Anorexia – An Ayurvedic Perspective

Ayurvedic Treatment for Anorexia

If your weight has reduced considerably and your teeth has become yellowish, then beware you may be suffering from Anorexia.

Anorexia is a mental or psychological condition in which a person becomes excessively conscious about his body weight. Such people resort to dieting and exercises, as a method to reduce their body weight. They restrict their diet and consume very less amount of food. Obviously, less intake of food deteriorates their health and body gradually becomes weak.

Let’s discuss this condition with Dr. Parmeshwar Arora.

Q. Doctor, As we know Anorexia is a condition wherein the patient experiences loss of appetite. So, how serious can this problem get?

I would like to tell the audience that though it sounds like a very small problem…loss of appetite……but it could be a symptom of many other diseases. So, please never take it lightly or ignore it. If there is only one symptom i.e. you are only experiencing loss of appetite then there could be small reasons for it e.g. disturbance in Agni (Agni are the enzymes, or “fire,” that drive all digestion and metabolism) but I would like to tell you here that diseases like tuberculosis, cancer, anemia, hepatitis and many other such conditions which are very fatal can have anorexia as their indicator. So I would request you all not to take it lightly or ignore it. If you experience anorexia and you yourself try to handle it but still don’t come out of it, then please consult a doctor and request a diagnosis in order get to the reason behind it.

Q. Doctor, this was regarding seriousness of Anorexia as to how critical it can get, but if we want to know the reasons for Anorexia then what does Ayurveda say about it?

I would like to tell you again that if we talk about the reasons behind anorexia then there could be two reasons for it – one is physical and the other mental. When we talk about physical reasons then it could be due to disturbance in digestion which is considered to be the first and foremost reason. The same is known as agnimandhya of vishmagni condition in Ayurveda, and it can make you a patient of anorexia. In case of hepatitis when liver function becomes sluggish, you will experience loss of appetite. Similarly, in case of anemia also one can experience this symptom. And we discussed earlier, tuberculosis and cancer are among the other conditions when a patient experiences loss of appetite. All of these can be considered as the physical reasons behind anorexia. Besides physical conditions, there could be mental conditions as well, which could be responsible for anorexia. Sometimes we may be in a condition of shock, grief/sorrow, jealousy, etc and we don’t feel like eating anything. So, we can say that, this is a disease for which physical as well as mental reasons are equally responsible.

Q. As you just said, disturbance in agni initiates the condition of loss of appetite in a patient. I would like to know about what exactly do you mean by this disturbance in agni as the term refers to Ayurveda. And also, tell us about the reasons due to which there is disturbance in agni.

As you know Ayurveda works on the theory of three doshasvaat, pitta and kapha and these need to be in equilibrium. So, there could be these four conditions. As a shloka in Ayurveda means that if in our body, Agni is disturbed by Vata and converted into Vishamagni(when we eat something and due to air pollution our agni has become visham then the food will sometimes be digested and sometimes not be digested) then this fluctuating agni is termed as visham agni. Similarly, number two is when there is a rise in pitt in our body then it becomes teekshna agni. The third is mandagni. This is the conditions when kaffa rises so much that agni gets drastically affected and even very simple things don’t get digested.

When there is proper balance of these three doshas, they are said to be in equilibrium and this condition is termed as samagni. So we can conclude that Vishamagni and mandagni are the two conditions which may cause anorexia because there will be poor digestion and the food you eat will not get digested properly. You would have heard from people that when the digestion is poor there can be constipation, bloating, acidity, gas formation etc. and ultimately one doesn’t feel like eating.

Now, why does agni get disturbed because of Vayu. This happens when we consume food products which increase vata, or we consume stale food, or we consume foods which are not freshly cooked, or we do midnight eating. So this was about what we eat. Now what we practice – not sleeping during night is the main reason which I believe is responsible. We are in extreme mental tension and lead a stressful life. So these are various reasons which increase vata and disturb the agni resulting into indigestion and loss of appetite. Similarly if you frequently consume the food items which increase kapha, you regularly eat cold items, oily/spicy food, then your kapha increases and increased kapha makes the agni, mand resulting in mandagni. This mandagni condition when once created, give rise to anorexia. So in a way, increase in vat and kapha create disturbance in agni and gives rise to anorexia.

Q. I undertand that we should not let the agni in our body to get disturbed so that we can come out of the problem of anorexia. Now if we look at the other end, there are some people who experience increased appetite. What are the reasons behind it?

If you remember, I had mentioned teekshagni earlier. It refers to a condition wherein pitta increases too much and thus agni gets disturbed. As a result we always feel hungry. However, it doesn’t mean that eating more will make your body stronger. In fact, the food which you eat will not get digested but in a sense get burnt or wasted. It will not even give nutrition to your body. So, if due to increased pitta, agni becomes teekshagni, you will feel extreme hunger but it will not make you any stronger. So we can say that increase in vat and kapha give rise to Vishamagni and mandagni respectively which in turn results into anorexia, whereas increase in pitta give rise to tekshagni which results in increased appetite which again is not a good condition for your health. It was a good question.

Q. Doctor Parmeshwar, you had earlier mentioned that there are few mental reasons also, which are responsible for anorexia, how?

It sounds awkward that how could a mental condition be responsible for loss of appetite but believe me, mental reasons are responsible not only for anorexia, but nowadays these have been found to be responsible for many other serious problems. To explain it better I would like to recite a shloka from Bhagwadgita Which means – in today’s world we are quite attached to physical resources, and as Shastra says….whenever we feel attracted to something, we develop a desire to acquire it and as result we initiate an action to acquire it. If we fail in our efforts to achieve something, it gives rise to anger and frustration. If we become angry, we become determined that now I won’t let it go i.e. we take it as a challenge, become focused and get into a kind of hypnosis. When hypnosis happens, we, sort of, lose our wisdom. If the wisdom is lost, it means we’ve lost our intelligence and thus our destruction is certain. See how it started, say you saw a car and had a desire to get it but then finally where it took you. Each one of us has got a long list of physical desires. Everywhere there is a competition to accomplish these physical desires. If you achieve your desire, you feel proud and if you fail you become angry, frustrated, and jealous or suffer from other mental disorders…..i mean to say that all of these are not favourable for your mental health. Thus, if one runs after physical desires, there will be some mental disorder, you would lose balance in your body, various systems of body will get affected, there will be poor digestion.

Q. This was about how the mental or psychological reasons affect our body and initiate the condition of anorexia. One more question which arises is, how to improve this condition. Can this condition be controlled completely?

Here I will repeat myself, it is very important to know the reason which is responsible for anorexia in a person. Once the proper diagnosis has been done and it is known that there is no such fatal disease (like cancer or tuberculosis) behind it and it is the only problem in patient’s body then it is very easy to manage this condition. We generally recommend acidic substances . If there is loss of appetite due to any reason, you just have to take black salt and lick it with some lemon juice. You will see the improvement in your appetite.