Rasayana herbs & lifestyle for anti-ageing & longevity
Ayurvedic pharmacology classifies medicinal plants into different groups according to their actions. One of these is the ‘Rasayana’ group. The word ‘Rasayana’ literally means the path that ‘Rasa’ takes (‘Rasa’ is plasma; Ayana is path). It means obtaining the best or optimum quality of tissues (see my blog post for detailed explanation of the bodily tissues).
In Ayurveda, the quality of the Rasa Dhatu (tissue) influences the health of the other six Dhatus (tissues) of the body. Therefore any herb that improves the quality of ‘Rasa’ should strengthen or promote the health of all tissues of the body.
Rasayana is one of the most important aspects of disease prevention and health promotion in Ayurveda. On a cellular level, our bodies become damaged from stress, and wear and tear as we age, leading to different physical and mental ailments, and deterioration in functional capacity. In line with modern medicine, Ayurveda believes that free radicals are responsible for almost every disease, aging and even death.
Rasayana therapy enhances the quality and volume of the tissues and encourages growth of new cells i.e. regenerative, anti-aging function. Rasayana herbs prevent recurrent infections (immunomodulatory) by activating macrophages for enhanced stimulation of phagocytosis and proliferation of lymphocytes leading to better production of T-helper and natural killer cells. Thereby aiding in enhancing the immune response against infections.
Rasayana herbs also increase physical strength improve memory, increases skin luster, complexion and voice, help with optimum development of the physique and sense organs, help gain mastery over phonetics, and increases intelligence. When taken strictly for a particular period, they can help to stop the effects of free radicals, preventing aging, increasing longevity, youthfulness and improving the quality of life and lifespan.
Sushruta, a renowned Ayurvedic Physician observed that the best results are gained with Rasayana therapy after a person has cleansed the with proper purification methods (Panchakarma). According to the Charaka Samhita, one of the ancient texts of Ayurveda, if Panchakarma is not carried out to treat a disease, the rejuvenation therapy may not be effective.
Panchakarma, which literarily means the five cleansing methods include: Vamana (stomach cleanse), Virechana (small intestine cleanse), Vasti (large intestine cleanse), Nasya (nasal cleanse with medicated oils) and Rakta moksha (blood purification through for example blood donation to get rid of stale blood so new fresh blood can be formed).
The most common and effective Rasayana herbs are:
Amlaki is probably the single most often mentioned herb in the Charaka Samhita (ancient Ayurvedic texts). It is reputed to be a powerful rejuvenating herb and is used in many Ayurvedic rejuvenation formulas, the most famous of which is Chyavanprash. Amalaki is particularly useful for pitta constitutions, as it has a cold potency, but it will not aggravate the other doshas. The fruit is reputed to have the highest content of vitamin C of any natural occurring substance in nature. It promotes Ojas (immunity) and the reproductive fluids, and is useful in the treatment of ulcers and hyperacidity.
Modern scientific research has found many different uses for the fruit, the part mostly used in Ayurveda. For example, it was discovered that when Amalaki is taken regularly as a dietary supplement, it counteracts the toxic effects of prolonged exposure to environmental heavy metals, such as lead, aluminum, and nickel. These metals are prevalent in the environment of industrialized countries. In various studies the pro-oxidant or oxygen radical scavenger qualities of Amalaki suggest that it is also very effective in lowering the risk of many cancers.
Other studies indicate that it is much more effective than vitamin C alone in reducing chromosomal abnormalities. Amla juice has twenty times more vitamin C than orange juice and natural tannins prevent oxidation of the vitamin content in a dry condition - in other words, it is heat stable. Studies indicate that the naturally occurring vitamin C is easier for the body to absorb than synthetic vitamin C. Other studies indicate that naturally occurring vitamin C may be ten times more beneficial to the body than synthetic vitamins. The vitamin C content of Amla is about 400 mg to 800mg per 100 grams!
Other studies show that Amla increases red blood cell count and hemoglobin percentages, and patients started their anabolic phase faster (metabolic processes involved in protein synthesis). Amla reduces unwanted fat because it increases total protein level. This is due to its ability to create a positive nitrogen balance and it also significantly reduces the levels of free fatty-acids. In addition, Amla, in a raw or natural form, reduces cholesterol and reduces cholesterol-induced atherosclerosis (obstruction of the arteries), making it a useful natural product to fight obesity. One study shows that it prevented atheroma (degeneration of the artery walls due to fat and scar tissue).
Therefore, Amla is good for almost everyone on a regular basis and it is safe to consume on a long-term basis. The only alternative that could possibly be better than Amla for a daily herbal supplement is the Triphala formula, of which Amla constitutes one third.
Haritaki is called the “king of medicines” in Tibet and is always listed first in the Ayurvedic materia medica because of its extraordinary powers of healing. In Ayurveda it is considered to destroy all diseases and eliminate all waste from the body. At the same time, it is known to promote tissue growth and health. Many Ayurvedic formulas have some amount of haritaki in them or are processed in it because of its high regard in Ayurvedic pharmacology.
Terminalia chebula belongs to the family of Combretaceae. In Ayurveda, this family of herbs is used in fevers, cough, asthma, urinary diseases, piles and worms. It is also useful in chronic diarrhea, flatulence, vomiting, colic and enlarged spleen and liver. Triphala, which is a combination of terminalia chebula with terminalia belerica and phyllanthus emblica, is widely used in Ayurveda for numerous ailments.
Three grams of ‘Haritaki’ can be used on an empty stomach in the morning for body strengthening and anti-aging, i.e. as a Rasayana. Studies have shown that Terminalia chebula is a stronger antioxidant than alpha-tocopherol and it exhibited antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities.
Haritaki is used to treat digestive diseases, urinary diseases, diabetes, skin diseases, parasitic infections, heart diseases, irregular fevers, flatulence, constipation, ulcers, vomiting, colic pain and hemorrhoids. If taken after meals it prevents imbalance of any of the humors due to bad food or drink.
Modern science has found that Haritaki has a strong effect against the herpes simplex virus (HSV), has antibacterial activity, and exhibits strong cardiotonic properties. Haritaki also has antioxidant components, which indicates that it can increase the life of tissues. Yet another study shows the anti-tumor activity of Haritaki.
Thus, Haritaki can be seen to be a valuable addition to anyone’s herbal collection. With its rejuvenating and cleansing properties, Haritaki is excellent for the digestive system. As a preventative supplement it has great anti-viral attributes. It also is effective for alleviating constipation, and is helpful for vata dosha because it works directly on the apana prana that lives in the colon. Taken in the Triphala formula it is a well-balanced digestive and rejuvenating aid.
The most bioactive compound in Withania Somnifera (WA) is Withaferin A. This Ayurvedic medicinal plant has been in use for more than 2500 years. Ashwangandha is one of the main herbs for promoting ojas (immunity) and rejuvenating the body. It has been thoroughly researched and its effectiveness has been proven as an anti-inflammatory, nerve tonic and a cardioactive. It is a well-known semen promoter and it treats impotency and infertility.
Ashwaganda is especially good for lowering Vata. Although considered to be the primary tonic for men, it can be safely used by women for up to one year in cases of general debility, pregnancy, and high Vata.
Another recent study described it as an anti-inflammatory, pro-apoptotic (develops and maintains the health of the body by eliminating old cells, unnecessary cells, and unhealthy cells), but also anti-invasive and anti-angiogenic (destroys or interferes with the fine network of blood vessels needed by tumours to grow and metastasize). The same study suggests WA as a potential drug candidate for the treatment of different types of cancer. Its therapeutic and chemopreventive effects have been proven on rodent animals and most importantly WA only induces minimal toxicity to normal tissues.
In Ayurveda, extracts from WA are also typically used for the treatment of arthritis and menstrual disorders. It is also used as an aphrodisiac, sedative, anti-rheumatism, for the treatment of constipation, as a free radical and anti-stress adaptogen.
In 2011, US researchers took the compound Withaferin A (WA) from the
medicinal plant Withania somnifera. They found that Withaferin A stopped the growth of some types of breast cancer cells in test tubes. It also stopped the growth of breast cancer in mice. Several other studies support these findings.
Tinospora cordifolia belongs to the family Menispermaceae, and its Ayurvedic name is Guduchi. Its watery extract, known as Indian quinine, is very effective in fevers due to cold or indigestion; the plant is commonly used in rheumatism, urinary diseases, dyspepsia, general debility, syphilis, skin diseases, bronchitis, spermatorrhea, and impotence. It is also a nutrient with strong free radical scavenging properties. It is one of the best herbs for healing and rejuvenating in Ayurveda. Guduchi is an excellent herb to take as an immune booster and general tonic.
Modern research shows it to be a strong immunostimulant with very good anti-cytotoxic (drugs used in treating cancer) effects. The use of Guduchi helps to reduce effects of these toxic cancer-fighting drugs, and with its immune-promoting qualities, could even prevent cancer. Other studies show its ability to lower blood sugar in diabetic animals. Another study shows it to be effective in reducing rheumatic complications.
Guduchi’s anti-oxidant properties also contribute to its usefulness in protecting drug-mediated, age-mediated, stress-mediated damage to various organs such as liver, heart, kidney, brain, etc. Studies have also shown that this plant does not inhibit liver enzymes required for biotransformation of different drugs thus it can be used without any side-effects as a complementary agent with chemotherapeutic agents.
Asparagus racemosus also known as Shatavari is a tall climber shrub found all over India. Almost all parts of the plant are used in Ayurvedic medicine for treating different ailments. Shatavari is considered to be the best general tonic for women in Ayurveda. It has a slow, even action and can be safely used throughout a woman’s life. Ayurveda uses Shatavari for heat-related diseases as it has proven to be an effective remedy for peptic ulcers and hyperacidity for hundreds of years.
It is useful for men who have high pitta. It is also known to be a very good general tonic for both men and women, as it promotes growth and increases the humor of cohesion in the body-kapha. Tests show that it is an excellent aphrodisiac for men when mixed with Ashwaganda: it promotes size, strength and stiffness of the penis. It is included in numerous aphrodisiac formulas in the Charaka Samhita for both men and women.
Shatavari contains hormones called phytoestrogens that normalize estrogen levels in women. These hormones play an important role in preserving a woman’s long-term health, preventing breast cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. Recently studies indicate that naturally occurring phytoestrogens may prove safer for women because there is no increase in the risk of uterine cancer, as it possible with synthetic hormones.
The naturally occurring hormones are at a very low level making it a safe hormonal supplement for all women throughout their lives. It is especially effective before, during, and after menopause. For nursing mothers and mothers recovering from childbirth, Shatavari is close to a necessity to rejuvenate the mother’s health and to promote a strong flow of milk for the child. Other studies show that Shatavari has strong anti-cancer inhibitory effect in breast cancer. As such Shatavari is an excellent daily supplement for all women (unless they are obese or have very high Kapha).
Shatavari shows itself effective in killing the candida bacteria and other digestive bacteria that can cause gas, bloating, and colic pain. Another study shows that Shatavari is excellent in treating general indigestion. It has also been shown to prevent abdominal adhesions that result after surgery (showing its cohesive ability), and it has the capacity to reduce the effects of toxic cancer drugs (cytotoxic). These drugs used to fight cancer, often leave a patient weak, sick, and toxic after treatment. Shatavari is an immunostimulant and exhibits the ability to eliminate these toxins from the body and to relieve the effects caused by any such drugs.
When taking Ayurvedic herbs, it is important to use high quality herbal extracts from a reputable manufacturer that have been tested for heavy metals. Unfortunately some cheap Ayurvedic formulas you find online may not be ideal for consumption. Beware of this!
Rasayana karma (action of using rasayana) not only involves taking herbs, but it needs to be combined with the correct diet, thoughts, behavior (Achaarya Rasayana), and yoga.
Achaarya Rasayana is an important non- material type, which can have a substantial positive effect on revitalizing the body, mind and spirit. There is a direct correlation between positive thinking and optimum health. The following behaviors are considered to promote Achaarya rasayana:
Truthfulness, taking into consideration that your truth should never hurt others. Whenever a person lies there is a surge of hormones like adrenaline, growth hormones and thyroxin to support the fabrication of the imaginary stories being told. This causes a lot of stress on the body in the long run and takes its toll leading to a faster heart rate, faster respiration, fewer secretions in digestive canal, poor digestion and poor nourishment.
Abstaining from violence, anger and stress. In Ayurveda, anger and stress can cause weight gain/loss, low immunity, infections, Diabetes, high blood pressure, slow metabolism, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, impotence, erectile dysfunction, irregular menstrual cycles, accidents, and lack of concentration.
Avoiding excess sexual involvement.
Abstaining from addictions.
Being open-minded and social.
Meditating, performing yoga asana and pranayama.
Eating moderately and according to Dosha type.
Getting adequate sleep and going to bed between 10pm and 11pm.
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