Ayurveda gives much importance to Fats both as food and as medicine. It is considered as the foremost medicine for , (Sesame Oil) and Pitta (Ghee). It can also be used in conditions where kapha is predominant in processed form with herbs which acts against Kapha.
According to Ayurveda: "Snehasaaro Ayam Purusha:"-meaning the human body is rich in fats.
No biochemical or any cell function would ever occur in the body in the absence of fats and hence, they are necessary for the very existence of life. In order to remove accumulated wastes also, fats are used-to dissolve the wastes and toxins in it and aided with the help of increased temperature of sudation, to melt and transport them to the nearest port of GI tract and thus in eliminating them. The ability to dissolve these wastes are specific to fats. Once the purification is over, all the procedures done like rejuvenative procedures or even palliative medicines will get many fold efficacy, as all the pathways are open.
As we all know rather should know that many vitamins are fat soluble, many of the biochemical reactions happen in our body with the help or mediated by fats; though for energy yield, our body resorts to carbohydrate metabolism. The functions of nervous system are primarily based on fats. recent research have shown light on the fact that herbal extracts acting on the nervous system can influence the brain, only if they are administered through a fat medium. Fats also convey medicinal action of some preparations to the cardiac muscle group. Hence fats are an excellent vehicle to drugs, which can otherwise have no access to some of the tissues of the body, if given without fats.
Fats can be given in therapeutic dosage, or as food. It can be used as it is or can be processed with suitable medicines. Besides these versatile uses, it acts as a preparatory base before all eliminatory procedures, in conjunction with sudation. It acts as a solvent to absorb the deranged dosha's with the toxins inherent in them, and to transport them to the GI tract, with the help of sudation, for elimination.
Oils and Fats-When used externally?
The physico-chemical properties of a drug in a topical dosage form affect that drug's trans-dermal delivery (per-cutaneous) absorption and topical bio-availability. The molecules of the formulation, after penetrating through the stratum corneum and thence, into viable epidermis and dermis, produces its characteristic pharmacological response through receptors even before the blood or lymph circulation removes it, in which case it may set in a cascade of systemic effects.
Though the horny layer of the skin is impermeable to most chemicals contributing the rate limiting step in trans-dermal absorption because of its high diffusional resistance, providing a small fractional area of 0.1% only as permeable appendageal shunt route, it is not an efficient heat insulator- the penetration rate of material through human skin can change tenfold for a large temperature variation, as the diffusion coefficient varies according to temperature changes. Besides the appendageal shunt route, the drug molecule may penetrate through the hair follicles and sebaceous glands or through the sweat ducts also. Various physicochemical factors other than temperature also seem to be involved like skin hydration (water opens up the compact part of the horny layer), pH etc., not forgetting the roles of drug concentration, molecular size and shape, diffusion co-efficient etc. The methods of enhancing bio-availability of trans-dermal drug application recently followed, like ultrasound (phonophoresis) and electrical driving of charged molecules (iontophoresis) is replaced in Ayurveda by the increased temperature that induces sudation, hydration through enhanced sweating and by massage for effecting a manual type of iontophoresis. Even external use of Sneha alone slightly increase body temperature, which in turn favours production of sweat by sweat glands. Though this sweat is not excreted at the moment because of partial closure of sweat pores by the film of fat, subsequent application of heat releases the barricade of fat to effect full fledged sudation. This helps increase metabolism of the drug and of the local tissue. This is the importance of Sneha used in conjunction with Sweda in Ayurveda.
It provides both hydration and temperature increase. Application of a dry powder onto the skin in room temprature without massage would not effect any systemic changes, if the powder is not allergic to the patient. Thus Ayurveda has its own concept of a rich tradition of transdermal therapeutic system, it is convenient, effective, eliminates variables that influence gut absorption, it enters the systemic circulation directly, by passing the 'first-pass' effect of enzymes in the gut and the liver; it provides a controlled, constant drug administration, displaying a single pharmacological effect, it is patient compliant as it eliminatesthe effect of taste or gastric irritations. Little wonder that when the world still in experimental stages by introducing topically acting counterirritants, NSAIDS, Steroids and transdermal clinical patches of oestradiol, clonidine, nitroglycerine, testosterone etc.
Ayurveda has addressed transdermal use of medicines in versatile conditions from neurological affections to rheumatological condtions and also skin ailments in various modes and methods, around more than 5000 years ago. Snehana done externally is only one example.
Types of Snehana: Abhyanga (Full body massage), Pizhichil (Local or Full body flow of the oil), Sirodhara, Elakizhi etc are some of the examples of external snehana.
Prof. Dr. T Sreekumar BAMS MD.
HoD, Dept of Kriya Sareera, Physiology
Disclaimer: This information is based on Ayurvedic scriptures. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, this should not be used for any self diagnosis or treatments. Please do contact your GP for any impending conditions