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Cleansing, Ayurveda, & the Nobel Prize for Autophagy

Cleansing therapies or Shodhana Chikitsa has always had a vital therapeutic application in the 5,000-year-old science of Ayurveda. Periodic cleansing is recommended for detoxification, rekindle agni (digestive and metabolic fire) and for managing diseases. According to Charaka Samhita, an Ayurvedic root Ttext, Shodhana goes one step further in fortifying us—it helps in the prevention and recurrence of diseases in the future.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan in 2016 for his work on autophagy. Autophagy is an evolutionary self-preservation mechanism through which the body degrades and recycles dysfunctional cells, proteins and toxins. It helps prevent a host of degenerative diseases, boosts energy, has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory benefits and is even thought to prevent cancer. Certain types of fasting, exercise, and lifestyle changes are considered to be triggers for autophagy. 

How does Ayurvedic cleansing help with disorders?  Shodhana karma (purification and detoxification) literally means to ‘throw away’ and works in a manner similar to autophagy. Cleansing removes aggravates doshas (vikrati or imbalance in energy principals), ama (environmental, endogenous and psychological toxins) and malas (wastes). It helps in eliminating the root cause of diseases. It also has the benefit of rasayana or rejuvenation, the nourishing aspect of cleansing which increases our lifespan. 

And why is it needed for the healthy? It preserves their health! Consider the simile of a clean vessel filled with clean water that stands for a while; sediment gets precipitated and coats the vessel; similarly, Ama accumulate in the Srotas (minute channels) of our body over time even if we adhere to a good dinacharya (daily regimen) and ritucharya (seasonal regimen) with proper nutrition (aahar), lifestyle (vihar) and sleep (nidra).  And who follows that ideal regimen? Hardly any of us! 

Ayurvedic cleansing has a similar action to autophagy which is explained as the elimination and recycling of toxins at a cellular level for restoring health. We lead a stressful life and many of us have mild or more severe chronic issues; ranging from poor digestion, insomnia and allergies to type 2 diabetes, cardiac disorders, and even cancer. While Panchakarma is a detailed intense detoxification, there are shorter cleanses that can prove to be very beneficial for the maintenance of everyone’s health and well-being!

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