symptoms but some clinical manifestations are gender specific. The most common symptoms in men include fatigue, low sex drive, weight gain or muscle loss, loss of bone mass, mood swings, difficulty in concentration, high blood sugar and high cholesterol. In women, common symptoms based on the affected organs are irregular menstrual cycle, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, low sex drive, infertility, bloating and mood swings. The symptoms can appear at any age and manifest the features depending on body’s developing stage, commencing from puberty through stages of pregnancy, post childbirth and menopause.
How does Ayurveda Approach the Endocrine System Disorders? :
Ayurveda’s comprehensive understanding of endocrinology applies a natural and holistic approach that may significantly help prevent and reduce hormonal challenges. There is no direct reference to ‘hormones’ in Ayurveda texts. Instead its foundation is a ‘tri-dosha’ theory which views individual’s constitution as a mixture of ‘vata’, ‘pitta’ and ‘kapha’, which are three distinct combinations of the universal five elements of wind, space, fire, water and earth. A person’s unique combination of these diseases and the effects of lifestyle and dietary choices are considered as the causative factors behind a specific disorder and are also taken into consideration while planning a personalized care programme. Toxins, pesticides, changes in diet and unprocessed emotions may block energy flow and affect the secretion of hormones from endocrine glands. Since Ayurveda is a science of body, mind and consciousness, it is not enough to merely focus on just physical symptoms and imbalances. The person’s mind and consciousness also play a major role, especially in endocrinology. Hence, the Ayurveda perspective is also to explore and offer support for the healing of stuck emotions which directly and deeply impact the person’s health, detoxify the body and normalize the metabolism.
Panchakarma is the first line of treatment which reboots the deranged metabolism and cleanses the body channels for smooth flow of the dosha. Panchakarma is an ancient Indian healing modality involving the successive application of oils to the entire body for the purpose of penetrating the skin and removing fat soluble toxins at the cellular levels, followed by full body detoxification with carefully selected therapy by the expert Ayurveda physician, including Vamana (vomiting),Virechana(purgation) and/or Vasti (Medicated enema). The treatment is done over a period of seven to twenty-one days, depending on the severity of the imbalance and how chronic it is!
Shirodhara, which is also a part of panchakarma, is an ancient traditional therapy whereby warm oil is poured on the forehead area known as ‘third eye’, which is associated with Pituitary gland and Pineal gland. Apart from inducing a deep relaxation, the oil stream on third eye facilitates a channel opening, which may stimulate the release of serotonin and melatonin. When done under a supervision of an Ayurveda expert, shirodhara is a very effective healing tool.
Once metabolism has been restored to near its original state with the help of Panchakarma detox cleansing, specific treatment for the specific organ-related disorder can be undertaken. After cleansing of the body, medicines will be absorbed well and assimilated and will work more effectively. Herbal medicines like Guggulu preparations work well on overgrowth of glands while herbs like Shatavari, Asoka, Aloe vera, Vidarikanda, etc work on balancing the hormones.
Yoga is one more important aspect in treatment therapy for endocrinology. Many modern studies have found this ancient practice to be a natural regulating agent to the endocrine system. By twisting and bending the body and holding different positions or placing continuous pressure on specific areas, the glands may be stimulated which may help to regulate their functions. For example, Sirsasana (headstand), Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose), Supta baddha konasana (reclined bound angle pose) and Supta Virasana (reclined hero’s pose) are poses that may be beneficial in maintaining the proper functioning of the gonads or sexual glands’ hormone secretions. Sarvangasana followed by Matsyendrasana (Fish pose), is found to be effectively working on functioning of thyroid and parathyroid glands as by contracting and opening of neck muscles, it puts pressure of the chin on the chest area which stimulates the circulation around the area of these glands. Pranayama is a popular practice for reducing stress and improving mental health and well being. Its effects are mediated largely by the endocrine system, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis and the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, and energy homeostasis.
Thus, with a complete integrative and holistic approach, Ayurveda not only works on healing the body but also aims to achieve the normal functioning of the endometrial system.