Sunday, 13 June 2010


Ayurveda: when body and mind make friends

OM TAT SAT (Sanskrit Ayurvedic quote)
= Goodness is with you

As western medical doctor, I appreciate the current sense of malcontent towards traditional medicine which has failed mass expectations at many levels. Having said that, there are many reasons for which I am truly grateful to it. Emergency and critical care (which are some of my fields of specialization), for example. For having offered hygienic solutions to the world. For having introduced the concept of germs and infections. And for having developed bone care and various types of surgery, to name a few.

Unfortunately, though western medicine may beunparalleled in some areas, when faced with issues such as chronic disease and illnessprevention, it has some big holes. Why? Western doctors and scientific research have focused their efforts on developing symptomatic treatments. In some specific cases they are invaluable (try to have surgery without aneasthesia or post operative pain care drugs and tell me if you don’t just thank God for the pharmaceutical companies ..), but in other cases medical drugs could and should be avoided. Sometimes, (in fact, even more often then previously believed), drugs are not the answer at all, but rather lifestyle and diet patterns,quality rest, and happier relationships, among others.

Well, as I have come to believe, the truth seems to always lie somewhere in the middle. Sometimes western medicine is the number one choice, but other times it is not.

Almost a direct opposite approach is Ayurveda Medicine, which offers solutions and treatments that Western Medicine cannot. I could see the two Medicines becomingpartners, each helping the other in its shortcomings.

Ayurveda is an ancient science, born more than 7000 years ago. Firstly transmitted through generations thanks to the patient oral teachings of the masters to their disciples, it was later transcripted in textbooks, some of which are still alive and in use today.

Ayurveda is where the body and mind can finally make friends. The Ayurvedic doctors and practitioners have observed, studied and reported human behaviors, conditions and reactions for thousands of years, learning about relationships between the mind and the body, the beings and their environments. The human being is seen as a complex unity of mind, body and soul, where all are equally important and strictly interdependent. It is anintegral part of the Universe, a microcosm in a macrocosm. If the Universe is modified,the changes are reflected in human beings. Man can not escape its relationship with nature. Therefore, the environment where one lives, i.e., the food that is eaten, thechanging seasons, air pollution, water, etc., all play all a crucial role in making the difference between health and disease. This is the wonderful approach that Ayurvedic science and its philosophy can offer us.

According to Ayurveda, each individual’s state is dominated by the three so-called "doshas”, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They are the representatives of the body’s functions. Every individual has one (or more) predominant doshas which will affect things liketastes, tendencies to certain diseases, likes and dis-likes, and even certain personality traits. Just as the three doshas act as the functional components of an individual, the seven ‘dhatus’ are the structural parts. Those are blood, plasma, adipose tissue, muscles, cartilage, bone marrow, and reproductive fluids.

If the doshas become unbalanced, one or more dhatus will suffer, resulting in signs and symptoms of a disease. The Ayurvedic doctor, through a detailed analysis and consultation, evaluates the underlying dosha’s vitiation and offers effective solutions correct the imbalance. Unlike western medicine’s symptomatic approach, Ayurveda goes deep down to the real cause of a disease.

The three doshas can fluctuate depending on things like age, the different seasons, andeven the time of day. Doshas are present in all individuals as body constitution (Pakriti) which is unchangeable, determined at the time of fecundation of the egg by the semen.

The doshas each have different qualities:


dry, cold, light, rough, subtle, movable


slightly oily, sharp, hot, light, bad smell, liquid


oily, cold, heavy, dull, smooth, shiny, stable.

During a person’s lifetime, certain doshas can get aggravated, leading the person tovarious diseases (Vikriti). The vitiation of doshas is understood by the analysis of signs and symptoms. The doshas fluctuation also is affected by the environment and weather conditions. For example, windy and dry landscapes will increase Vata, while the jungles or other very humid places will aggravate Kapha.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha are present all over the body but manifest predominantly in a specific anatomic region in each of us, controlling specific body functions. Vata is located below the navel, Pitta in the mid-region (duodenum and lower GI), and Kapha in the chest and head. Likewise, Vata, Pitta and Kapha manifest differently during last, middle and early periods of life, the night, the morning and the evening and also the three phases of the digestive process.


Time (day/night)




2 to 6

Above 35

First digestive phase


10 to 2

16 to 35

Mid digestive phase


6 to 10

Up to 16

Post digestive phase

I am truly fascinated by the attention that Ayurveda doctors offer to their patients. Nothing is missed, nothing is irrelevant. Ayurveda takes into account every detail of a person’s life. Seemingly irrelevant aspects such as the time a person wakes up in the morning, the order of his daily routine, his mental state, emotional satisfaction, and the environment and quality of his relationships are all taken into account, just as important asdietary and drinking habits.

The word Ayurveda comes from the two parts Ayu = life, as time from birth to death, and Veda = Knowledge or learning. This perfectly sums up its approach to studying and learning "all”. Ayurveda it is not just the science of diseases, but it is the knowledge oflife itself. Only when everything is known-- the good and the bad, the healthy and the sick, the happy and the miserable, the dark and the light, only then can the doctor truly help the patient fight the diseases.

Health is not just lack of sickness, but it has an active meaning as well. Health is that state of physical, emotional, and mental balance. According to these noble principles, treatment is a system of action for preventing and completely curing diseases. The list of treatments includes massage therapy, oils and herbs, drugs, food and lifestyle regimes, and other various procedures such as purgation.

Based on fundamental principles, treatments mainly fall into two categories: eliminative (Sodhanam) and curative (Samanam). Elimination is a system through which the vitiation of the dosha, responsible for the disease, is completely eliminated through normal openings (Panchakarma is the most common system of purification). In the curative treatments, the vitiated. dosha is balanced without elimination of it. Curative treatments include fasting, exercises, exposure to sun and wind, use of digestive or carminative drugs.

I spent a month at the Nagarajuna Ayurvedic Centre in Kalady ( India) for treatments and an intense crash course on Ayurvedic basic principles, diagnostic tools, treatments, pharmacology. The centre is located in the heart of the Kerala region in Southern India, on the bank of a long river, close to a small and traditional Indian village (Kalady). The staff is amazingly helpful and the medical team is very attentive to each individual’s needs. Vegetarian cuisine is the rule, though ghee and cow’s milk are used. I never saw any cheese. I did enquire about the possibility of vegan meals and I have been reassured it is possible.

Personally I only ate fruits, so I can not express opinion about cooked food, but I overheard enthusiastic comments. My mornings were spent between incredible and long massages with medicated oils and lectures. Usually in the afternoon I would have a second treatment, either a local application of oils to my joints or a 45 minutes of pouring oils over my forehead to relax and de-stress.

Ayurveda, I found, is not just a science but also a philosophy. Prior to any treatment, the therapies chant a prayer to the god of Ayurveda. The room is immediately filled with a magical sense of ancient times.

I had truly a wonderful time, felt and looked very good and I am confident that all this new knowledge will be of great value and help also for my every day practice as Western Doctor in Europe. I would recommend Ayurveda to everybody, especially for chronic ailments.

Photo information: Oil massage: Abhyanga

Abhyanga is usually performed by two therapists that work in synchronism. It lasts 45 minutes. The type of oil used depends on the individual dosha vitiation.

The massage is firm and has many benefits, such as improved circulation, metabolism, elimination of toxins, and aid in rejuvenation. The massage is done in a special wooden table called a "Droni”, traditionally made of Neem tree or Nuxvomica.

Damage of grains

Bread: A Shocking Truth

Warning: reading the following article may lead you to give up bread.

Are you up for the challenge?

You know that you are on a serious raw food diet when you constantly hear these two questions: 1. Where do you get your protein? and 2. What is the cooked food that you miss most?

Well, I get my protein from what I eat.

And I miss grains.

Yes I do. I miss everything about them. I miss the smell, the taste, the sense of fullness. My memories from childhood take me to large dinners with family and friends where pizza and pasta were served in such an abundance that to the eyes of a little kid, I was practically swimming between spaghetti, dancing on the pizza plates, and surrounded by hot and smoky mozzarella. I remember well those evenings of eating out at pizzerias with my mom and dad. The sweet anticipation while waiting to be served; the waiter walking proudly towards us holding a smoking plate just out of the oven (during my childhood, especially in Italy, the concept of already prepared and frozen pizza was to be avoided as much as illegal drugs), smiling to us and smiling. Me and my brother would jump out of our chair, and attack the 15-17 inch pizza and have the best time. Of course the smell of pizza still brings back all the pleasant memories, despite the brain dictating the new rules (grains are bad!!! Bad!!!!) the mouth will still scream: “pizza is good! Good!”

Frankly, there is only one way to go: knowledge (with a few learning challenges along the way).

Note: try to be raw for a couple of year and then have a pizza or a sandwich, you will see.

I hope the following information about grains will help strengthen the will to overpower the palate. With profound understanding, sooner or later the best choices are made with ease.

Let’s point out a crucial concept: what is edible food? When we look around it seems that the average person makes food choices based on taste. How many times have we heard that “it tastes so good, that’s why I am eating it”. Given that taste is very important and anthropologically, an excellent tool to help living creatures choose food, we have to introduce a new term: to be edible, food needs to be both tasty and nutritious. I don’t accept the nutritious without the tasty and likewise, I don’t accept the tasty without the nutritious (empty calories).

Unfortunately, most of today’s mass produced foods are seriously depleted of nutrients and are packed with chemical additives. One such food is bread. Today’s bread is a mass produced product that is reliant on various biochemical processes, with an increase use of genetically modified compounds.

The grain used in industry bakery is specially milled to smash apart the carbohydrates it contains, reducing the nutritional quality of the grain but increasing the capacity of the flour to absorb water and be processed faster by the yeast and enzymes. At least 90% of the nutritional value is lost during due to a depleted soil and modern processing. (Proper growing and milling methods are necessary to preserve nutrients and prevent rancidity.) Also, as many of these chemicals and enzymes are classed as “baking aids”, not ingredients so they don’t have to be declared on the labelling of the bread products.

10 things WRONG with modern Industrial Bread.

1. Additives

  • Bleach: Freshly milled flour has a yellowish tint and a poor baking quality. Chlorine dioxide and benzoyl peroxide are used to bleach flour. Chlorine dioxide also matures the flour and forms compounds such dichlorostearic acid that remain in the flour. Chlorine dioxide destroys Vitamin E and reacts with certain proteins to form methionine sulfoxide, which is known to cause central nervous system damage in humans.
  • Doug conditioners: also called maturing agents. They improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of bread. Most common: sodium stearoyl 2 lactylate, calcium stearoyl lactate, barley malt, ethoxylated and succinylated monoglycerides and polysorbate 60
  • Emulsifiers: enable the dough to hold more gas and therefore grow bigger, make the crumb softer, and reduce the rate at which the bread goes stale.
  • Reducing agent: for example L-cysteine hydrochloride (E920). Cysteine is a naturally occurring amino acid used in baking to create a stretchier dough. It may be derived from animal hair and feathers or human hair (cheapest source). Keratinous protein from human hair is extracted using hydrochloric acid and water. After several days, the keratin becomes L-cysteine.
  • Preservatives: used to prolong shelf life (eg calcium propionate and vinegar).

2. Too much salt. This results in increased risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases. Also salt is considered an ageing agent for the human body.

3. Hidden trans fats
. Hydrogenated fats are hard fats and when added to bread, they work with the gluten to create a stiff dough that will rise very quickly and retain its structure during the baking and cooling processes.

4. Overuse of yeasts
. Industrial bread uses 2-3 times the usual amount of yeast compared to traditional bakers. This creates more gas, and therefore a spongy leaf. The overuse of yeast is linked with the increased yeast intolerance seen in the current population (irritable bowels, rashes, candidiasis). Another concern is the genetic modification of yeast, which makes bread rise more quickly.

Dubious enzymes: Enzymes are proteins that speed up metabolic reactions and can be extracted from plant, animal, fungal and bacterial sources. Loads of enzymes are used in baking. Since they are called “processing aids”, they don’t need to be declared on product labels. Many bakery enzymes can be allergenic. Moreover, genetically modified enzymes can be added to bread to help to keep the moisture longer (which is why bread becomes hard after few days). Genetically modified enzymes are not declared on the label.

6. Pesticides residues
: Contemporary farming uses pesticides, many of which act as xeno-oestrogens. Xeno-oestrogens have been speculated to be one of the reasons why now a days girls and boys enter puberty earlier than in the past. They have also been linked to increased infertility and hormone-related cancers. The most common pesticides detected in bread are chlormequat ( a plant growth regulator used on various crops), glyphosate (used as a desiccant), malathion (insecticide), and pirimiphos-methyl (insecticide).

7. Grains are highly addictive
, due to some opioid-like substances and their impact on Insulin may lead to Insulin resistance and relates diseases such as Obesity and Diabetes.

8. Grains are digested with great difficulty
and only after many hours following ingestion; their impact on Insulin may lead to Insulin resistance and related diseases such as Obesity and Diabetes. Other diseases associated with grain consumption are arthritis, allergies, intestinal disorders, and celiac disorder.

9. Environmental damage
: Production of crops destroys vast landscapes.
Doug Graham, renowned author and foremost expert of raw food and fitness says: “Monocultures are devastating to the environment. Essentially the grain farmer creates a dead zone wherein all the forms of life are denied access, other than the grain crop itself. Without trees and wetlands, the land becomes prone to dust storms, erosion and nutrient depletion”.

10. Is it vegan?
Doug Graham offers this shocking data: “Close to 90% of all grain grown world-wide is used to feed livestock. People purchase 10% of the grains grown, and use it for food, however they provide farmers with more than 90% of their income. Farmers pay roughly $2/lb of grain, whereas people pay an average of $4/lb of grain. This means that the 10% people buy for consumption is paying for the 90%fed to livestock.” “Therefore, even if you are vegan, each time you purchase grains you are supporting the livestock industry, and all the related industries such as dairy, veal, poultry, etc.”

So next time you buy a sandwich or you go for pizza, take a second to meditate on the information I have just shared with you. Look at the piece of bread or cake you are about to eat, I challenge you: what do you really see in it? Is it the taste worth your health?

If so I cherish you. If not, I congratulate on you for choosing your health interest over a moment of pleasure.

Health is the ultimate pleasure.

Lets go for a piece of fruit instead, shall we?

Dr Stefania Licari

Medical Doctor

Adventure ultra- Runner

Special Thanks to Doug Graham (author of “80-10-10 Diet”) for his precious contribution for points 10,11.

I can not recommend enough his valuable book “The grain Damage”.

Also highly recommended “Improving on Pritikin” by Ross Horne